MOST people arrive in France with a first aid kit consisting of little more than a couple of dusty aspirins in the bottom of their coat pocket.
Even well-integrated Brits still rely on visitors bringing supplies of Calpol and TCP from the UK.
However sooner or later everyone has to brave a French pharmacy - after all anyone can burn themselves in the kitchen, have a mosquito bite go septic, get tooth-ache or a sore throat.
Plasters, scissors, dressings, cotton wool, etc. are all cheaper at the supermarket but you can only buy drugs at a pharmacy.
French pharmacists are formidably well-trained and their remedies are effective.
As in the UK, there are standard products in France that everyone knows and trusts. For burns, it is a cream called Biafine or for sunburn Osmo Soft which is a gel.
For insect bites, try Onctose which contains hydrocortisone, or Apaisyl.
For bumps and bruises, the French are great believers in arnica, using either Arnican cream or homeopathic arnica granules (available from all French pharmacies as are all homeopathic remedies).
Another soothing cream found in most people's cabinets is Homeoplasmine which deals with all kinds of minor scratches and grazes.
The usual cure for diarrhoea is a sachet of powders called Smecta. They taste slightly like vanilla or white chocolate and come in a large box.
If you have young kids, Efferalgan Pédiatrique paracetamol syrup is the Calpol equivalent. It tastes like caramel so children like it and it is sold in a variety of strengths and formulations (tablets, capsules, suspension, etc). To get the right one, tell the pharmacist the age of your child.
Doliprane is the other well-known paracetamol and its powder version is commonly used to treat pain and fever in older children.
To calm a windy child and help them sleep, instead of Gripe Water, French mothers traditionally use a few drops of orange flower water (eau de fleur d'oranger) which you can find on the baking aisle of the supermarket. A few drops of Bach Rescue Remedy, available in either pharmacies or health stores across France, can also ease the trouble.
Solution de Milian is a purple fluid beloved by children for its dramatic appearance. It dries and disinfects weepy cuts and grazes. Get the water solution not the alcohol one which stings.
For a stuffy head cold, try Exomuc which is another powder, this time vaguely orange-flavoured, which you dissolve in a small glass of water. It is suitable for children as well as adults and gets all that painful sinus glue moving in no time at all, so have a box of paper tissues at the ready.
For general disinfecting and cleaning up of cuts and grazes, everyone goes for a yellow fluid called Betadine - which they use in French operating theatres. This is very useful, does not sting on open wounds and can also be used on cats and dogs.
Still on the veterinary side, most pharmacies carry a selection of veterinary pharmaceuticals including worming tablets (Drontal Chat/ Chien is the most effective), flea-treatments (Stronghold, Frontline, etc.) and anti-leishmaniasis (leishmaniose) collars for dogs in Mediterranean areas.
If you ever need a vaccination, you will usually be given the prescription by your GP and have to buy it at the chemist. You then have to take it back to the GP’s surgery and he or she will then administer it. The smart way to do this is to order it in advance from the chemist nearest to your GP’s surgery and collect it on the way to the appointment, thus avoiding complications about keeping it at a certain temperature.
You will not find cut-price drug stores or chemists in France. There are no back-street pound shops also selling aspirin. To get the best value products at the pharmacy, ask for a générique - a generic alternative. Instead of asking for Nuroflex (the main branded version of ibuprofen, like British Nurofen) ask for ibuprofen, le générique le moins cher. Always remember to ask: est-ce qu'il y a un générique? (is there a generic version?).
The price of prescription drugs is reimbursed at between 60-100% depending on your illness, your insurance, and the contents of the prescription. If you have a carte vitale you can ask your local chemist if they do tiers payant which means they charge la sécu (social security - in practice usually the local cpam) directly for the reimbursable part of the price of your medicines, leaving you to pay only your own part of the cost up front.
You may come across a pharmacie herboristerie which is a conventional pharmacy also specialising in plant-based remedies and these can cover all sorts of ailments such as “heavy legs,” which is a common complaint among Frenchwomen of a certain age.
Here you will also find tisanes (herbal teas) to lessen the appetite, freshen the skin, firm the derrière, thicken the hair and generally make you more attractive to the opposite sex.
But whatever kind of pharmacy you visit in France, you can always ask for personalised medical advice - show a French pharmacist a sore insect bite, an infected burn, a rash, a dodgy-looking cut or some unidentified thing on your toe and you can be sure of getting a reliable answer.
What is more - turn up with the wild mushrooms you have picked on your rambles in the countryside and any French pharmacist will be able to tell you which ones are not edible. That is what I call service.
Disclaimer: The advice in this article is intended as a guide to products available in France and does not replace professional medical advice. When buying medicines, be sure you understand exactly what the pharmacist is saying and get dosages written down. Take a translator to the pharmacist if necessary.