Thursday, September 28, 2006

Faking it French: the pharmacy

On my walk to the pharmacy, my good ear listened to this man playing from his balcony while the woman danced.

The minute I woke up, I knew I was in for trouble.

I scratched my ear. Nothing. I yawned forcibly. Nothing. I scratched my ear even harder. Nope. I couldn’t hear a thing. My ear was useless to me, totally stopped up. Which meant I’d have to take a trip to a French pharmacy.

Generally speaking, when it comes to all things France, I do pretty well. My accent is good enough to fool most people into thinking I’m French…which leads to awkward situations.

Taking a cab last week, I chatted with the driver, who was ridiculously upset to learn that I didn’t know what terminal I was going to. “I’d guess Terminal 2, because that’s where most of my flights leave from,” I ventured. I didn’t really care. I’d get to the airport and figure things out; the plane wouldn’t leave for another three hours. “But! What! Look at your ticket!” I don’t have a ticket, it’s an e-ticket. “Look at your confirmation!” That’s on the computer. …After all this, he asked where I was going. (To the U.S.)

“Oh, so you speak Roast Beef?” Yes, I do. “Well, it’s a must,” he said, “because no American ever bothers to learn French, no no! You must speak English to travel over there!”

And so the debate kicks off in my head. I’m flattered and proud that this guy thinks I’m French. So I could either a) let the lie continue and pretend to be French, or b) be a diplomat, tell him I’m American, thereby breaking every stereotype he’s ever had about the United States, give him new insight that would trickle down through his social network, defusing general hatred toward Americans, and finally thwart plans for what would become WWIII.

Faced with this kind of choice, I almost always keep the lie alive. I am French! (“Shame!” says Nicolas, when I asked him what to do.) ...The point of all this is to let you know that my French is pretty good.

Except when I'm confronted with brand new situations, like leaky plumbing, needing to get stitches removed, and, well, anything sickly.

As I brushed my teeth and prepared for departure, I debated how to go about my pharmacy visit. French pharmacies are not like CVS – you can’t just waltz in and browse the gamut of home healing products in peace. (Unless, of course, you’re looking for miracle cellulite cream, sunscreen or tampons.)

If you have a problem, even a common cold, you must describe your symptoms to the pharmacist, who will then disappear to the cabinets and come back with ten products, two of which you actually need. (No, I am really sure I do not want nose spray, thank you.)

My problem today was mostly likely a build-up of ear wax. I knew how to say wax, no problem. ...But wait, was that just candle wax? I certainly didn’t want her to think that I’d gotten candle wax in my ear. So I would just say, my ear is stopped up. But... stopped up? I knew how to say that my nose was stopped up, but maybe the same vocabulary didn’t apply to ears.

My ear is blocked. Ahem. I can’t hear. ...I can’t hear because my ear is blocked. So I need a little…?

That’s my secret language skill at work. When vocabulary goes missing, just describe the situation, and then trail off. The interlocutor always fills in the blank with the necessary vocabulary. Here, it’s ear drops.

(As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that perhaps I would save myself time and fretting if I just bought a dictionary.)

I arrived at the pharmacy, walked up to the counter, and confidently said, “Hello. When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t hear. My ear is blocked. So I’m looking for a little…?”

She just blinked at me and waited. Crap!

“My ear is blocked so I need a little…something to unblock!”

She nodded and came back with a product called ODI Soft. It sounded like deodorant, but she told me that it was made from marine products, and would dissolve human wax.

Missing vocabulary: cérumen. Sounds like "human wax." How beautiful.

Once back home, I read the box and was immediately frightened. ODI Soft. Solution for auricular pulverization.

I would like to direct your attention at this time to the word PULVERIZATION.

Put the bottle’s arm in a horizontal position and introduce it gently into the ear, holding the aerosol straight. Press down for 1 or 2 seconds. That’s right. I was supposed to gently introduce that thing into my ear, and then blast it with an aerosol spray.

All sorts of cautions from every doctor I’ve ever visited started ringing in my one good ear. Don’t ever use q-tips! Don’t stick your fingers in your ear! Get the water out after you swim! Nothing goes in the ear smaller than an elbow! (That was actually my 6th grade science teacher.)

Though none of this advice applies directly to aerosol sprays, I couldn’t possibly imagine that a full, two-second blast could be good for the ear.

But I couldn’t hear anything.

I finally rationalized that the French must use this thing, and that it would have been discontinued if they all sprayed away their eardrums. So I pulled my hair back, stuck the horizontal arm in my ear, and sprayed, just a little.

Nothing happened. I still couldn’t hear, but it didn’t hurt or anything. So I put the thing back up to my ear and blasted away.

The power of the aerosol was great. It exploded all over my ear, my head, the bathroom mirror and sink. And my ear was full of foamy stuff. So while hanging my head sideways, I mopped up the mess and hoped that the marine products would be good for my skin, too.

Two minutes later I could hear again. So I’m stashing away the rest of ODI Soft and hope they won’t confiscate it at customs.

Fifi and Mme Baustinette update:
While I wrote this today, Mme Baustinette watched, at extreme volume only tolerated by the nearly deaf, what seemed like a hilarious comedy show that revolved around a man who stuttered. A lot. She later left for 20 minutes without Fifi, who cried and cried and whined and cried for the duration. Upon returning, she cried for having left her dog. "Did you miss maman? Did you miss your maman? You maman missed you. Your maman will never leave you again, Fifififififi."

On a sad note, I think it was the earplugs that caused the wax build-up.


At 6:55 PM, Anonymous Chris said...

I guarantee you those earplugs did cause the earwax buildup- I had the same problem. Wax on wax off if you will.

But thank God for aerosols! Charles uses a similar seawater spray to clear the boogers out of his nose everymorning. Fascinating. And in a short amount of time I have also accumulated various medial nose and throat sprays. An aerosol blast for every orifice and season.

And after all, what is a bidet, but the same thing for your tooshy?

At 7:02 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Lovely that you didn't mention that helpful fact when you were giving me the vocabulary to buy the earplugs!

...And, for the record, I don't care how bad it gets. I will never use a seawater spray for my nose. That's where I draw the line.

At 9:30 PM, Anonymous Josh said...

I'm coming around on Mme Baustinette and Fifi - I think they have something special.

I know what my dad is getting for father's day this year - Odi Soft. Although I think they could have an Odi Soft for Men that emphasizes the awesome pulverizing power in its marketing.

At 11:29 PM, Blogger Emily said...

They do have something special -- if by "special" you mean "disgusting", and by "something" you mean "odor."

I'm not kidding. Wafts of Fifi smell are drifting into my apartment as I type. It's messing with the Pizza Hut smell.

At 12:11 AM, Blogger Buffy said...

I love your writing.

I've probably said it before.

But I can't help it.

It's so engaging.

At 5:37 AM, Blogger Buffalo said...

As long as you're having fun.

At 11:01 AM, Blogger lost in france said...

Wonderful writing ... and you do capture the French!

I wish I had lost my accent, but I haven't, and so I comfort myself on the fact that everyone says it is "charming". Are they sincere? Probably not, but who cares?

At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Peter said...

Uh huh, and no one reads your blog anymore. Riiight. I just want you to know that fasting during Ramadan is kinda hard when I walk by a bakery twice a day that always has fresh, hot, HUGE pieces of pita bread for 20 piastres each, which is something like 4 US cents each.

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Emily said...

But you're not Muslim... Wait, you're fasting? Are you trying to fit in as Egyptian? I thought you were at McDonald's.

At 12:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would it not success to have the miracle of cellulite cream near your drum?

At 12:52 AM, Blogger Biminim Strimpoonanamam said...

I have shed my anonymity just as your ears will shed their cellulite!

At 5:41 PM, Blogger lilwatchergirl said...

*nod* I swear by seawater aerosol spray for my ears, without which I'm sure I'd be entirely deaf. The audiologist, who claimed he had never seen ears as blocked up as mine, recommended it. It's good stuff! I think mine is caused by incessant use of earphones. Not that this is encouraging me to stop using them, of course. That would be too easy.

At 10:56 PM, Blogger Susan said...

I need to add you to my Google Reader, I had no idea you were posting again. Your human wax make-a me sick.

Oh, by the way! I'm back to speaking in an Italian accent again!

At 1:12 AM, Anonymous tasneem said...

I'm the same way with English, people think I grew up speaking it. It took 24 years of intensive practice, but I'm almost 100% fluent!

At 3:49 PM, Blogger kylie said...

the french kids i take care of call aerosols "pshhhhhts".

as a noun.
in french.

:: blinks ::

(i know what you mean about vocabulary.)


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