If this isn’t an awkward expat story, I don’t know what is. It all went down at the pharmacy. I’ve written about why French pharmacies rule and even about the best products, but I’ve never written about such a hilariously awkward exchange. You see, on Wednesday, I was just picking up a very regular product that turned into one of those stories you’re not soon to forget.
How did the conversation go from a normal skin cream to my vagina? Beats the heck out of me. But I will tell you what happened…
GO READ MY WTF EXPAT STORY!
Awkward expat story
In my town, there are three pharmacies within walking distance and the one that’s the farthest away has the best prices. Wednesday morning was just like every other morning. Dagny, my trusty hound dog, and I set out for the pharmacy. We waited our turn in line behind some older women who were there for Frontline for their cats.
You see, in a French pharmacy, there aren’t privacy partitions and pharmacists don’t whisper. Everyone is OK with this concept though, except me, the American who maybe doesn’t want her illness broadcast to the entire country. But anyway, the important thing here is that everyone within earshot hears what you’re there for along with any advice the pharmacist has for you.
Differences between pharmacies in France and the USA >>
So now it’s our turn, and Dagny and I approach and ask for two tubes of Homeoplasmine. It’s an innocent cream that’s great for all kinds of skin irritations, kind of like Neosporin. It’s especially useful for severely chapped lips. This pharmacist knows me because I’m probably the only American he sees (with a dog) and because I come in once a week to buy the same products (or buy stuff for friends and family who want to try out French pharmacy wares). He makes small talk and I tell him a friend wants to try Homeoplasmine because she heard it’s great for chapped lips. “I’ll take 2 tubes, please!” This is where it gets weird.
Without blinking an eye he says:
“It’s also great for your vagina.”
No, he didn’t say for your private area or sensitive skin. He said FOR YOUR VAGINA. There were probably 500 other body parts he could have picked. Awesome?
I was stunned and just blinked at him not sure what I should say.
In that moment, a handful of smart things popped into my head but all I managed to reply with was an, “Ah, bon?” And just in case there was any doubt in my mind as to what he meant, he continues with this gem that almost made me burst out laughing. But I tried to contain myself because, unlike me, he was totally serious and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary with our fun Wednesday morning convo.
“Yeah, like if you have cuts on the vagina skin or if it’s sore.” Ok pal, you’re done. Stop right there. One more word and I may just try to make myself disappear.
Riiiight, I thought. Because I just cut my vagina all the time when I’m out walking the dog or sleeping or driving or showering.
Who doesn’t? WTF??? And yeah, I’m going to put the equivalent of Neosporin on there. That I just told you I was getting for lips. On the face. For my friend.
Here’s what’s wrong with this exchange:
1) I wasn’t buying a personal care item like feminine body wash or spray. I didn’t say ANYTHING about a vagina issue, ever, so the fact that he’d just volunteer this tidbit of information was fascinating to me.
2) The dude is in his early 30s. If he were an older man, I’d chalk it up to some old traditional pharmacist trying to offer some friendly advice. If he were a woman, I’d just think she was trying to help a fellow female out. But this guy wasn’t that much older than me. Perv? Or just a helpful guy? Am I being ageist? Should this not factor into my overall impression of the convo?
3) The fact that a regular skin cream triggered the thought of vaginas in his mind. Why does Homeoplasmine (I swear this is a normal cream like Neosporin) conjure up thoughts of vaginas??? Not sure what you do on your own time, pal, but if you know that Homeoplasmine is good on vaginas, I’m not sure I want to do the whole small talk thing anymore.
4) There were other people around who absolutely heard the whole thing or at least the words “vagina” and “cuts” and “sore.” So now the gossipy old ladies waiting behind me probably think Americans are into weird shit and have vagina problems. Way to represent. Go me!
So what did I do?
I thought of sad things so I wouldn’t laugh and then told him that I’d let my friend know that the cream will work wonders on her irritated vagina. I then proceeded to make some comments about the weather and ran out of there before I could catch the expressions on the other customers’ faces.
Let me note that for some funny reason, my French comprehension is always crystal clear whenever something strange happens. My ears decide not to hear regular things like Tom asking me to vacuum or do the dishes, but when somebody says something I wish I hadn’t heard? Well, of course I never have any issues there.
Oh. My. Lanta. This seriously made my day. That probably would have been my reaction, too, honestly. My chapped lips are terrible, so I’m going to have to try this Homeoplasmine (among all of the other things you mentioned in your earlier post about French pharmacy finds) At the risk of disclosing too much, does this mean my Neosporin has a new use?!
On another note, Dagny can go to the pharmacie with you? How cool! Is that for all pharmacies in France, or is it something that each individual institution can decide?
Hey Claire, I’m gonna respond to the second part of your comment because I really have no clue when it comes to medical advice. But you should go talk to my pharmacist lol…
About dogs, basically well-behaved dogs are accepted at places like pharmacies. There’s no sign on the door that says dogs are/aren’t allowed, but I saw a dog in the pharmacy before we got Dagny and then just walked in one day with her like it was normal and no one says anything. So as long as the dog doesn’t bark or act like a psycho, it seems to be pretty much OK. I go to the Post Office with her as well. Thx for commenting!
Emily McGee says
An expat vagina story that will make you feel better:
When my husband and I lived in Vanuatu (in the South Pacific) we learned Bislama, one of the official languages. In Bislama, the word for pepper is “pima”. Since the food in the South Pacific is very bland, my husband would always ask for pima for his food.
Then he went out to a village, where “pima” meant vagina in the local language. He didn’t figure out why everyone was laughing at him until days later when someone told him that he had been asking for vagina on his food. So awkward…
Oh man, what a story! I hope he hadn’t asked for pima too many times before someone told him what it meant. Yikes!
Well, don’t be mad at me, but I can’t see anything wrong or strange in your pharmacist.
While buying, let’s say, ginger for your winter tea, you wouldn’t see anything wrong if the seller says: “it is also very good for your sore throat”, right? You would be grateful to learn about more ways of using ginger. That’s what pharmacist did- informed you about more ways of using your medicine. If it was for a leg you wouldn’t expect him saying “it’s also good for some other parts of your body”, you would prefer to know exactly which parts. Vagina is same part as throat, ear, leg. “Private area” in this case could mean it’s for hemoroids, right?
As for the other people, I’m sure the old ladies know much more about vagina problems than the young one. So they didn’t care at all. Old men didn’t hear anything.
Remember, we’re talking pharmacy. If the guy says “it does wonder on your pussy, too”, well, that would be something different.
Yes, I’m European and a bit older 🙂
Thanks for your perspective Bozena. I can see what you mean. I think it just caught me off-guard and the fact that he was just a little older than me. Yes, there are a lot of other body parts but when thinking about this product, vagina is probably the LAST one I’d mention to a young woman buying it. Doesn’t seem logical to me at all.
Could also be a cultural difference. If I was buying Neosporin in a Duane Reade in NYC and a youngish pharmacist said the same thing as the French guy, I’d think he was a total pervert…
Nick Pretzel says
I was going to say something very similar, that this is a cultural thing. I was born in Berlin, moved to London when I was ten, having spent a year in England and one in the USA between (in Champaign/Urbana, Illinois, in case you’re interested). My parents also have a house in Languedoc. I’ve found that we Anglo-Saxons have a less relaxed attitude to our bodies & sex. Please don’t think I’m criticising or being judgemental, that’s not my intention at all, but, at least in my experience, Americans are more prudish in that regard (I’m basing this observation, in part, on the way we use language and I would say that Americans use more euphemisms than Brits. Please don’t be offended. As I said, I’m not being judgemental, it’s just the way we are and how we’re brought up). My point is that the French have a very laissez faire, bof attitude (you must have come across that Gallic shrug with the word “bof” accompanying it? I love that word. A group of friends from Berlin were sitting in the garden (he’s my parents’ neighbour in France, one of those bizarre coincidences that he ended up next door when we’d known him for years!) as I often do of an evening over a glass of local wine, or several! We decided to found a new philosophical school, called ‘The Bofistes’ and “bof” was the guiding principle – for those of you who don’t know this wonderful, flexible and useful word, it’s basically the verbal version of a shrug of the shoulders. Come to think of it, the closest equivalent in English is “whatever”, but instead of the irritating, dismissive quality of that expression it has a laid-back, easygoing charm – and I would agree with your European respondent, that your pharmacist’s was nothing but intended to be helpful, that his attitude to vaginas is largely “bof” (at least under these circumstances). As for why he would mention it, I have a somewhat embarrassing incident that may shed some light. I had, after a long cycle ride, injured my nether regions which resulted in some chafing and cracked & sore skin. To that end (sorry, no pun intended) I applied some moisturising cream and, while it seemed to do the trick, it stung like hell when I applied it. I’m sure vaginas are every bit as sensitive as penises, so knowing that this cream is safe, and, presumably, painless, I would be grateful for this information, by which I don’t mean to imply that you weren’t.
I think the relaxed attitude to the body, and sex, that the Germans and the French even more so, have is actually very refreshing, once you get used to it. I would imagine it’s a bit more surprising in Paris than down in the South of France, where there is a lot more skin on display in the summer (I’ve never been earlier than April and most often in July/August). Unfortunately, my one French friend has returned to St Pierre et Michelon (a small group of French administrated island off the coast of Newfoundland; she moved to Paris initially as PA to the islands’ parliamentary representative), so I no longer have anyone that can put me up for a week. Is lost touch with her – she was a singer in a band I was in, said she had to go home for a few weeks which turned into three months. It wasn’t until I finally gave in and got a Facebook account, incidentally because I was trying to reform the same band and I’d been searching for our trumpeter for ages; the band was a nine to 13-piece funk and soul outfit that did a lot of JBs (James Brown’s backing band) covers, from the 60s & 70s. Chris Lee (the count), our trumpeter was not only a wonderful player, but he also arranged, charted and rehearsed the brass section, so he was essential to get the band back together. The bass player and I (I’m a drummer) were the only other key elements, but, alas, I didn’t find him on Facebook either. The only trace was a MySpace account that hadn’t been visited for five years. Sorry, I digress. Literally within fifteen minutes of opening the Facebook account I got a message from Stephanie saying that she’d been looking for me for ages. She was only 18 when I’d last seen her, now she was in her early 30s. She’d really blossomed too. She was always very attractive, but she’d grown into an absolute stunner. I hasten to add that our relationship has always been platonic. For a start, there’s quite an age difference between us, I’m almost 20 years older, but it wasn’t just that. Somehow we were just good friends. I was doing a degree in Computer Science & Discrete Mathematics (please note: discrete, not discreet. Discrete maths is the branch that’s applicable to computing, as opposed to ‘Continuous Mathematics’) and she was the only person I could talk about maths to. She’d given up her PA job, was singing in a choir, had started a jazz quartet and apart from giving singing lessons, she taught the French how to sing English correctly. Sadly I can’t remember any of the example mispronunciations she gave, but they were very funny. Still, she lived in arrondissement 7 (that’s near the Eiffel Tower for those unfamiliar with Paris; for those who are, she was around the corner from École Militaire métro station). Her flat was quite small (bedroom, bathroom, salon & kitchenette) but very nice and in a fabulous location. That, naturally, meant it was also pretty expensive. To tell the truth, I don’t know how she managed to afford to remain there for as long as she did. I reconnected with her in the autumn of 2012, visited her for New Years Eve (I arrived then and stayed the first two weeks of 2013). I’d broken up with the first girlfriend I’d had in 16 years, so I needed a bit of cheering up; I’d been, and still was, a single father, looking after my son by myself since he was 11 months old. He always took precedence and somehow I just never found the time or opportunity for a relationship – the hardest thing about being a single dad is the isolation: you’re always the only man there and you can sense the conversations freeze, but never mind all that. I was very surprised to find myself falling for this girl, I didn’t think I’d ever find love again. My son’s 25 now (he was born at 21:22 on the 23rd, isn’t that amazing? It made it very easy to remember; May 1996 isn’t so interesting) and he has turned into an extremely good-looking (so all the girls tell me), thoughtful, kind and considerate man, incredibly loyal and talented guy. All my friends, a lot of whom are quite a bit younger than me – I’m a pretty good drummer and they’re hard to find, so I’m told, so I meet a lot of younger musicians and some have become very close friends – love him and like his music. He plays guitar, mostly nu-metal, but the band he was in when he was 13-16 had a tragedy. Their rhythm guitarist was the son of an American diplomat, very rich, big house in the country and a recording studio in the basement. They did everything themselves. I’m not such a big fan of metal, but I made a few comments about their early recordings, what I hoped was constructive criticism. Chief among those was to say that they had a terrific singer, he should sing more, instead of all that growling and screaming, which, frankly, anybody can do. He listened, to my surprise, and so did they. Their last album blew my socks off and every nu-metal fan I played it to said it was great. Joshua was 15½. Then came the news that the rhythm guitarist’s dad had been recalled to the USA. Also, the singer, who was a couple of years older than the rest of the band, decided he wanted to go to university, to study mathematics, as it happened. That meant, quite apart from the friendships, they’d lost their studio and music making facilities. Then came the real blow. The rhythm guitarist was involved in a car accident that left him paralysed from the waist down. Four months later he committed suicide. This was the third friend of Joshua’s that had died! (One had had a congenital heart condition, but I don’t know what the other one died of). He’d already lost his mum, to all intents and purposes, as well as his aunt (my brother’s wife who was three months older than me. She died of a brain tumour and Joshua had last seen her the evening she died), to have three close friends die before your sixteenth birthday is tough. It took the heart out of his playing, although he still takes lessons. But he turned to DJing, initially dubstep, now more drum’n’bass. Again, it’s not exactly my kind of music, but he has a quality, a sense for melody as well as rhythm. Other DJs, older ones that were Keogh an eye at under 16 raves, were impressed enough to ask him to open at adult nights, and some fairly big names have asked him to collaborate. You can see why I’m so proud of him. I remember a night when a friend of his called and said, “Help, I’m in trouble.” Some guys were looking to beat him up. Joshua didn’t wait, he ran all the way there (he had no money and it’s a little awkward to get to from here: you have to walk ½ mile to the bus stop, by the time you’ve covered that distance going directly, you’re about ¼-⅓ of the way there. For anyone who has a knowledge of east London, we’re near Haggerston and he was going to Highbury Fields, three stops on the overground, but this was before we had that; Hackney, the borough we live in, had been waiting for a connexion to the tube (the underground system) since 1959. We finally got one in 2012, just in time for the Olympics. Well, at least one good thing came out of them.
Anyway, I’ve gone on far longer than I intended, and way off subject. Please excuse me for that, I really only wanted to reassure you that there was nothing untoward or weird about your pharmacist. Take care and stay safe
Nick Pretzel says
Sorry, I don’t know where Keogh came from, it was meant to be keeping.
Waegook Tom says
Hahahahahaha! This is amazing. I can’t believe he just told you that randomly? Now, I don’t know much about vaginas, but maybe the skin on the lips is a teensy bit similar? Again, I have no idea, as I generally don’t care for vaginas and prefer their male counterpart.
If I were you, I’d have looked to see the expression on the old ladies’ faces. If they looked all judgmental, I’d make direct eye contact and then give my down-there area a quick scratch and cheerily say, “Goodbye!”
omg tom, hahaha. can’t even go there. my town is too small for shenanigans like that!
Geek Goddess says
I like that when I go to restaurants in France, someone always has a dog sitting under his table, somewhere. Very occasionally, the various dogs growl at each other…
Very civilized, the French.
That’s us! Except Dagny doesn’t growl. Most submissive thing ever. But sometimes dogs do get a little rowdy with her. Then I growl. 😉
Ahh, the joys of expat life! Who brings up vagina cuts out of the blue like that? Very random, I agree.
In Spanish, comb and penis sound very similar so I had one very embarrassing convo in a hair salon here in Madrid once: http://passtheham.com/2012/06/26/i-brush-my-hair-with-a-cheap-penis/
…and I’ve never said comb again!
Haha Nicole, gonna go read your story now. Thx for commenting!
So here’s my awkward story. My husband and I have recently started trying for a baby. I went to the pharmacy this week and was glad to find pregnancy test on the shelves…was really relieved not to ask someone for it since my french is not great. Then went to the counter to pay…the girl asked me if I was so late (so loudly, everyone could hear). I was mortified to say the least. Then she goes on about if I’m not too late I could get a pill blah blah blah. At this point I was so shocked that I couldn’t say anything but ok. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. What if I was a teenage girl?!
Oh man, love the assumption that you weren’t happy about possibly being pregnant. And yes, I thought my guy was the only one who didn’t speak discreetly! Ah, the French pharmacies!
French Marie says
I think there might be a linguistic explanation for the train of thought that led your pharmacist to jump from “chapped lips” to “vagina”. Indeed, in French, the word for “labia majora” or “labia minora” is the same as for lips of the mouth: they’re “lèvres”. Maybe talking about chapped lips popped the image of vagina cuts in his mind… And since Homéoplasmine works for both… 😉
Hi there, that’s certainly one possibility. Although we can say lips in English to mean vaginal lips as well as lips on your face, I’m not sure it would be a logical jump? In any case, I think he’s a pervert! And to tell the truth, I haven’t been back there since. Coincidence? Haha. Happy holidays and thanks so much for commenting!
The guy is definitely a perv and this is not acceptable behaviour even by French standards. I mean the f*** ? I’m french and I’ve never witnessed such embarrassment in a pharmacy context and I’m glad for it.
Hahha yea, I’m giving this guy the benefit of the doubt and maybe he just spoke before he thought about what he was saying. And by then it was too late. I don’t know. Definitely a weirdo!
great story ! good laugh ! thx
Glad u enjoyed it!
Great story. It’s a bit of the opposite of mine, but maybe your pharmacist knows mine, and that’s why the strange comment.
Upon arrival I found Air France had not only damaged my luggage, but due to the damage my makeup case was gone. I asked the Production Assistant who picked me up if we could stop by a department store so that I might try to locate my moisturizer.
The PA very sympathetically informs me the department store is only open half day on Sunday, but she will take me to the pharmacy in the village.
I explain to the pharmacist that my skin is something akin to the Sahara desert and I’ve lost my creme. He pulls out a few tubes, passes them over, and points to the Homeoplasmin and says its good for my lips, nose and ears. Then pokes me in the face, and says. You should probably put it on your face too.
A few weeks later, our boss invited everyone to the beach for the weekend. Forgetting I’m not in the States, I go to the one salon that does waxing. Needless to say the combination of my dry skin and her not doing a ton of waxes has left me with a good portion of skin missing. Back tot he pharmacy for me. I explains to the pharmacist what happened and he looks confused and asks if did not already sell me Homeoplasmin. Wen I tell him he did he starts laughing at me and says super loud, “Then put it on your vagina before it starts to scab.”
I stood there mouth hanging open wondering where I put the button to open the ground and have it swallow me up.
He wasn’t done though. I then got the third degree about how Americans require so many products. If you can use it on your face you can use it on your vagina. Nos go home and rub your vagina.
Mortified isn’t the beginning of what I was felt..
Oh man, that’s rough!! Was anyone in earshot? I find it funny he said Americans use so many products. We are always rushed and love 3-in-1 or multipurpose things. I find that the French are the ones who love 100 products. Between all the medicines and treatments and this and that. Well anyway, hope the waxing burns cleared up and that homeoplasmine helped you out!!
I kind of had the same thought about number of products. I’m guessing he was remembering me from the previous visit and my telling him of my creme, eye creme, serum, toner, body cream, foot cream. I’m a bit of a product junkie. I work in film, and the makeup department is constantly having me try new stuff.
The place was packed not only with the older women from the village, but a few of the crew on the film, so the discussion of my scabby vagina, and rubbing it was heard by all. I kind of did the whole over share thing on the way out telling everyone about a waxing accident. By the time I finished my errand and got back to set everyone knew about what happened. It became a bit of a joke, and to this day random people from that shoot will send me tubes of Homeoplasmin. It’s a good thing I have a great sense of humor. Plus the free product helps. As much as I wanted to be mad. The product has done wonders not only for the waxing injury, but for my face, and skin.
My great sadness is that the other product he got me hooked on Avibon is no longer available anywhere. The two places I have found it they are charging $300+ for it. I hear its been discontinued.
My husband is Belgian and his mom would recommend Homeoplasmine for all kinds of small cuts. This for her is a magic cream “irritations de la peau” meaning its good for irritation. Your pharmacist was telling you its also good down there if you have maybe cuts, blisters after shaving or waxing 🙂 Thanks for sharing 🙂
Yup, the Europeans love that stuff! Thank you for stopping by!
sofonea julie says
Love this story!! I have lived in the Cannes. Antibes area for about 30 years, and as I arrived when I was 20 from the uk, I used to only ever go to boots over there. True so hard to get used to the pharmacies. I needed a lubricant gel, after having a small operation. So annoying, everybody listening in, and a lot of old people (who by the way drive me nuts taking ages talking about their lives!)
Yet when you go to bank, there is a line for client privacy!!!! Give me a break, lol
It’s just terrible how everyone overhears the person’s problem in front of them. At my CVS in NY, there were partitions so at least it created the illusion of privacy. Hope the pharmacist got you the right cream though and that it wasn’t too traumatizing! 😉
How fantastic, I love stories like this and life as an expat is certainly amusing at times. Here’s my embarrassing moment http://www.chickenruby.com/2011/02/embarrassing-moments.html
This is simple. I spoke French before I spoke English. If you were using “les levres”, he probably assumed you were being coy about using the word “vagina”. He’s not a pervert. He’s a responsible French pharmacist, in my humble opinion.
Were you in Paris at the time? I think you had the same pharmacy I had to go into. I had to ask a young pharmacy guy for tampons.
I don’t know why it’s embarrassing in another country to ask for these things.. but even at 37 I was embarrassed to ask, more so than if I were at home. I am looking forward to reading more of your stories.
Haha nope, I live out in the Maine-et-Loire. But aside from that weird exchange, all pharmacists, both men and women of all ages, have been helpful and informed so I think I just had a weird experience. For my tampons, I hit up the grocery store at lunch when no one is there and go to the self checkout. I’m like you — full grown adult and it’s embarrassing! Bonnes fetes !
Thia Felger says
Lol lol – great story. I will always remember this one.
Fifty years late to the comments 😉
Homeoplasmine is also *gasp* nipple cream for breastfeeding women. Like lanisoh is. So yeah, the jump isn’t that big going from chapped lips to nipples to birth to vaginas…
Hint: Europeans know about Americans and their strange “private parts” bussines. But we mostly believe in calling body parts by name 😀 especially in any kind of medical setting.