JP at large: Viva La France!


Do French pharmacists work as many long hours as Amercian pharmacists? Maybe not, but maybe they have the right idea.

The French have a hard time acting like Americans. They eat the most unhealthy, worst possible foods fried in lard and they still look terrific. Probably they have television commercials aimed at the same target group that American advertisers covet-the young, upwardly mobile professionals, like thirty-something pharmacists with money. What I am saying here is that the French are not obese, they like their good food and they want some joie de vivre in their lives.

The French are not lazy. They just like a 35-hour work week. It is just the way things are done in France. They don't have to fight to get a summer vacation because just about everyone takes the entire month of August off. Pharmacists too? I wonder. That can't be so. A whole month with no prescriptions? I don't think so.

I had a skin infection on the Thursday of American Thanksgiving in 1976. I had to visit a pharmacy in Nice, on the Riviera, for a prescription of tetracycline/amphotericin-B combination by Squibb (unit of use only). I had been having a decent day. Then I went to get my prescription filled.

I found that my day was to take a hard left when I got to the pharmacy. It took me more than an hour to get the medicine and it was not because they were busy. They were at lunch. I have been assured since that day that the French are not lazy. They just like a leisurely lunch and they aren't going to give it up.

There was a guy with a starched white jacket sitting at a kitchen-type table in the back. The pharmacist! With him were two young, smart-looking women wearing pink smocks. The techs! I could see them through the open door. The pharmacist glanced at me and smiled. They were working on a whole roast chicken with some kind of vegetables and a huge bowl of French fried potatoes. There was an open bottle of wine on the table and each of them had a glass. Wine for lunch? In the pharmacy? Good grief.

I caught the pharmacist's eye and pointed at my prescription. He grinned and pointed at the chicken, then at his watch. Who needs to speak a common language? I knew what he meant. I would have to wait.

Let's take a little flight of fancy for a few minutes. Picture yourself looking at the clock. You have prescriptions to fill, but it is one o'clock. There are no patients waiting. Everyone knows when the pharmacist goes to lunch. The motor starts up again at two o'clock. Until that time, everything is at idle and no one complains. It is just the way it is in America. We could call it the civilized version of American pharmacy.

I know, you guys. I am laughing so hard I hurt myself. Viva La France!

THE AUTHOR is a community pharmacist who lives in Galveston, Texas. You can e-mail him at
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