Sick, sick Paris


Cultural observation n°1
“I don’t feel very well, mum.”
(forehead is felt)
“You’re fine. If it gets worse take a paracetamol. Now go to school.”

This post is both an insight into the experience of going to the doctors in Paris and also a cry for help.

Ok, so you’re ill. You’re able to eat, drink, move and breathe ok-ish, but feeling rotten enough to want to go to the doctor. Good news: there are loooooads of doctors in Paris, and you’re probably even living in the same building as one*. All you have to do is look online, give one a call, and organise an appointment.

 *This is great for convenience but a bit yuck when you think of just how many sick and dying people enter your building every day, clutching and wheezing onto the banister….

You’ve been diagnosed. You are concerned. What you assumed to be a common cold appears to be much worse. Your prescription contains terrifying words and animal-subduing dosages

scribbled so frantically that the doctor clearly does not want to waste one of your precious remaining minutes on legible handwriting. You’re fairly sure you’re going to die before you reach the pharmacy.


You know that precious Carte Vitale that you waited a year and a half to get?

This baby:

Not a single doctor has taken my Carte Vitale since I received it. Like when you hit 18, and you are aching to brandish your no-longer-fake ID, no-one asks. I thought it was supposed to be a sort of credit card for doctors appointments and pharmacies…one that you don’t ever pay back. But apparently not. I’ve had to pay my 20 euros (in cash) every time. Sometimes I get reimbursed. Sometimes not. Never the full amount.

Maybe you get reimbursed according to how hardcore your illness is on a scale of 1-100:

1-25 = 25%
25-50 =50%
50-75 = 75%
75-100 = 100%
(where 1= broken nail, 100 = walking corpse)


  • God only knows how, but you get to the pharmacy. Alive.
  • The prescription is handed over and the pharmacist shuffles off to find your medicines.
  • She can be seen grappling with what you assume is the annual medical delivery for the local hospital. Ok, fine, I’ll just wait then.
  • It is when she wobbles over and starts explaining the dosage for each box that you realise that you are the sole recipient of this hoard of drugs. 


  • You tentatively offer your PASS GO COLLECT 200 POUNDS Carte Vitale.
  • Card is taken (hurrah!), swiped, given back.
  • Bill is printed out. 25 euros. Ouch.
  • OVERALL REDUCTION:                   

I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand.
If you are brave enough to ask, your response will be somewhere along these lines:

Translation of what I vaguely understood:
“In France you have health insurance, but it is divided into two parts; private (20%) and public (80%). To have the public you must have the private. To have the private you must have a public number. You have public insurance but your private insurance is no longer valid because you have not announced to your public insurance that you are now working. It also depends on what percentage of a percentage the insurance is willing to pay which changes according to the doctor, problem and prescription. Oh, and your work doesn’t have a health insurance policy so you don’t get that either.”

Oh. Ok.

Back at home, with your prescriptions laid on the bed, you start to panic.
It’s not that you don’t want to get better. It’s just that this seems like an awful lot of pills…and spray…and drops…and the thing over by the pillow looks suspiciously like a suppository.
So you bundle all your pills and potions into your now-bulging medicine cabinet, and dig out your faithful, if slightly sticky now, Lemsip packets.
And you live to write an article on it.

Cultural observation n°2

“Je ne me sens pas bien maman”
(child is lain gently on bed, cold compress is applied)
“Oh ma pauvre! Il faut apeller le médecin toute de suite. Aller à l’école?! Il n’en est pas question!”

This entry was posted in carte vitale, cultural observation, doctor, expat, expat advice, France, health insurance,, la santé, médecin, Paris, problems abroad, things to do in Paris. Bookmark the permalink.

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