Things about France that surprised me: French hypochondria

Now, what do I mean by this? The French exhibit abnormal, chronic anxiety about their health. I suppose that’s one of the reasons my beloved feels so at home here. Am I just making base accusations? Let’s look at the evidence.

Any time you sniffle in France your friends and neighbours (all amateur diagnosticians), will quickly recommend any number of doctors to visit or pills and potions to take. Youngsters can tell you if their mal à la tête (headache) is stress-related or whether your angina is a petite angine or a grande angine. Or whether you have one of the ailments that I’ve only ever heard of in France. My favourite is the ever rampant crise de foie – digestive troubles most often caused by a too rich meal.

Far be it from me to suggest that France is a nation of hypochondriacs, but let’s just say their comprehensive healthcare system – for which I’m suitably grateful – hovers at the top of the WHO’s best healthcare lists  and makes it rather easy to be one.

The French visit the doctor more than in any other country. And there is a cultural consensus that the doctor isn’t treating you well unless you come away with a prescription. Or two. Or three.

Next stop: la Pharmacie

The French fixation with all that is scientifically au courant has ensured that le pharmacien is embedded in the Gallic esprit as omnipotent. Since the days of Molière, Voltaire and Flaubert, the self-important pharmacist has been celebrated and lampooned (as have their patients) as they dispense pseudo-scientific potions to a nation of hypochondriacs.

Pharmacies throughout France look as important as they are. Many are elegant old shops with polished wood counters and glass shelves lined with antique vessels holding arcane formulas. Some even have chandeliers. The Pharmacie de la Bourdonnais (above), near the Eiffel Tower, for example, is a 19th century establishment that has been deemed an historic monument.

I’ve never seen or been into an empty pharmacy in France and there’s generally at least one every 500 metres. They’re full of people, largely the elderly, lining up to present their ailments and receive the benefit of the pharmacist’s wisdom, or pick up their one, two or three prescription. It is generally accepted that France is one of the most highly “prescribed” countries. When everything from prescriptions to seawater spa therapies is covered, it’s easy to understand why. Indeed the pharmacy and the pharmacist’s importance in French society cannot be exaggerated. And it goes beyond the nature of the healthcare system.

French pharmacies are different from American drugstores or UK chemists. French pharmacies are single minded places, so you won’t find cigarettes, greeting cards, soft drinks, magazines, sandwiches or any thing else associated with one-stop, convenience. The key relationship between the customer and pharmacist, who is usually also the owner, is trust, as opposed to convenience or price. The pharmacist is heavily invested in advising customers on the appropriate over-the-counter medicine and/or the most appropriate toothpaste.

French Pharmaceutical Market

Given what I’ve just said, you won’t be surprised to learn that France is among the biggest consumers of pharmaceutical products in the world. It has the world’s highest consumption of medicines per capita. With a population of 65 million (of which 11 million are over 65 years), France vies with Germany as the largest European market for medical care.

According to INSEE, the French statistical office and the French Ministry of Industry, the French pharmaceutical sector generates an annual turnover of €36 billion and is ranked third in the world for the wide-ranging drugs prescribed by doctors.

The French have long been known for their high prescription drug use rate. Further statistics from France’s National Drug Safety Agency show that 32% of the French population had used anti-depressant drugs, either on a regular or occasional basis. The French pharmaceutical sector is the biggest in Europe and the third largest in the world, with the giant French Sanofi Pasteur group being one of the biggest drugs company in the world.

However, I can’t deny that the health care system here is excellent. Once you have obtained a carte vitale, you are refunded the cost of doctors’ appointments, medication and treatments.

Pill poppers

To France’s envious European neighbours, the pace of day-to-day French living may seem attractively pedestrian. In theory, workers enjoy a maximum 35-hour working week, and their quality of life is further enhanced by generous holidays and a healthy respect for sacrosanct long lunches and weekends.

Yet beneath their apparently relaxed exterior, the French have been outed as Europe’s leading hypochondriacs, consuming a record number of prescription drugs – including vast quantities of tranquillizers, sleeping pills and anti-depressants.

So worried are the French about their health that on average they buy more than 48 boxes of medicines per annum from French chemists, a total of 2.6 billion pills and potions, according to newly released government figures – more medicine per head than any other country in Europe. I can concur with this finding as my beloved has what appears to be a small sub-branch of the local pharmacy in his bathroom cabinet. I, on the other hand, have no pills or potions in mine.

French officials were shocked at the year-on-year rise in the annual drugs bill, despite a campaign to cut consumption. Among the drugs most often prescribed by doctors were over-the-counter painkillers, sleeping tablets, tranquillisers and anti-depressants. The number of hospital prescriptions also rose.

One Parisian doctor said the French health system encouraged hypochondria:

I get a lot of people coming to me because they think they might be getting a cold. They are not happy unless they go away with a prescription for something. If I don’t give them what they want, they will only go to another doctor and another until they get one.

Has the French approach to illness and the body brought about a health system that panders to le malade imaginaire, or has the efficiency and popularity of the system itself bred a whole nation of hypochondriacs? Either way, it’s something that should be given urgent attention particularly as here on the Cote d’Azur we’ve just had our first instance of someone infected with the Coronavirus confirmed.

So far I’ve not seen evidence of mass hysteria, though there have been calls to close the border with Italy. The Nice Carnival and Menton Lemon Festival were abruptly terminated, though that was largely due to the danger posed by high winds. Our local pharmacy is handing out useful leaflets with plenty of advice on preventing infection and still has some disposable masks in stock. To allay fears, the Mayor of Nice has even set up a helpline:-

Saturday Postscript: Events involving gatherings of more than 5,000 people have been cancelled. This includes the Nice Foire, MIPIM – the property expo in Cannes and quite probably the bike race Paris-Nice.

Friday Photo Challenge – sea creatures

I love these challenges because it forces me to think about what’s in my photo archives and how I might re-purpose them. It also reminds me that I should try to better catalogue my photos (currently in chronological order)!

Actually, once I started giving it some thought, I had loads of examples. Most I admit were dead and ready to be eaten!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, why not join in the fun?

Friendly Friday

How to join the Friendly Friday Photo Challenge hosted on alternate weeks by Amanda and Sandy:-

  • Publish a new ‘Friendly Friday, post including a URL link to the host’s post, tagging the post, ‘Friendly Friday’ Add the Photo Challenge logo, too, if you wish.
  • Include a ‘Friendly Friday’ ping-back in your post, so others can find your entry.
  • Copy the published url into the comments of the host’s post, so other readers can visit your blog.
  • Visit other Friendly Friday entries by following the links. It’s fun!
  • Follow the host blogs to see future prompts.

Please note you only have a week to take part in the Friendly Friday Photo challenges.

One from the Vaults: Five things we loved about Australia

I’ve decided that once a week I’ll re-post something from my extensive archives. Obviously many of my early posts 2009 – 2012 heavily feature cycling. I’ll try to keep these to a minimum as I know not everyone is a cycling fan. This one’s from February 2016 which I wrote after our month-long trip to Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide.

1. Australians and their passion for their country

As a nation, Australians are very friendly, chatty and helpful. They’ve been eager to share the best their towns have to offer which has been much appreciated. We’ve also enjoyed reading about their towns and gaining a better understanding of their place in Australia’s history. It has also given us an appreciation of how hard life must have been for the early settlers and the enormous challenges they faced. We can also comprehend the draw of Australia and its lifestyle for many people from other lands.

Mal Cooper and friends from Egham
Mal Cooper and friends from Egham

2. The scenery

To be honest, we weren’t sure what to expect once outside the major conurbations but everywhere was wholly and (un)expectedly beautiful, magnificent and diverse from the towering rain forests to the fabulous sandy and rocky coastlines via the inland lakes, the salt flats, the fertile plains and the undulating hills. We’ve loved it all.

3. The Food

We have eaten well. It hasn’t mattered whether it’s been in one of Australia’s top fine dining establishments, local pubs, neighbourhood cafes or restaurants (literally) in the back of beyond, the food has been fabulous, fresh and seasonal. There has always been a vegan option for me and I’ve been thrilled at the number of delicious vegan baked goods I’ve found. We discovered a wide range of organic and vegan produce in every supermarket. I’m going to miss some of that when I get back to France, particularly the delicious relishes from Beerenberg’s Farms. If we had to pick a favourite meal it would be the one enjoyed at the quayside shack in Apollo Bay where we dined on fish caught that morning and, to quote my beloved, “the best chips ever.”

 4. Flora and Fauna

This would never be my specialist subject on Mastermind. Aside from identifying one of my late mother’s favourite plants which were in bloom everywhere, the agapanthus, I couldn’t name any of the wonderful trees and bushes we saw.

The same applied to most of the birds and animals, with obvious exceptions. Even the antics of the oh so noisy cockatoos were delightful. We’ve seen loads of different cattle and sheep but are no wiser as to their breeds which is where an Aussie version of Adam Henson from the UK’s Countryfile would’ve come in handy. I should add that neither of us has been bitten by anything: no mozzies, no man-eating spiders or anything remotely slithery!

5. Sport

Aussies love their sport. I have never, ever seen so many sports’ grounds! It’s no wonder they excel in so many sporting fields. The support for sport at grass-roots level is excellent. There was also plenty of live sporting action to see, such as 20/20 Cricket, The Australian Open and, of course, the Santos Tour Down Under where 70% of the spectators came by bike! It would never happen in Europe.

Tour Down Under riding past Adelaide cricket ground
Tour Down Under riding past Adelaide cricket ground

I could of course go on and on,  praising the excellent road network, the quality of the air, the sunsets, the night-time sky –  a black velvet backdrop for thousands of stars twinkling like diamonds – but I restrained myself!

That's what I call a sunset!
That’s what I call a sunset!

Thursday doors #56

Today we’re local with doors from nearby Cannes, Nice and Monte Carlo. Luckily for me there’s never a shortage of doors to photograph.

First up, two from Monte Carlo:-

Two doors from Nice Old Town that are quite close to one another.

Here are the final two from Cannes:-

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Trip to Valbonne

A few weekends ago, we decided to head to the old village of Valbonne, one of the many charming ones on the Côte d’Azur. It’s a village we regularly cycle through, particularly during the winter. Situated in a basin along the Braque River, its name means ‘good valley’ in French.

Valbonne’s old village originally consisted of ten grids, planned by the Abbot of Lerins, following the layout of Roman cities. It has long since expanded, making Valbonne rather different from other villages in the South of France. It’s one of the places I always recommend to visitors.

Its 16th century central square, la Place des Arcades, is now surrounded on all four sides by picturesque arcades – added a century later –  café terraces and little shops. The arcade at the Hotel Les Armoiries is engraved with a date “1628”. It’s a very colourful spot; the wonderful Sardinian red, dark orchre or pale yellow façades of the village houses serve as a wonderful backdrop to the bougainvillea, plumbago and jasmine plants that scramble over old brick walls and arches adding a distinct fragrance to an already charming village.

Purely by chance, we’d chosen to go during one of the village’s many festivals. This one was not only celebrating its 500th anniversary but also that of Saint Blaise (local grapes and products, a sort of mini-EKKA). As we were wandering round, I’d noticed that there were lots of old black and white photographs of folks on the front of many of the older houses. I stopped to chat with some locals who kindly explained their significance.

From 1895 to around 1920, some 30 families left their village of Marti Montopoli in Tuscany, fleeing the tyranny of Fascism, taking around six weeks to travel over 400kms to make their homes in Valbonne. I was fortunate to be talking to one of the descendants of those original families whose photos were adorning the buildings. She also told me all about the local Servan grapes which had been grown near the village since 1995 and which we could sample in the main square.

While I was chatting, my beloved wandered off and, largely thanks to the crowds, I couldn’t see him anywhere. I returned to the central square and was about to ask the mc for the award ceremony for all the wonderful local products if he could put out a call for him, when he reappeared. It was one of those rare occasions when he didn’t have his mobile with him. He’d wandered off to check out restaurants for lunch.

The village has plenty of small local restaurants and individual shops but I was unimpressed with my beloved’s suggestions. We ate lunch at a restaurant of my choosing which was excellent. You’d think that after all those years married to me that he would have gotten better at picking them!

The Fête de la St Blaise (there’s 12th century Eglise Saint Blaise at the base of the village) which was taking place over the entire weekend included trips to visit various local establishments, parades, a blessing, a local Servan wine tasting and cookery demonstrations from a number of notable local chefs. But my beloved, having been fed and watered, was ready to return home. As we walked back to the car, we passed an antiques shop where I had spotted a globe that I thought would please my beloved. It did and it’s now gracing the lounge.

When we returned home, I thought I’d look up the festival’s origins as many of our local villages have similarly named festivals which are held throughout the year. I discovered that Saint Blaise was born in what is now Turkey circa 300 and was apparently the patron saint of those suffering from sore throats! I assume this was because while in captivity, prior to being beheaded for his Christian beliefs, he miraculously cured a boy from fatally choking.

Subsequent legends, notably the apocryphal Acts of St. Blaise, claim that, before Blaise was made bishop, he was a physician possessed of wonderful healing powers. Numerous miracles were attributed to him, including the cure of diseased beasts during his refuge, thus accounting for his also being the patron saint of wild animals. He was venerated and, as his cult spread throughout Christendom from the 8th century, many churches, such as the one in Valbonne were dedicated to him. The French clearly have repurposed him and decided that he’s the patron saint of agricultural shows. I’m sure he doesn’t mind.

Potted history of Saint-Paul de Vence

When we first moved to the Nice area, we regularly walked around Saint-Paul de Vence’s narrow cobbled streets and bastioned fortifications which hug the contours of the rocky spur on which the village stands, affording fabulous views of the surrounding countryside. In addition, the village plays host to many art galleries and high-end gift shops, along with a number of sites of historic interest which are all fun to browse.

In the past few years, we’ve more regularly cycled past it watching the tourist hordes making their way up the hill from the coach car park to the town’s entrance. It’s pretty much a “must stop” on any coach tour. I’ve lost count of the number of Japanese tourists who have taken my photograph while I’ve laboured up that hill on my bike.

In January, while many of the shops, galleries and restaurants are closed, it’s a pleasure to wander around its beautifully cobbled streets just soaking up the history contained within its ramparts – declared a Listed Historical Monument in 1945 – today, they are the jewel in the village’s historical crown. And what a history!

Way back in the mists of time, an oppidum was erected on the Plateau du Puy. In those days, steeper sites were reputed to be safer. Indeed, there is a whole chain of perched villages overlooking the littoral which I’ll cover in due course. Over the centuries, people set up house around the old church of Saint Michel du Puy and the château at the top of the hill. Thus evolved the “castrum” of Saint-Paul.

In the Middle Ages, the Counts of Provence administered the region and granted several privileges to Saint-Paul. In 14th century, the village became the county town of a bigger district. In 1388, the eastern border of Provence was redefined : Saint-Paul occupied a strategic position and became an important border stronghold the same year the County of Nice switched its allegiance from Provence to the County of Savoy. This modified the eastern border of Provence, henceforth marked by the River Var. Saint-Paul assumed a strategic position in this new political context, becoming a border stronghold of the utmost importance.

Ramparts were erected during the second half of 14th century. Two of the original towers can still be seen: the Porte de Vence, with machicolations (opening between the supporting corbels through which objects could be dropped on attackers) still intact; and the Tour de l’Esperon. In the 16th century, Charles V’s repeated attacks on Provence motivated François I to reinforce Saint-Paul’s defences.

Nonetheless, the armies of Charles V, King of Spain, occupied Saint-Paul in 1524 and besieged the town again in 1536, illustrating its strategic importance on Europe’s political chessboard. In June 1538, when François I came to sign a treaty in Nice, he visited Saint-Paul and decided to have bastioned ramparts erected. The cutting-edge fortifications were designed by Jean de Saint-Rémy, Commander of the Artillery and a fortifications expert, who worked under François I and subsequently Henri II. Four sturdy bastions with French spurs (or orillons) protected the two gates into the town, whilst powerful curtain walls protected the stronghold’s flanks.

Saint-Paul’s church was extended and embellished in 17th century thanks to the efforts of Antoine Godeau – a man of the cloth and a founding member of the Académie Française in 1634 – and donations from the noble families of Saint-Paul. Its sumptuous Saint Clement Chapel decorated with frescoes dates from this period, as does the altar to Saint Catherine of Alexandria with its painting attributed to Spanish painter Claudio Coello.

Influential families such as the Bernardis and the Alziarys had sumptuous mansions constructed in the town. Friezes of leaves and fruit unfurled along their fronts, and inside they were embellished with rococo frescoes, stucco work, and monumental fireplaces and stairways. Yet Saint-Paul continued to play its military role and Vauban came to inspect the ramparts in 1693 and 1700.

Artists first started frequenting Saint-Paul at the beginning of the 1920s. The trail blazers were Paul Signac, Raoul Dufy and Chaïm Soutine. Attracted by colours and light of incomparable richness and intensity, they set up their easels here. Their arrival was fostered by the inauguration of a tramway line between Cagnes-sur-Mer and Vence, via Saint-Paul, in 1911. This opened the village up to the outside world. It was also used to export agricultural produce to Nice, Antibes and Grasse.

The artists enjoyed the company of Paul Roux, a many facetted resident of Saint-Paul – a painter, an art collector and the owner of the Robinson (renamed the Colombe d’Or in 1932), whose walls are still adorned with their paintings even today. Many others followed in their footsteps, including Matisse and Picasso who would call in to see their “neighbours” in Saint-Paul – the former from Vence, the latter from Vallauris and Cannes.

Throughout 20th century, actors, artists and writers made Saint-Paul into a bubbling cultural centre. Some simply passed through, others decided to settle. Each in their own way marked the village indelibly. The 1950s and ’60s were the village’s Golden Age. Saint-Paul became an amazing film set, hosting French and foreign movie stars drawn to the French Riviera by the Victorine film studios in Nice and by the Cannes Film Festival.

For over a century now, Saint-Paul de Vence has been forging its identity as a hub of the arts and culture. Its reputation now extends well beyond the frontiers of the French Riviera, boosted by the famous Maeght Foundation inaugurated in 1964, and the chapel decorated by Jean-Michel Folon, which opened in 2008. I’m so lucky to live nearby.

Sunshine’s Macro Monday #29

These photos were captured on my iPad mini while browsing The Orchid Festival in Menton (15 Feb – 3 March) at Palais de l’Europe. There is always an amazing variety on display but if any were to be left in my tender care………….they’d all be dead within days. Yes, my digits of doom would strike!

This should delight the cooks amongst you! The Cote d’Azur is famed for its dried and glacé fruit.


I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all your helpful feedback and kind comments on these posts – most encouraging.

Sunshine’s Macro Monday is a challenge hosted by Irene encouraging us to scrutinise the smallest of details by getting up close and personal and bringing someone or something to life in a photograph. It’s a one day challenge without prompts.  Irene posts a Sunshine’s Macro Monday post each Monday, just after midnight Central Time (US) so don’t forget to use the tag SMM and mention Sunshine’s Macro Monday somewhere on your post, create a pingback or add a link in the comment’s section of her post.

Sunshine Blogger Awards XVI and XVII

Back in December, I was nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by Shruti Dubhi who blogs over at Fantastic Reads. She’s a bit of a shy blogger but posts regularly about her life and beliefs.

Joshua from Spread the Word also kindly nominated me. It’s not the first time he’s done so and I suspect it may not be the last!

Don’t forget to check out both these lovely bloggers and give them a follow if you don’t already.

My Nominees

If you’re reading this you’re welcome to join in and answer all or some of the questions posed below either on your own wonderful blog or in the comments section below.

Shruti’s Questions

1. Which country are you from?

UK originally but I now live in La Belle France.

2. What is the one thing you wish to do before you die?

One? There are loads of things I still want to do and hopefully I’ll have enough time to do most of them.

3. What is the thing you have done and you regret it the most?

I don’t regret anything I’ve done and hope I don’t regret anything I don’t get around to doing.

4. Which place would you like to visit the most?

I still have a bucket list though to be fair many are re-visits.

5. How has blogging changed your life?

It hasn’t.

6. What would you like to change about yourself?

Absolutely nothing!

7. What new thing are you learning these days?

I’m learning new things everyday and long may that continue.

8. Which is your favourite movie?

The Shawshank Redemption

9. What would you do if you were invisible for a day?

Go to some “sold out” shows.

10. Which is your favourite cuisine?

Probably Spanish or maybe Australian.

11. Do you love your job?

I’m retired so my main job is clearing up after my beloved husband which I don’t enjoy!

Joshua’s questions

1. What is your main purpose in blogging?

To entertain, to amuse, to inform

2. What activity do you find the most entertaining?


3. What musical instrument do you like to listen to the most?

To be honest there’s no one instrument.

4. When you choose your clothing, what colour do you tend to buy?

Depends on which season I’m buying for, but I’m awfully fond of black.

5. Do you watch videos on YouTube?

No, life’s too short to waste it in this way.

6. What is your favorite time of day?

Early morning

7. How often do you blog?

Generally daily

8. What is the ultimate dream of your life?

You might say I’m living the dream or I would be if my beloved husband didn’t make such a mess.

9. Do you go bowling?

No! I’ve played a few times but it’s not really my bag.

10. Which do you prefer: sunny weather or rainy weather?

Sunshine everytime

11. If you could sell everything you have for one thing, what would that “one thing” be?

Equality for all, elimination of poverty and disease, rain for Australia…………..

Award Rules

1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blogging sites.
2. Answer their questions.
3. Nominate up to 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
4. Notify the nominees for their nomination through their blog or social media.
5. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post.