The Non-Existent Right or Wrong of How to Travel: The Doctor, the Butcher Knife and Reality French Lessons

By Margo Millure

I was sick today and instead of calling the doctor for me, Marianne, my French teacher, suggests in French that maybe, maybe, I should “make an appointment with the doctor myself.”

Maybe it is the fever, but only part of me understands this unfolding scene at the Coeur de France Ecole de Langues in Sancerre, France. I am left behind a little, because everything all of a sudden has gone from pretend land, where two days ago we “went grocery shopping” in French with little plastic fruits and veggies, and yesterday we wandered around town buying cooking ingredients, to something that feels a little too real.

The town of Sancerre has lots of cafes, wine shops and charm. Additionally there is exactly one of everything that’s vital to French town life: a boulangerie, a patisserie, a charcuterie and a Michelin starred restaurant. But today, what turns out to be the most important to me is that there is one la pharmacie and one le médecin (doctor).

Experience says I should be ready for this. A scene with le médecin is invariably in every French language workbook I have ever used. Although Sancerre is without a doubt the most perfect spot imaginable to both be sick and practice my French, I don’t want to do this. Illness and all, I want to stay back in the classroom, buying little plastic fruits and vegetables.

Marianne is now at least two sentences ahead of me and says something that was pretty close to this: “Marcher vers la place du village, continuez tout droit tout le chemin à la pharmacie. Puis c’est la porte verte à quelques portes dernières de la pharmacie.” In other words, something along the lines of, “Walk towards the town square, and the doctor is at the green door that is a few doors past the pharmacy.”

I walk to the location of this green door and am very thankful for Sancerre and its small size. When I arrive, the door looks as if it has been painted in honor of my unscheduled arrival, and I feel like looking around to see if there is an Alliance Francaise crew filming my reality immersion lesson.

The waiting room and office appear to be empty except for a young receptionist behind a second door. I amuse the heck out of her, but manage to make my appointment, curiously, for “in about an hour.” When I return around an hour later, I take a seat in the still empty waiting room, which except for a few strange looking creatures on a French alphabet poster that I can’t figure out what they are supposed to be, I could be back in South Carolina. Well that and the large supply of newish French fashion magazines fanned on the table.

After a few minutes of thumbing through one of the magazines and pondering France’s national obsession with cellulite, a woman with long, dark, and very mobile curls enters the waiting room from the reception area.

Heading for the restroom she glances at me quickly, a flash of exotic eyes piercing through rectangular Euro glasses. She tries to open the restroom door, jiggling it decisively several times when obviously it is locked.

I pull my nose out of the French magazine long enough to envy her ability to pull off the shirt she is wearing, a layered tee shirt/sweater hybrid, accented with lace stripes. It is an outfit that if spotted in the U.S. on many, might look to have come from Kmart; on her body in Sancerre, France, it looks as if it may have been bought on Paris’s Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré or at Printemps.

She pulls air through her teeth, making a disgusted, “pshhttt.” sound, a sound that she and French people in general do very well. She spins around and strides back to where she came from, shutting the door firmly behind her. She reappears about a minute later, and has something shiny in her hand, which I presume to be a key to the locked restroom door.

However, the metal object she carries is not a key, but a butcher knife. “Le couteau” is rather large, and its blade catches a glint of sunlight as she heads for the restroom door. She appears to be unhappy or maybe I’m just misinterpreting her intensity. I feel as if now we have jumped ahead again in our language workbooks, to the chapter where there is going to be a une victime d’un crime.

Fortunately instead of going all French crime novel on me, she bends down like a thief towards the lock. I must confess that after a week of sustaining myself on large amounts of rich French food, including the local goat cheese, my first thought is why when I gain weight can’t it be distributed in my rear end in the same way it is in this woman. Deftly she wiggles the knife this way then that in the lock. In less than 15 seconds, she’s in.

A few minutes later I am called back to see the doctor. That my doctor turns out to be the knife wielding, lock picker with the brown curls and the nice tush doesn’t really surprise me at all.

Our appointment goes well: She practices her medicine, and I practice my French. With a couple of exceptions, we “parlons tres bien.” My impression is momentarily thrown into doubt when upon coming back out into the waiting area the receptionist is giggling. Then I remember that giggling from the natives when practicing their language comes with the territory.

Next it’s on to la pharmacie. Pharmacies are identified by a large green cross in every French town, and I know I’ll be able to find it. Besides, Marianne told me where it was if you recall. It’s just a few doors down on the way back to school.

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4 Responses to “The Non-Existent Right or Wrong of How to Travel: The Doctor, the Butcher Knife and Reality French Lessons”

  1. Krista says:

    Ha! I love this story. :-) Sitting here with a huge grin on my face picturing every scene. It must’ve been even more startling to your illness-addled senses. :-)

  2. Hilarious story. Thanks for sharing!

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