A curiously French complaint

Let's start the week with a smile: this article by Emma Jane Kirby, heard on Sunday on Radio 4 and transcribed on the BBC site, compares British and French attitudes towards disease and health. It notes that due a lack of funds, the expensive French system is being "anglicized", "turning away from the indulgent "There, there" approach and moving towards a much more "Get along with you now" stiff upper lip attitude."

I particularly enjoyed the ending:

A couple of years back, while skiing in the Alps after a tiring stint in Afghanistan, I noticed my legs were covered in small red spots and I was feeling lethargic. Could I finally have contracted the elusive heavy legs syndrome?

"No!" said the alarmed French doctor, "you have a tropical illness and you need to go straight to hospital."

Laughing to myself at the typical Gallic solicitousness, I popped a Paracetamol and headed straight back to the slopes.

Two days later, delirious with fever and covered in enormous black lumps, I was lying in the isolation unit of a London hospital, howling in pain and terrified what my test results would reveal.

Alerted by my cries, a masked nurse popped her head around the door.
"Oh for goodness sake," she said brusquely. "Anyone would think you were dying. You’ve only got suspected leprosy."

By | 2008-12-15T12:23:19+00:00 December 15th, 2008|Culture|3 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Corinne McKay December 15, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    Too funny! This was one thing I really never “got” when I lived in France; the French terror of “courants d’air” was one thing that we foreigners always laughed about. I just found it funny, but a lot of the Scandinavians I knew seemed to have the opposite superstition and insisted on sleeping with the windows open even if it was snowing; some of them almost came to blows with their host families!

  2. Judy Jenner December 16, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Very funny. Reminded me of when my twin sister went to the hospital in Salzburg, Austria, feeling very crummy (she was due to get on a trip to London the following morning). The doctor joyfully introduced himself as the “butcher”. Nice; what do you say to THAT? She did not spend the night in the hospital, and she made the flight to London. She “escaped” the butcher!

  3. Adrian Morgan December 19, 2008 at 8:37 am

    One of the subjects I took at university (not part of my major, which was computer science) was called “Language, Culture and Communication”. It was partly about how people learn foreign languages (including coverage of some relevant psychological theories) and partly about differences that can exist between one culture and another. Because our lecturer was French, many of the examples used in the latter section of the course involved comparing French culture to the Anglo-Australian culture I know best. It was all very interesting.

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