Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Getting over my Fears

19 January 2010

Getting Over My Fears (one at a time)

aka: The Doctor's Visit

I never realized how timid and shy I could be in unfamiliar situations until we committed to actually live in a foreign country for an extended period of time. When traveling to France before, as much as I wanted to speak the language and immerse myself in the culture during the 2-3 weeks we visited, I never really did either as successfully as I had imagined in my mind (picture hair and skirt blowing in the breeze and my marche basket bursting with fresh produce and bread, leaning over the cheese case and saying, “Monsieur, peux-je avoir votre meiller comte fromage svp?”). But, it didn’t really matter as I was only a tourist and who was ever going to remember me other than the French couple at dinner discussing the silly Americane who asked for something really embarrassing at the produce stand earlier that day? I certainly wasn’t.

Well, now that we live in a community of under 3000 residents (and that includes the outlying villages), it’s much more difficult to just “blend in” anonymously as we are going to be here for a while and we are the only “new” American’s to reside here in the last 17 years. Eymet is definitely a place where ‘everyone knows your name’ if you get my drift. Hell, the houses have names rather than numbers. At school, Caleigh is known as “the Americane” and the one girl previously known as such had never actually ever lived in the States although she and her parents are American/French citizens. Because of this closeness, at times I feel like anything we do could be scrutinized and possibly talked about. I’m also challenged from just getting used to the every day business of living here - from setting up our local bank account, getting our kid registered in the local schools, purchasing special French scolaire assurance, obtaining a local cell phone (which deserves its very own section), finding the perfect boulangerie (and eventually butcherie, chaucterie & fromagerie once I learn how to order…patience…), learning the preferred supermarches and village marches as well as the days/hours they are open, trying out the local restaurants, bistros and cafes (I know, poor, poor me) and getting to know their proprietors and wait staff. All of this is new and of course, in French, and as you know by now, a tad intimidating for me.

So, trying to make an appointment today at the local doctor’s office for Caleigh was a bit of a challenge. She has had a cough and congestion for over a month now and even though she says she feels fine, I am starting to fear getting chewed out by yet another doctor for child neglect (last December I think she actually ended up having an bronchial infection that required antibiotics after over a month of hacking). So, first of all, I consulted Isabelle’s “Everything you need to know about Lauzanac” notebook that she has prepared for guests. I find the number of a medical group in town with directions, so Hank and I decide it would probably be easier to make an appointment in person rather than over the phone.

When we walked into the reception area, everyone was sitting down (and looked at us of course) and there was no receptionist desk in sight. There were three doors though. One was for the toilet, so that was definitely not it. There was also a door with nothing on it, so I definitely wasn’t going to try going through that one. Then, there was the third door with some instructions written on the window that made me wonder, although no one else went through it. In fact, I watched as a few new patients arrived, said, “Bonjour” to everyone before grabbing a magazine and sitting down without checking in with someone. Damn, I really wanted to go through that third door, but I didn’t want to be the pushy American, always having to be first, never wanting to wait…Hank’s the same way, so we sat there with the sick people for about ten minutes until I suggested that we just head home and try calling. “I’m sure someone will speak English,” I said hopefully.

So, we get home and I consult my French-English dictionary and phrase book until I’m completely ready to go. I know how to ask how to make an appointment, “Je voudrais prendre un rendez-vous svp” and that it is for my daughter, “pour ma fille” who has had a cough for a month, “elle a un toux pour un mois.” Unfortunately, I got tripped up on the pronunciation during the spelling of her name, and the poor woman trying to help me make the appointment finally asks to have a person who speaks French call for me. I hang up feeling so inadequate; so frustrated because I actually knew what to say, but could not communicate the most basic – the French alphabet. It didn’t help that we had chosen such a unique name for Caleigh. I should have just said, “like the famous port town up north whose pronunciation her name was taken from when I was 9+ months pregnant and crazy-desperate for the perfect name and saw a tv commercial advertising the Buick “Calais.” But I didn’t tell her that, and instead just hung up feeling dejected.

So, I pulled out the phrase book that has the phonetic alphabet and I really want to call back and prove to the receptionist and mainly myself (and also Hank who had witnessed my ineffectual attempt), but I chicken out and call Isabelle instead who can hopefully call for me. But she does not pick up and I contemplate just letting Caleigh’s cough go another day, week, month, whatever; just so I don’t have to call back again…but of course, that doesn’t feel right. So, as Hank suggests, we go back to the doctor’s office and sit in the reception area and I take out my dictionary and translate what is written on the third door’s window and just as I am almost ready to press the “sonnette” (buzzer) once to make an appointment (as I can now translate that it says to do on the mystery third door), the kind receptionist comes out. I know I’m not leaving here (again) without an appointment, so in front of all of the people in the room, I stand up and blurt out in crystal clear French “Peux je prendre un rendez-vous svp?” She smiles, says, “oui, bien sur” and whisks us behind door #3. A few minutes later we are walking out with a sheet of paper with an appointment time with Dr. Roquebert made for tomorrow afternoon at 4pm.

It is such a small feat I know, but I cannot begin to explain how great I felt right then and how good this “getting over your fears” real-life-French-therapy felt.

One word: Superb!


Oh, and I found out why everyone looks at you when you walk into the doctors office (beside just human curiosity). They are waiting for you to say "bonjour" so they can all in unison say "bonjour" back. Then when you leave, everyone says, "au revoir." It is so incredibly sweet. We also saw a wonderful doctor yesterday who prescribed Caleigh the necessary antibiotics that we picked up at the pharmacy in about 5 minutes. Total cost out of pocket for a non-insured foreigner? $22 euros for the exam & visit; $18 euros for three prescriptions (antibiotic, nasal spray & throat syrup). Makes you wonder about all this "socialized" medicine over here. It seems to work just fine and obviously the patients all seem happy :) -

Oh, and this other cute thing happened in the waiting room. An elderly couple was waiting with us and started speaking french to us and I tried speaking to them, very, very slowly. Well, she may have thought my attempt was cute, or she may have just thought I was extremely simple because she walked right up to me with a huge smile on her face and held my cheeks in her hands and gave me the double kiss! now, that was pretty special.

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