One of my missions when we were in Germany was to replenish my stash of Retin-A, the facial gel that I am hoping will undo the sun damage I inflicted upon my skin in my stupid youth. I have been an avid sunblock and hat wearer since I was 30, but those teen years were deadly and made even worse by the fact that I looked really good with a tan.
Plus tans were fashionable back then. I don't think anyone tries to get that super dark, almost leather tan any more these days (I didn't have that kind - I was just golden), although the woman who works at the garden store where I throw away more money than I would on heroin looks like an 80 year old sailor by August each year. People whose ancestors come from northern countries should wear sunblock.
I could get Retin-A in the US, but I would need a prescription and it costs about $80 a tube. Yes, women will pay a lot of money for the promise of youthful, dewy skin. Hope in a tube. I didn't want to pay $80 and I sure didn't want to waste my doctor's time with an office visit to request something simply to satisfy my vanity.
I walked into the first pharmacy I saw. Oh, I am sorry, the pharmacist said. You must have prescription.
Yeah. That's what they told me in France when I asked for codeine ten years ago. At the time, that was the only drug that came close to getting rid of my headaches, but it was difficult to get from my doc because the DEA breathes down doctors' necks about narcotics.
Which is stupid. Doctors are afraid to prescribe painkillers for people who really need them because the DEA will come after them if they prescribe to addicts. So we make this tradeoff: people who are in serious pain do not get pain relief just so addicts can't have their drugs? Do I care about the addicts? Do I care if they take drugs? No I do not. If they want to ruin their own lives, let them. That's their problem. Those people who truly need pain relief should not be denied because of the junkies.
In France, the first response would be no, not without a prescription, but if I asked again, they would say, Oh well, fine. Here's your codeine.
The French, they are not so concerned with the rules mandated by The Man. The quintessential view of the French character was in a photo I took once (and of course cannot find now) of a Frenchman sitting under a "No Smoking" sign. And smoking. Nobody is going to tell the French what to do. Nobody.
I thought, If I can get narcotics without a prescription in Europe, a facial cream ought to be a piece of cake. I just need to find the right pharmacist.
Ha. I forgot where I was.
This is the country where even when there is no traffic coming from either side for a mile late at night, people wait for the "walk" signal. No jaywalking. No crossing against the light. SH was concerned I was going to be arrested because I kept losing my patience with the long traffic signals and would cross when the road was clear, even though the light said NO! The Germans standing on the curb would shake their heads sadly and click their tongues in disapproval at me. The sign says NO! You have to follow the sign!
Germany is a country of Rules. People there follow the rules. In most cases, this is a good thing. Who wants to live in anarchy and chaos where people are spitting and urinating everywhere?*
But when I want an exception to a pharmacy rule? So I can get Retin-A for $20 instead of $80? Then I want some flexibility. Then I want some civil disobedience. Then I want a complete change in national character. But it was not to be. I went to five different pharmacies and got the same answer every time: It is necessary to have a prescription.
It's their fault if I start to look old.
* In Germany's defense, I did not see signs forbidding either of these activities in public places. I have, however, seen those signs in South America. You shall know a culture by what is forbidden.