The American Girl Versus the Spanish Farmacia

Yesterday, as you may well know, was Valentine's Day.  And while all the lovely couples in my adopted home of Menorca were enjoying the lovely romantic dinners, I was headed to my least favorite place in Spain--La Farmacia.

As you may well know, American pharmacies are a one-stop shop, where you get anything you want, from penicillin to pencils, to pretzels. But La Farmacia is nothing like its American counterparts. For me, this has been both a blessing and a curse.

In Spain, pharmacies are places where you can get medicine. To be fair, they also sell basic toiletries such as skincare products, dental care, and infant care. But if you are looking for something to satiate your chocolate craving while you wait in line, you'll be disappointed.

The main benefit of a Spanish pharmacy, however, is that the pharmacist can provide you with medications that would only be available in American through a doctor's prescription. In Spain, you can just go to the pharmacist, describe your symptoms and they will provide you with the proper remedy. Medications here are also significantly cheaper than they are in the US, and you don't have to worry about insurance.


Lost in Translation

But herein still lies problem number 1--you have to actually speak to the pharmacist. As an expat, you may have become proficient and possibly even fluent in the language of your adopted home. But trying to speak about medical terms and physical ailments is another beast. Unless you make a concerted effort, you probably will not learn the words for "swollen" "soreness" or "irritation" on your own. These are not generally things that come up in polite conversation over tapas.


Lack of Privacy

The solution to this issue, as I learned yesterday, can easily be rectified through Google Translate. But once you make it into the pharmacy, you are faced with issue number two--a lack of privacy.

I walked into the pharmacy yesterday with the intent of picking up three things: a facial cleanser, an antihistamine, an ummm...anti-itch cream. The first two were simple enough. I grabbed the facial cleanser off the shelf and told the woman behind the counter that I was suffering from seasonal allergies. But the last product left me in a sticky situation.  While I had looked up for words for "itch" and the delicate area where the itch was located, I still found myself unable to fully express the issue that I was having.

I thought about just leaving without it, but miraculously, the pharmacist was finally able to figure out what I needed. I was grateful, but also slightly annoyed. I couldn't help but silently lament that in the US, I would never have had to deal with this situation. Back home, I would have simply walked over to feminine care aisle and went along my way; with both my privacy and my pride intact.


Lack of Accessibility

While this most recent situation is perhaps the most embarrassing instance, I have been in this situation several times before. The first was when I went in search of an antacid, the second was Airborne and the third, and the most infuriating was lip balm.

This--issue number 3, is the true culmination of them all.

Listen, I can deal with not being able to grab pick up a container of Tums or a bottle of Zyrtec off the shelf whenever I feel like it. But when it comes to lip gloss, I remain unapologetically entitled. I cannot for the life of me understand why even this is not available within arms reach. Must I really have a conversation with a pharmacist just to remain properly moisturized? I vote no.

The truth is, walking into a pharmacy here in Spain is one the main reminders of my foreignness. Simple transactions become complicated and cultural and language barriers are reinforced.

It is also a reminder of my privilege. While I may be living in another First Word country, that does not mean that it will have the same level of accessibility that I am used to. It is a hard lesson to learn, but I am getting there.

And in the meantime, I'll order my Blistex and Monistat on Amazon.

Candace Fykes