Category Archives: Health

Baring it All: What to expect at the French gynecologist

Today’s post is written by Aidan Larson. Aidan is the author of the popular blog Conjugating Irregular Verbs where she shares stories of her life in the South of France. Thank you Aidan!

When you think of moving abroad, doctors and health care are no doubt high up on your checklist. You wonder what you’ll do in an emergency as well as the random sinus infection, and if you have children, you are sure to find a doctor who can take care of them with checkups and preventive medicine.

But don’t forget about the gynecologists for the yearly going over that every woman needs. Just because you live abroad doesn’t give you a get out of jail free card for going to the gynecologist, even if you don’t know the French word for ovary. Admittedly, I put off my first French gynecologist appointment a bit longer than normal because I was nervous about finding a doctor who spoke English. And then I realized that, just as in all things, I would be able to figure it out. And if I can, then so can you.

One interesting plus is that the medical system in France is much more personalized. A visit to the doctor can be like a social call with an armful of prescriptions as your parting gift. But because of this, be prepared to wait patiently for your turn across the desk.

You will find large practices and clinics shared by several doctors just like in the U.S. but it is more common for your French doctor to have an office wedged into a section of a former residence or in some cases, inside their own residence. If there is a receptionist, she (it just usually is) sits at a desk taking calls and making appointments and is less concerned with announcing your arrival or taking payment. You just waltz right in and sit in the waiting room unannounced. This always feels a bit strange to my American sensibilities because we are so used to being announced and then called in by a nurse, but don’t worry. Somehow they know you’re there and they’ll come for you. I think it has to do with all the little buzzers and bells you sound upon entering the office.

In France it is more common for the doctor herself to come out and welcome you with a handshake. There are usually two portions of the doctor’s visit, gynecologist or not. You will meet and greet, exchange niceties, and then be directed to sit across the desk from the doctor to discuss the reason for your visit. Any paperwork, medical history, or concerns will be handled here, in conversation, rather than on a fill-in-the-blank form. This process can take awhile, especially if your French is around second grade level like mine, and may include drawings. But the doctors don’t mind. They really don’t.

The only time I remember going to a gynecologist appointment and sitting at a desk in all the years I visited the ob/gyn in Texas was during a pre-baby consultation to check for any genetic disorders. The rest of the time it was straight into the exam room, knickers off, gown on, perched on the table waiting for the exam. If this is what you’re used to, it may seem a bit strange to sit and chat about things across the desk while the exam table peeks out from behind a screen in the adjoining room. This leads me to the next portion of the French gynecologist visit.

After all the chit-chat the doctor will kindly ask you to go into the screened off exam area and take off your clothes. If you’re lucky there will be a tiny changing room where you can discreetly disrobe. If not, you’ll just have to chuck it all off right there. And I mean all of it. There are no softly worn cotton gowns with teal star designs or yellow duckies. There aren’t even any rough, blue paper gowns that gape open at the back. And there certainly is not a sheet to cover over your knees.

Nudity is not an issue in the doctor’s exam room. It’s as if you’ve passed through an invisible barrier from the get-to-know-you niceties into strip it and let’s have a look zone. I have had discussions with fellow non-French women about this, and we think it may be one of the reasons the French are obsessed with matching underwear. But of course you’re meant to peel your undies off too–at least you match while losing them!

Now, if I can give you any one piece of advice for a successful visit to the French gynecologist or obstetrician it is this: wear a skirt. This way you can slip off your dainties and leave the skirt on in order to maintain some level of Anglophone dignity. I even kept on my T-shirt (although braless), so on the surface it looked like I was just a normally dressed girl who happened to be up on a gynecological table in stirrups. The exam will be carried out in the usual way; sorry, that’s universal ladies. And then you’ll be done for the year, having marked another one off of the ‘scary things to do in another language’ list.

After this, you get yourself all back in order and return to the doctor’s desk to take care of any prescriptions (i.e. your goodie bag) and payment.

Here’s some helpful vocabulary to keep drawings to a minimum…(interesting how so many of the words are masculine!)

gynecologist le gynécologue
ovary l’ovaire
fallopian tubes les trompes de Fallope
uterus l’utérus
cervix le col
vagina le vagin
pap smear le frottis
menstrual cycle la menstruation
to menstruate avoir ses règles
menopause la ménopause
breasts les seins
mammogram la mammographie
pregnant enceinte
pregnancy la grossesse
miscarriage la fausse couche
birth la naissance
birth control la limitation des naissances
contraceptive le contraceptif
the pill la pilule
emergency contraception la contraception d’urgence
condom le préservatif
sexually transmitted infections infections sexuellement transmissibles (IST)
abstinence labstinence sexuelle
test (by doctor) l’examen
test (of blood, etc.) l’analyse
to test examiner
prescription la ordonnance, la prescription

Running in Paris

In the past, breaking a sweat on the sidewalk or having to sidestep merde may have deterred people from running in Paris, but the Parisian running scene is as vibrant as in any major city. For those just getting into running or seasoned runners itching for a race, here’s our guide to running in Paris.

Where and When to Run
Early morning and late evening are when you’ll see the most runners, but runners are out and about all times of day. During the lunch hour you’ll see men and women of all ages doing laps around the Champ de Mars. But if you prefer to have peace, quiet, and empty sidewalks, then your best bet is to be on your way before 7AM. Any later and you’ll be sharing the streets with commuters heading to work and probably get a side eye from one or two. Despite Paris providing a relaxing, scenic atmosphere for a morning jog, it seems after work hours draw a larger crowd. Parisians don’t appear to be an early to bed, early to rise kind of crew so you’ll see them squeezing in a run pre-dinner. No matter what time of day you run, it’s still important to be aware of your surroundings. Most neighborhoods in Paris are safe, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be a target. For French and non-French speakers alike it’s recommended your carry identification and a few bills (enough for an emergency taxi ride or metro ticket) with you. There are a few companies, such as Road ID, ICE ID, and MedIDs, where you can customize an ID bracelet. These are especially important if you have any sort of medical conditions or want medical personnel to know which languages you speak.

Once you’ve worked out a time to throw on your sneaks, planning a running route in Paris has never been easier. Websites such as Map My Run, Walk Jog Run, Run Keeper, and Run Map allow you to search routes completed by other runners, use an interactive tool to map your own route, as well as keep track of your running statistics. Run the Planet and Running Routes also provide routes with commentary on directions and scenery. If hopping on the Internet isn’t your running style, it’s just as easy to head to one of Paris’s many parks or forge your own path through the city’s urban landscape.

Running Buddies
If you’re looking for company, Paris offers a range of running groups. There are those for native English speakers, those who want to run with locals, and even groups dedicated to running and drinking. Here are just a few:

Paris Running Tours
Paris Running Club
Paris Hash House Harriers
Nike Running Club
Les Moustiques
Paris Athletic
Good People Run

Getting Ready to Run
You’d think running in the fashion capital of the world you would need runway worthy workout clothes, but that is not the case. The majority of runners on Parisian streets are wearing yesterday’s undershirt and a pair of old sweatpants. Only a handful look the part of high school track star and three-time marathoner which goes to show you that being a runner in Paris is all about your attitude. If you want to run, run. A few folks of the non-exercising variety may stare or squawk but your confidence is what will propel you to keep jogging past them without a second thought to their obnoxious looks or comments. But, if you want to run in style or need to retire an old pair of Adidas there are several stores in Paris where you can find what you need. Here is a list of stores that carry running gear: 

Boutique Marathon
26 rue Léon Jost 75017 Tel: 01 42 27 48 18

Planet Jogging
80 rue du Fbg Saint Antoine 75012 Tel: 01 53 46 02 02
58/60 avenue de la Grande Armée 75017 Tel: 01 45 72 50 00

Endurance Shop
14 rue de l’Ouest 75014 Tel: 01 43 27 15 65

Au Vieux Campeur
48 rue Ecoles 75005 Tel: 01 53 10 48 48

Le Pape
39 rue Artois 75008 Tel: 01 53 75 00 03

Decathlon
23 boulevard de la Madeleine 75001 Tel: 01 55 35 97 55
26 avenue de Wagram 75008 Tel: 01 45 72 66 88
113 avenue de France 75013 Tel: 01 44 06 82 00
416 rue Louis Armand 75015 Tel: 01 45 58 60 45
2 place de la Défense 92053 Tel: 01 49 03 75 20
67 bis/79 rue de la Republique 93100 Tel: 01 48 18 29 00

Go Sport Tel: 08 25 10 60 60
Nouveau Forum des Halles Place Carrée 75001
Forum des Halles Niveau 3- 1 rue Pierre Lescot 75001
10 place de la Republique 75011
135 avenue Daumensil 75012
30 avenue d’Italie 75013
21/23 avenue de la Porte de Chatillon 75014
Centre Commercial Gaité- 68 avenue du Maine 75014
12/16 avenue de la Porte de Saint Cloud 75016
Centre Commercial les 4 Temps Casier 136 92092

Nike
12 rue des Hospitalieres Saint-Gervais 75004 Tel: 01 53 01 23 27
24 rue Aubry le Boucher 75004 Tel: 01 42 78 15 00
67 avenue des Champs Elysées  75008 Tel: 01 42 25 93 80
104 rue de Provence 75009 Tel: 01 40 16 00 57
2 rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine  75012 Tel: 01 43 44 25 95

ProDuSport
Passion Running
Sportri

Running a Race
Paris hosts a variety of races throughout the year. There are 5Ks, marathons, and everything in between. But before you can dash across any starting line, there are a few basic steps for signing up to race:

1. Visit the race website and review the registration requirements. If you are not a member of an athletic association or do not have a current medical certificate, visit your general practitioner to get up-to-date medical clearance to run. French law requires all competitors to have a medical certificate from a doctor proving they are fit to race. When you visit the doctor to get your certificate, he or she can write you the certificate or you can bring a form (usually downloadable from the race website) already filled out with the correct wording. Some race organizers are strict about the wording so be sure your doctor writes the correct thing!

2. Print out and complete a registration form OR complete the form online.

3. Pay the registration fee online OR write a check to mail in.

4. Mail in your completed registration form, a copy of your medical certificate, and registration fee OR submit your registration form with a electronic copy of your certificate attached.

5. All set! Within a few days you should receive confirmation of your registration. As the race date approaches you’ll get more information about how, when, and where to pick up your race number.

If you’re looking for a race, Paris Running Tours and Agenda du Sportif have calendars with race dates.

Helpful Vocabulary

to run courir
to go running faire du jogging
race la course
race route le parcours
to register s’inscrire
registration la inscription
medical certificate le certificat médical
training la préparation
start le départ
fuel points les points de ravitaillements
finish la arrivée
results les résultats
timing chip la puce électronique
sneakers les chassures
socks les chausettes
laces les lacets
lace lacer

Head Lice: An Itchy Issue

Translation: The head lice have arrived at school!

Itchy head? Just reading those words sends my scalp into a scratching frenzy, and chances are if you live in Paris you’ve seen this announcement posted on a bulletin board outside one of the city’s schools. French, international, private, and public, nearly every school in Paris faces yearly head lice infestations. Head lice are so common in the Île-de-France they even secured a spot in a recent promotion for French news source RTL. Their prevalence has made them movie stars!

In the U.S., most schools have a policy of regularly checking elementary school children for lice and barring students with any evidence of lice from attending school (the so-called no nit policy). In Paris, the administrators take a laissez faire approach toward the pesky louse. It may be that they believe that head lice are simply an unfortunate (and itchy!) right of passage for students or because they don’t have the political will to create strict rules. Whatever the reason may be, head lice take advantage of this lack of oversight and happily jump from one child to the next.

Without established procedures to reduce instances of head lice, prevention, detection, and treatment is left to parents. For many this means playing hairdresser and doing more loads of laundry than they’d like to count. Forget the “nit nurse,” it’s all parents when it comes to lice in the City of Light.

What to do if one of those buggers makes home sweet home on your child’s head?

  • Educate yourself in head lice 101. A little lice know how can prevent multiple and prolonged infestations, and the Internet makes becoming a lice expert easier than ever! For clear, concise, and scientifically vetted information, we recommend the CDC’s page on prevention and treatment.
  • Inform yourself on what’s happening in your child’s classroom. Are younger children sharing mats for naps? Are hats being shared for dress up or theater?  It may take guts to suggest to your teacher that Johnny sleep on his own mat (one you provide) but consider the alternative of repeated infestations.
  • As embarrassing as it may be, share the news of the infestation with the parents of your children’s friends. As always when dealing with the French, you will get best results when you accept responsibility before you seek allies. So ‘fess up. Your kid has lice. You just want to be sure others know so they don’t get infected. If you don’t want your child reinfected, make sure their friends are lice free before you send them on a play date or sleepover.
  • Invest in a really good lice comb, a strong pair of glasses, and a nontoxic treatment lotion. Your neighborhood pharmacist can recommend the products you need to deal with an infestation.

Paris for the Disabled

A 2005 French law requires that public accommodations be accesssible to the disabled within 10 years.  Line 14 of the metro is fully accessible and all buses in Paris are now equipped with ramps and special mechanisms to allow those in wheelchair residents to ride safely and comfortably.   Many crosswalks have sound signals at the crosswalk to indicate to the blind that the light has changed.  And public toilet facilities are also designed for wheelchair accessibility.  But other signs of progress are less obvious.

Since full access still seems to be a long way away, here are a few sites to help negotiate the streets and institutions of Paris.  In addition, we’re told that if you’re planning to have visitors who are disabled, it’s a good idea to do a dry run in advance of major tourist sites.  If you need to rent a wheelchair, check in at your neighborhood pharmacie.

Access in Paris: a guidebook mostly geared for tourists, you can download chapters one at a time.  Includes information on hotels, tourist sites, public transportation, and signage.

Disabled Access in Paris from Sage Traveling:  a helpful online guide with sections on transport, hotels and tourist attractions.  While the site is designed to get you to use the company’s services,  there is quite a bit of information posted here for all comers.

Tourisme et Handicap:  a downloadable brochure on 200 sites (lodging, tourist sites) in Ile de France noting their level of accessibility.

Infomobi:  Information on public transport for the disabled (those in wheelchairs, the blind, deaf, and with mental disabilities) throughout Ile de France (in French).

Les Compagnons du Voyage:  organization providing personalized assistance to elderly and disabled persons travelling on the SNCF and RATP.  There is a fee for this service (in French.)

Medias Sous Titres:  a site focused on closed captioning of television, film, and cultural events for the hearing impaired (in French).

And here’s an article from the Boston Globe (2013) commenting on the experience of a disabled American tourist in Paris.

Doctors and Dentists

Being sick is stressful under any circumstances.  But when you’re sick  as a stranger in a strange land, the stress multiplies.  Here then are some leads that you might want to consider checking out before illness or injury come knocking.  The health professionals on this list were recommended by Anglophone expats in the Paris region. Not all speak English. Or the doctor may speak English but not the office staff. Even so, folks with relatively little French have had successful interactions with them.   Please note that this list is not by any means exhaustive.  If you can make a recommendation for others, please do so in the comments. Another source worth consulting is the U.S. Embassy’s list of English speaking doctors.

If you are covered by the French health care system, be aware that not all of these doctors are conventionné, meaning that not all accept Social Security’s fees as payment in full. If you have a mutuelle (gap insurance typically provided by an employer), it may cover the extra charges. If you are covered only by a health insurance carrier in another country, expect to make payment in full at the time of service. Please note also that not all health professionals accept credit cards; bring cash or a check.

Chiropractic

Reine-Judith Oliver
5, rue de la Comet‎
75007 Paris
Phone: 01 45 56 95 51

Dermatology

Chantal Meslay
2, rue Villarmains
92210 Saint Cloud
Phone: 01 47 71 08 04

Wafa Ouazzani
96, avenue Victor Hugo
75016 Paris
Phone: 01 44 05 04 43

General Practice/Internal Medicine

Julia Bache
5, rue Leon Cogniet
75017 Paris
Phone: 01 47 63 42 07

Patrick Bertrand
19, Grand Rue
92420 Vaucresson
Phone:  01 47 41 64 56

Anne-Valerie Meyers
10, rue Royale
75008 Paris
Phone: 01 42 66 47 82

Michael Saba
6, rue de Sontay
75016 Paris
Phone: 01 45 00 70 61

Nancy Salzman
1, avenue Lowendal
75007 Paris
Phone:  01 45 63 18 43

Francis Slattery  
10, avenue d’Eylau
75016 Paris 
Phone:  01 47 42 02 34

Obstetrics/Gynecology

Jocelyn McGuiness
American Hospital
63, boulevard Victor Hugo
92200 Neuilly-sur-Seine
Phone: 01 46 41 26 96

Anne Francoise Neiman
150, rue de l’Universite
75007 Paris
Phone: 01 44 18 72 18

Ophthalmology

Richard Luscan
173, Grand Rue
92380 Garches
Phone: 01 47 41 31 63

Hilda Sam
10, avenue d’Eylau
75016 Paris
Phone: 01.47.55.42.22

Pediatrics

John Lovejoy
American Hospital
63, boulevard Victor Hugo
92200 Neuilly-sur-Seine
Phone: 01 46 41 27 67

Michael Robin
American Hospital
63, boulevard Victor Hugo
92200 Neuilly-sur-Seine
Phone: 01 46 41 27 67

Psychiatry

Michel Lecendreux
11, rue Bosio
75016 Paris
Phone: 01 42 15 15 75
Note: If your child has ADD/ADHD and is on medication, you may be used to going to your GP or neurologist for prescriptions. In France, you can only obtain a prescription for these medications from a psychiatrist.

Radiology

Anne Ducellier-Orlowski
16, rue Benjamin Franklin
75016 Paris
Phone: 01 45 25 15 10

Dentistry

Gerard Benmussa
18, rue Duphot
75001 Paris
Phone: 01 40 20 03 00

Frank Boukobza
42, avenue de la Bourdonnais
75007 Paris
Phone: 01 45 55 49 22

Dr. Hazan
185, rue de La Pompe
75016 Paris
Phone: 01 47 27 45 35

Corinne Lallam-Laroye
65, rue Fessart
92100 Boulogne
Phone: 01.46.05.24.40

Children only
Lorraine Arav and Ariane Arav-Hazan
60, avenue d’Iéna
75016 Paris
Phone:  01 40 70 98 48

Orthodontia
Jacques-Yves Assor
10, avenue Felix Faure
75015 Paris
Phone: 01 45 57 21 17

Emeric Augeraud
146, rue Gallieni
92100 Boulogne
Phone: 01 41 31 01 01

Claudine Boggetto
70, boulevard de la Reine
78000 Versailles
Phone: 01 30 21 87 68

Patrick Curiel
109bis, avenue Charles de Gaulle
92200 Neuilly sur Seine
Phone: 01 46 40 01 02

Eric Maupas
11, rue de Passy
75016 Paris
Phone: 01 42 24 88 51

Jean Luc Pruvost
98, avenue Kleber
75016 Paris
Phone: 01 45 53 84 84

Eric Serfaty
20, avenue Kleber
75116 Paris
Phone:  01 45 00 50 00

Coping with Food Intolerances in France

by Karin Bates Snyder  

Do you have food allergies or other health conditions that prohibit your eating foods with wheat, dairy, nuts, or other ingredients? How easy is it to find food to eat in Paris for a food allergic or intolerant person? Here are some tips for traveling to or living in France from a food-intolerant person trying to find sustenance in the gourmet capital of the world.

After my first year of living in Paris, I developed some health conditions that led me to eliminate gluten and dairy, and reduce my use of cane sugar and some other ingredients in my diet. While this has not always been easy, in the process I have learned a lot about how to find food in Paris that I can eat and which won’t make me feel sick. I have also traveled to the south of France and discovered things I’ve learned in Paris apply there, too.

On scale of one to ten, with ten being the easiest place to travel or live with food intolerances, and one being the most difficult, I would rate Paris and the rest of France at about a 4 to 5 at the moment.  As elsewhere, food allergies and intolerances are on the rise in France, and I have seen improvements in awareness and understanding of food-related health conditions in even the relatively short time I have been dealing with these issues myself.

Culturally and historically, cuisine is very important to French people – maybe the important thing in the culture here. It is taken quite seriously. There is also a kind of cultural understanding that all things are fine for a body in moderation, and so the idea of eliminating something from one’s diet voluntarily is counter to how many people in France approach food and eating.

This is not to say that the French are inflexible about understanding people who have genuine health problems related to food. Since coming to France, I have met several people (French and foreigner alike) diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes destruction to the small intestine when gluten is ingested. I also know lactose intolerant people, and vegetarians and vegans, who may not have a health reason for eating differently than the bulk of the French population, but whose deep personal convictions lead them to eat differently than most. All manage to eat well in Paris, but it does take some creativity, fortitude, and patience.

Here are the key issues.

First, assess your own situation. 

Do you have only one major food intolerance, it’s not that severe, and you have experience handling it elsewhere?

If so, you are probably going to have a good food experience in France. Finding food in stores and restaurants that eliminate a major ingredient such as gluten-based grains or dairy is pretty much a piece of cake. Health food stores carry gluten and dairy-free goods, including baked goods and snacks. The average café will likely have at least one meal you can eat, even if you wind up ordering salade Niçoise each time you go out.   I have and do eat out – it is possible. My favorite restaurants are vegetarian or macrobiotic ones where foods are often organic and made from simple, whole ingredients, and also places like Léon de Bruxelles, a chain that serves mussels and frites (French fries).

There is also good information in phrasebooks (my Lonely Planet French phrase book has an entire section dedicated to food allergies) and on-line about expressions you can use in French to ask about whether a dish has an ingredient to which you are allergic or intolerant, and tips on how to befriend your waiter and finesse the entire dining experience. (See links below for more information about how to eat out in Paris or France.)

On the other hand, do you have multiple food intolerances or severe reactions to certain foods?

If this describes you, I would highly recommend that if you are visiting Paris or other places in France, you find an apartment to rent and cook for yourself instead of trying to eat every meal in a restaurant.

French waiters and chefs do not tolerate a lot of what they consider “finickiness” from diners who require special preparation of dishes. In French cuisine, the prepared dish is seen as a work of art, and is not to be deconstructed into something else.  The idea that the needs and desires of the customer are always first and foremost isn’t part of the cultural milieu here; instead, diners are seen more as guests in a home.  Would you be demanding towards friends if you were visiting their home, insisting that they prepare you a special dish just for you, even after they already prepared an elaborate meal for all the other guests? Probably not. You’d either eat first, bring your own dish to eat, or pick and choose from what is already prepared that seems “safe” and hope for the best.   That’s the kind of attitude you need to dine out in France.

Moreover, if your issues are severe, you won’t want to take the risk.  Some people have such severe gluten intolerance that they experience severe cramping and diarrhea from even the slightest cross-contamination of a few crumbs of bread that got dusted onto their plate, or from the chef using the same pan to cook an item with gluten as the item without.

Plus you do not want to risk being out and about and having an intestinal attack: another thing Paris is infamous for is the lack of easily accessible and free public toilets.  Your visit is not going to be a good one if you are constantly in search of a toilet as you are touring, or holed up in your hotel room.

Second, take action.  There are a number of good Internet resources to help you experience Paris and the rest of France gluten free, dairy-free, or any-other-food-free. The tips can apply to eating vegan and vegetarian as well.

David Lebovitz on Eating and Dining Gluten-Free in Paris.  The information in this post is still very relevant nearly three years after its original posting. Even though it is written for people who need to avoid gluten, it is, hands down, still the best and most complete post I have ever read about eating and dining in Paris with food allergies and/or intolerances. The links at the end of the post are very helpful, and I note that new comments are continually being written on this post, some of which have additional helpful information.

For example, the most recent comment has a link to a gluten-free B&B in Paris – one where the host prepares gluten-free meals: Gluten Free Paris.

Celiac Chicks on gluten-free travel. A Gluten-Free Guide to Paris is another good read about traveling and dining gluten-free in Paris.

Compile a list of the French equivalents for all the ingredients to which you are allergic/intolerant so you can read labels on packaged foods.  Try these resources: 

  • Allergy Translations is a Web site dedicated to helping people find the vocabulary they need to avoid allergens.
  • Select Wisely has food and travel translation cards you can print up and carry with you.
  • Allergy Free Passport has multiple resources to help you out on their website.

Note that labeling of major allergens contained in foods and their possible presence does exist in France. Ingredients that may be problematic for people are clearly labeled, usually just after the ingredient list.  Also look for the catch phrases traces éventuelles de… and présence possible de… followed by the name of the allergen.

Know where to go to shop. Make lists (in French) of foods you can eat as well as those you can’t.

All of the major grocers have at least a section of aisle that is dedicated to organic or eating allergen-free.  Realistically, however, you will probably have to visit more than one store to shop for foods you can eat.

Monoprix is a popular grocery chain carrying soy milk, soy-based yogurts, some gluten-free baking mixes and ready-to-eat foods or snacks as well as nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables.  Bring your list for reading labels, though. As with snack and prepared foods in the U.S., filler ingredients containing allergens are in some of these foods. Amidon transformé, for example, is modified wheat starch and is found in many snack foods.

Franprix, Leader Price, and Ed are discount grocers. They also have fresh fruits and vegetables, and the basics for preparing many dishes. Leader Price has its own line of organic products (look for the terms biologique or bio) including soy milks, rice cakes (which contain sesame, however), and jams made with organic cane sugar, among other items. These Leader Price items are sold in Franprix as well.

In the outlying suburbs of Paris, hypermarkets such as Carrefour and Auchan have large aisles of gluten and dairy-free baked goods and other foods.   Many of these stores also have ingredients for grain-free baking such as almond and hazelnut flours, but note that these products are not produced in allergen-free manufacturing plants, and may contain traces of gluten or other allergens.  I have not had much of an opportunity to shop in these stores, but know of people who find plenty of foods at these French equivalents of Wal-Mart.  

Overall, however, your best bet at finding allergen-free foods are at health food stores.  In Paris, there are three major health food store chains: Biocoop, Naturalia, and La Vie Claire.  (Check their Web sites for a location near you.) There are also independent stores in some neighborhoods.  These stores typically have dedicated shelves or areas for gluten-free products. (On the other hand, dairy-free equivalents (such as dairy-free chocolate-hazelnut spread, like the Nutella brand) are often next to their allergen-containing counterparts).  A quick read of the labeling will tell you which products are certified to be gluten-free, dairy-free, or free of other allergens. Much of the labeling is also multilingual, and some have ingredient listings in English, too.

Finally, if the prices at health food stores are too high, go to one of Paris’ districts where Asian communities have set up shop. The Marais (3rd arrondissement), Belleville (20th arrondissement), and the area around Avenue d’Ivry in the 13th have Asian-based markets and grocers where you can find rice flour, bean thread and rice noodles, and tapioca starch for a lot less than at health food stores.

I have yet to find ingredients such as coconut or sorghum flours, but new things are continuously showing up on shelves, and it seems I find something new each time I visit. Different stores carry different products, too, so exploring all of the chains frequently yields new discoveries.

I am fortunate in that my intolerances are fairly mild compared to some. Once in a while, I decide to try something that has an ingredient to which I know I will react, but the trade-off of trying something unique to France’s incredible cuisine is often worth a few of days of feeling unwell. Like anything, it is a choice. I hope, however, that if you have no choice in what you consume because of an allergy or intolerance, that you have found this information helpful.

If you have information to add or other questions, please leave it in the comments below. Or stop by my blog and leave me a note in the Contact Me section.  

Karin Bates Snyder never expected to wind up living in a place like Paris after turning 40. She also developed several food intolerances shortly after moving to the City of Light. These events have contributed to her feeling like a duck out of water, like An Alien Parisienne, the name of the blog where she writes to come to terms with being a stranger in a strange land.

At the Sign of the Green Cross

Pharmacies in France are much more specialized than drugstores in North America.  You won’t find chips and sodas, nor coloring books and wrapping paper.  What you will find are qualified health care professionals, capable of filling a prescription or even a preliminary assessment of your medical problem.  If your problem is serious and beyond their expertise,  they can often refer you to an appropriate physician.  Be forewarned, however, that if you go in with a head cold or a mild flu, you’re probably going to come out with at least four products.   It’s not a sales pitch; it’s just how they roll.

When the neon sign is illuminated, that means the pharmacie is open.  If it’s blue as well as green, that means that it serves animals as well as humans.  If the neon is not on, check the sign on the door which will direct you to the nearest open pharmacy.

Many medications that Americans are used to being able to purchase over the counter medications in relatively large quantities (ibuprofen, for example) are only available by asking directly and then usually only in a quantity for your complaint.  On the other hand, most medications (prescription and non) are typically much cheaper than you would find in the U.S.   And if you have kids and they need shots, you will get a prescription from your family doctor or pediatrician for the vaccine.  Go to the pharmacie, pick it up, and return to your doctor for it to be administered.

If you’re in desperate need of a location where English is spoken or for a location open 24 hours a day (24/24 in French parlance), check out the listings on Heather Stimmler-Hall’s post on this topic on her blog, Secrets of Paris.