Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I read this article today and it almost made me laugh out loud. I'm not sure how aware people are that ailments are a cultural thing until you have live in a mixed culture family. I, of course, have the joy of having lived in two mixed culture families - first my French/German/Scottish one for twenty years and now my Danish/German/Scottish one for over five. Add to that that I have spent my whole working life with foreigners too (being in bilingual publishing), so I can so relate to this Italian woman.

The Italian story doesn't differ too much from my French experience. Even at 35°C, my former sister-in-law believed that opening two windows in her car simultaneously to create what I would consider a pleasant breeze might cause her kidney failure. With common summer temperatures in the high thirties, the same relative believed that walking barefoot on the tiled floor of her flat would cause all sort of dangerous goings-on to occur in her womb area, possibly resulting in the need for an emergency hysterectomy! She was completely serious. She had learnt from childhood that any draught could be near fatal, not realizing that while avoiding one at 3
°C or 4°C on a cold December morning was advisable, a degree of pragmatism should come into it in July! I have often sat in her (and her mother's) house with the oven on, the outdoor temperature pushing 40°C and every one of them refusing categorically to open a window because of the danger! And when I would walk around the flat barefoot, and suffer no ill effects, they'd simply dismiss it with mutterings of 'What do you expect with her Nordic blood!' When the kids came along and survived open windows and cold floors, they too were deemed Nordic!

Medicine is another French necessity. Going to the doctor was an absolute must, even with the slightest cold, and because of the funny insurance system whereby medicines are paid for and refunded, you'd be prescribed a minimum of five items even for a cold - a nasal spray, an inhaler, some lemsip type thing, all sorts of antibiotics you didn't need and of course the cure-all suppository! A suppository is the standard for the likes of tonsillitis and so on.

My family members were also forever getting injections into their spines every time they had backache. That used to worry me. It seemed very OTT!

Like Italians, swimming after even looking sideways at a sandwich would, of course, cause you to drown so had to be avoided at all costs. I often had the pool to myself while my entire family sat looking at their watches after lunch. As I'd bounce about in the water with the kids, they'd shake their heads disapprovingly as if I should have my kids taken into care for the degree of irresponsibility I was showing!

Now Danes are a different kettle of fish. For example, all Danes I know own and treasure thermometers - usually anal ones and as soon as they or their child feels under the weather they need to know their temperature to the nearest tenth of a degree... Interestingly though, once they know it, they don't do anything about it! Calpol and baby nurofen are taboo words in Denmark. I had to haggle and negotiate to get paracetamol for Marcel once in a pharmacy in Aarhus when he was ten because he had an ear infection and a raging temperature. It isn't on the shelf in their supermarkets, it isn't even on the shelves in their pharmacies. Trying to buy a pack of kiddie disprol is like trying to buy cannabis over the counter here! And as for antibiotics, they seem to be taking the fear of over-prescribing them more seriously than anyone else on the planet. I am assured by all my family members that getting any antibiotics is more or less impossible! So in Denmark there are two degrees of illness: the first seems to be up to about 38°C where you do nothing, the second at higher than 38°C when you force your child to eat ice cream! :-)

I wonder what my foreign relatives, old and new, consider to be the idiosyncrasies of Scotland?

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