Sunday, March 2, 2008

Getting A Good Deal in France

What can you get right now for four hundred and eighty-five dollars? Three hundred euros, for one thing. The exchange rate at my bank last Friday was a whopping $1.59 per Euro.

Dining out is expensive in France, and many times the food is just mediocre, so we'll be eating chez nous often, and chez nos amis. Of course, when in villages or centre ville, we'll not skimp on sitting down for a break at a cafe' for some boissons.

Speaking of mediocre food, we were invited to a certain restaurant twice by friends. Each time we got the invitation, it was accompanied by phrases like, "It's so cheap! It's so good! It's all-you-can-eat, just like in America!" We went to lunch at Flunch. It was not cheap. It was not good. It was only the over-cooked, limp, sans flavor vegetables that were all-you-can-eat. It made Hometown Buffet look like a foodie hang out. We had a Flunchy Lunch. Don't be tempted, don't be fooled. You won't save any euros here!

So where else can I get some bang for my buck? I suppose if we have the need to go to a doctor or hospital, it'll be dirt cheap compared to here. Which reminds me of my trip to the opthalmologist in Toulouse.

One day we had a picnic with friends outdoors in the sunshine. As we were leaving to go home, my eyes starting tearing up and turning red. By the time we got back to our flat, water was pouring out of them and I could barely keep my eyes open. Later that night, the pain was so severe, I had to keep a cold wet washcloth on them and moan in agony. This was pre-Lasik, so I had to take my contacts out, rendering me as good as blind. I managed to get a couple hours sleep, but woke to crusty eyes, painfully red, and itchy. Classic pink eye symptoms.

A friend made an appointment for me with an opthalmologist. She warned me that it was very expensive without health insurance. We knew this was a risk we were taking living over there without employment or benefits. But I had to go. I needed a prescription for eye drops asap.

She told us which bus to take to get there and as she is a very sweet person, she even met us there to make sure everything went smoothly. I entered the office, which strangely resembled an apartment living room. The doctor invited me into the exam room, which was also her personal office. Wearing corrective lenses since I was twelve, I was no stranger to eye exams or pink eye. The exam started off familiar enough, but then came the confused exclamations from the doctor. She seemed seriously unable to understand why my eyes were red and burning. She kept mumbling and sighing as if I had the first case of pink eye she'd ever seen.

She asked me what I did the day before. I told her we had a picnic with friends. She asked me if I got anything in my eyes. No, I did not (Wouldn't I have already put two and two together on my own?) But then my friend, who was in the exam room with me, piped up in an effort to help and said, "But wait, you made salsa for the picnic. Maybe you got some in your eyes!" No, I did not, I exclaimed and rolled my eyes, mentally.) Then the doctor says, "Hmmm....I think that indeed you burned your eyes when you made salsa. It was from the poivrons. Yes, that explains it now."

No, that doesn't explain it, I was screaming in my head. But I calmly explained that I did not put poivrons in my salsa. Nor would I ever put bell peppers in my salsa because what you put in salsa is chilis. What I normally put in my salsa is jalapenos. And yes, I did have a terrible jalapenos vs. eyes experience. But as I could never find them in France, it was impossible that they were the cause of this pain and suffering!

The doctor looked genuinely flabbergasted that I was not accepting her explanation. So then she said, "You said you were at a picnic. It was sunny, non? Did you wear sun glasses?" Yes I did. "Did you look at the sun?" she asked. Um, no. But as I also apparently put bell peppers in my salsa and flung it into my eyes without memory of it all, maybe I did look at the sun?!

"That's the explanation", she said again. "The sun burned your eyes because I'm sure your sun glasses are not good enough, and you must have been looking at it. I will give you a prescription for drops"....blah blah blah.

She got up and walked over to her desk to fill out the paperwork. She gasped when I told her I did not have insurance and I would be paying for it with cash. She said, "But, you will have to pay 100%!!!", horrified at what that would mean for me. She scared me. She scribbled on her papers and then stated the amount with reluctance. I had to ask my friend to make sure I had understood correctly.

It amounted to 21 dollars.

I gleefully paid the money, left, and told my friend that would have cost $120 minimum at my opthalmologist back home.

I got the same treatment from the pharmacist when I told him I didn't have insurance. The drops that cost me $40 here, cost $3 that day in the Toulouse pharmacy. The Gucci sunglasses I purchased later, to replace my inferior ones that caused my eye trauma, did cost me, however. Still, it amounted to the price of the American eye doc, no Guccis included.

I really don't want any of us to have to see a doctor during our month in France, but if we do, we shall receive a bargain...even at full price.


Samantha said...

Is it really a bargain though, when you get a doctor that says ridiculous things like that? :-) I mean, come on, saying your eyes were burnt by salsa or the sun?? Not worth 21€ to me!

(But I do agree that in general, the French health care system is excellent).

Cassoulet Cafe said...

LOL! I am hoping my sarcasm and annoyance is clearly evident in this post. :)

b said...

What a great post! How funny that going to the doctor over there is such a bargain... well, relatively speaking. As Samantha said, I don't know that lengthy deliberation over what YOU did to cause your eye condition was worth $21 but yes, you are right... that same scenario could easily take place here in the U.S. and have costed you over $100.

Haha... yes, your sarcasm and annoyance was very evident in this post! :)

Cécy said...

I've met some ophtalmo in France that were simply aweful. However it is cheap compare to here.
I've read some equally awful stories from expat going to Dr in the US, but on top of it they had to pay a lot.

About cheap restaurants, I have a good memory of the Le May
Restaurant Le May, 4 rue du May, 31000 Toulouse
I think I had a meal for less than 12$, it was simple but good and fresh. You might want to take a look. Rue du may is off of Rue St Rome.

Cris in Oregon said...

Hope they never catch on to price difference. Was that 21 DOLLARS or 21 in French money? Just keep thinking Healthy. :)

Alain said...

Obviously the doctor had pity on you and gave you a large discount.
After all, you're just another poor immigrant...

21 dollars is not even the price for seeing a GP, which is 22 euros , or 33 dollars.

An ophtalmo is usually between 40 and 60 euros...

Cassoulet Cafe said...

B- Glad you like it :) And very glad to see you're back!

Cecy- I will definitely check out Le May! Merci for the recommendastion. I love Rue St. Rome and know the area, so I should be able to find it.

Cris- Well, the health care/insurance system is socialized over there, hence the price difference. They have extremely good coverage, everyone has health care, and prices are low. It was roughly the equivalent of $21 US dollars at the time.

Alain- We were not "poor imigrants" during our time there. We were actually there doing volunteer work, and had saved for several years to be able to support outselves. We did not collect any benefits in France, and paid for our medical expenses ourselves .
This was in 2001, and the dollar was strong against the Franc/Euro, so it was indeed around 21 US dollars. (I could be off by a few dollars...I'll have to get out my receipt.)

Lesley said...

oh my god! thanks for posting about Flunch. Totally made my day. My friend and I ate there while in France just because of the name really and I completely forgot about it until now. lol. Yeah, it was bad news.

ParisBreakfasts said...

Adorable story :)
I once had a similarly cheap visit to the dentist in London.
I'm still in shock!

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Oh do tell, please!!! :)

Betty C. said...

I love your Flunch story. I absolutely HATE those French cafeterias -- also the ones that are connected to supermarkets, like the "Casino" cafeterias. You can also find some independent ones in town centers -- and they are no better.

All that food floating around in vats makes me feel kind of sick. I prefer eating at McDo, honestly! And it's a lot cheaper than the "cafettes." By the way, learn that word -- if someone offers to go to a "cafette", it is not some sort of cute café. It's something like Flunch.