For all women, there are universal female experiences that rank inevitably high on the embarrassment scale. Try, for example:
- “Price check. Can I get a price check on a box of Ultra Heavy Flow Tampax tampons?”
- “Uh, babe, did you just queef?”
- “I can see your days of the week underwear through that skirt, and just so you know, it’s not Thursday.”
Try having a female problem in a foreign country and you’ll multiply any of your shame times 10 …I’m not proud of the story I’m about to tell, but I think it highlights some of the difficulties of being a woman in France, and if nothing else, it has taught me a good lesson.
Last week, I hosted an ex-boyfriend who was passing through town for business. Well, to be more accurate, he’s a longtime friend who I once became romantically involved with over a period of a few months. While it lasted, he was actually a really great boyfriend, but we never got to the super, super serious level because we both knew our lives were going in different directions—he was moving away for grad school and I knew I wanted to leave NYC too. So when he emailed me last month asking if he could stay a few days, I didn’t hesitate to tell him yes, figuring that the way things were going, I’d probably still be single by the time he rolled into town. And, I told myself, it would be nice to have a little fling.
It could have been because we’re so comfortable together, although more likely had something to do with the two bottles of wine we downed, but on his last night here, we were a bit, uh, careless. (To be fair, we did have an ever-so-brief, in-the-heat-of-the-moment “I’m healthy, I keep up on my tests” thing, and towards the end, he, um, you know … ) Anyhow, like I said, I’m generally a very safe person, and I’m not proud of being reckless—although it wasn’t as reckless as it could have been. Still, I woke up in the morning disappointed in myself and paranoid, so I went out to the pharmacy to get the morning-after pill.
The only other time I’ve had to take the morning-after pill was actually in France, when I was studying here and had a broken condom experience with the guy I was dating. At that time, Plan B was available in the States only by prescription, so I was amazed at how simple and easy it was to get here. I had breezed into an empty pharmacy and the female clerk behind the counter handed over a packet without so much as a word, and it only cost me about 5 Euros.
When I walked into my local pharmacy yesterday, my heart started nervously beating when I saw the set-up and crowd in there. About 10 people were huddled around three different counters, no one really making any sensible line (meaning little privacy) and all the clerks were male. To make matters worse, they were all hot males. I thought briefly about trying to go somewhere else but realized that at 7:45 p.m. on a Sunday, I only had a 15-minute window to make this happen. I picked the least attractive of the three guys and waited my turn (only to have an old woman breathing on my neck a mere foot away). In a soft voice, I asked him for la pilule de lendemain, stumbling a bit over my words.
“Pardon?” he asked.
Like an ass, I had to repeat myself louder, but suddenly forgot the translation. “La, uh, pil—pilule … ”
“La laskdfjalskdjfasd?” he asked. I had no idea what he said.
“Non. LA PILULE DE LENDEMAIN.” Two heads turned. Oh my God, I am starring in a rom-com.
This time he understood me and moved to the shelves to talk to a colleague. He came back empty-handed.
“I actually can’t give it to you, so you have to ask another pharmacist.” (I think he said something about being in training and only able to administer certain drugs—he did look especially young.)
So I queued up at the adjacent register and waited my turn for—just my luck—the absolute hottest pharmacist. We’re talking Ashton Kutcher good looks. Blushing, I made my request (in as loud a voice as I dared) for the second time. Thankfully, he returned with a slim box and began ringing me up. I was shocked when he started in on a small lecture. I’d want to take this right away, he told me, and be more prepared by having birth control on hand next time, or not skipping my birth control pills in case I was on them. And of course, he said none of this in a discreet voice.
There was nothing else I could do but say, “OK, thank you,” feeling as if I were responding with a promise to some authoritative command. Disgusted, I snatched the box off the counter, and high-tailed it out of there, still clutching a fist full of bills and coins in one hand.