Germans do healthcare differently. As already mentioned, I'm a hardcore fan of the German healthcare system - if they did cute little t-shirts with "I heart German healthcare" on them, I'd definitely buy one and parade it around the town. When it comes to waiting times, knowledge and niceties from GPs and reception staff, Germany would win the gold medal (if there was such a thing as the Medical Olympics!).
When it comes to having a cold or flu in Germany though, that's when I want to get the first plane back to England and kiss the feet of the CEO of Boots, Superdrug, and whoever decided that Tesco should start having its own pharmacy. Well, kiss their feet and then maybe kidnap them and drag them back to Germany with me to start an entrepreneurial venture.
Buying medicine to fight colds and flu in Germany is a challenge, and not one you want to undertake with a temperature, runny nose and sore throat. Where can you buy those all-important life-saving drugs? The pharmacy. "Why not just pop to the supermarket or boots-equivalent?", I hear you cry. Well, because they simply don't sell them. When I first arrived in Germany and wasn't acquainted with their approach to medicine dispensing, I spent a good half an hour in both my local supermarket and toiletry-selling shop trying to find an elusive pack of paracetamol - only to discover that I would never find it in either of these places.
To be fair, there are a large number of pharmacies around but just sometimes, I would like to do everything all at the same time without having to traipse around numerous shops to get the array of items that I need (note: shopping for clothes is also the same soul-destroying experience. There are 3 H&M's and 3 Esprit shops all in the centre of the city... plus 2 Debenhams-style department stores which also stock the brands...all, however, stock different things...so if you want the hat you saw online that isn't already in the current shop you are in, you have to buy your jumper that's already taken you 3 hours to find and try on amidst the crowds, and then go to yet another H&M or Esprit branch...it really is a lot of fun!). The pharmacies are expensive too. I paid 8 Euros for Strepsils. 8 EUROS!!! I nearly had a heart attack at the counter when she told me the price. Thinking about it maybe I should have feigned a heart attack...then maybe I would have got a discount. There are little things I like about the pharmacies though. The fact that if you purchase something they always give you little freebies like cough sweets or tissues or a La Roche-Posay face cream sample...or...the most random one I was once given was athlete's foot cream, when all I went in to buy was aspirin. Do I look like I have sweaty feet?
As well as looking like a person who has a sweaty foot problem, I think a lot of the pharmacists mistake me for a drug addict. No, really. In England it's customary to have a medicine box at home full of all the essentials and when it's running low, whether you are ill or not, you go and "stock up". "Stocking up" doesn't feature in the lives of the Germans when it comes to medicine or anything else for that matter (I'm always the only one at the supermarket doing a "weekly shop" with a trolley rather than having merely 3 things in a basket). I really don't understand, why wait until you are dying of the flu or dying of hunger to traipse to the shops and get the essentials? This really does go against the way the Germans meticulously plan everything else in their lives.
This lack of "stocking up" habit creates problems for me. If I walk into a pharmacy and ask for several packs of paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen and perhaps some cough medicine just in case, to say that the pharmacist looks perturbed would be a total understatement. "You do know that you must not take this all at the same time don't you?” the pharmacist says, looking deeply into my eyes as if trying to scan for suicidal tendencies. I always reply with a hearty laugh saying that I am "stocking up", but they never look convinced and their nervous demeanour doesn't evaporate with these words. Fear of overdose even goes as far as tea. No, I'm not kidding. A friend of mine wanted to buy some herbal tea for her grandma's indigestion. As her grandma lives in another country, she wanted to buy several and take them back to her (yet another smart person who "stocks up", I heartily approve). The cashier point blank refused to sell her 4 boxes of tea because of the overdose-risk. Overdose risk?! For tea?! I'm sure even if grandma did have a massive teapot at home to fit all 80 bags in at once, that the biggest problem it would have caused her would have been an 80-day bathroom stint.
It must also be mentioned that the Germans are extremely partial to a good old bit of homeopathy. Don't get me wrong, I love alternative remedies and will always give them a go, but sometimes you need something a bit more substantial and medically hardcore to get you through a working day whilst ill. If you can't breathe, then I'm not really sure that a 14 euro sea salt natural nose spray will cut the mustard, or rather, cut through the green sinus blockage gunk (mmm...lovely).
Having said that, maybe I'm already turning more German than I think. I just bought 8 tea bags for 2 Euros called "Erkältungstee", which is a tea made of natural herbs to fight colds and alleviate flu symptoms. It tastes like dishwater, so it better work. If not, I just got ripped off for a disgusting tea that will be more likely to help me grow elderflowers out of my ears than solve my autumn illness.