Dec 132009
(asked by Kimberly from the US)

This is not really a question about paying. I love your blog by the way. I am a total Francophile, I have been in love with France and French history ever since I was a little girl, and actually I think I influenced my children. Eeek. One of my daughters has taken 8 years of French and is now in Lyon getting ready to move there to get her Masters. THAT’S Living Vicariously.

Okay, so here are my questions!

1) I am getting ready to send a package to her as a surprise and besides ranch dressing, cinnamon gum and Starburst candy, can you think of anything fun to send that you can’t get in France that your American ex-pat friends whine about?

2) She is spending time with her boyfriends family and they are picking up all the expenses for her I think. I don’t want to be crass and offer money, but would like to at least buy them a gift to show my appreciation. Any ideas?

3) How hard is it for her as a visiting tourist to get her prescription (from America) refilled for birth control pills? Can she go to a pharmacy and show them her pink pack and pay for a refill or ? I would send them to her, but I read on the customs tag that I can’t send prescriptions in without some sort of license from the French Ministry. She is a little shy about asking without knowing what the answer might be.

She is visiting, not living yet, so does not have a doctor or anything like that.

Merci beaucoup!

 So, I’m not becoming lazy, but after thinking for a little while about those questions, I realized that the only way I can answer them is by asking American expats I know. But instead asking them offline and then writing the answers they gave me here, I thought it’d be more fun to ask the readers that live in France to answer those.

But of course, before that I’ll still give my “answers”:

1) Well, when my American friends tell me they miss this or that type of food from the US, I just look at them as if they were lunatics and forget right away they told me such a ludicrous thing. How can anyone in their right mind miss any food from the US? Seriously?

2) Back in the days (like 20 years ago… but blogs didn’t exist then, and I didn’t know much about multiculturalism and the US) I would have told you something that one cannot find in France. But nowadays, except for some foods, I don’t think there’s anything in the US that one can find in a store and that doesn’t in France. So the best thing to do would be to ask your daughter about what her hosts like, and send them that. (a few weeks ago there were a similar question btw)

3) No, you cannot get medicine in France with an American prescription (same as you cannot get medicine in the US with a French prescription). So the best thing to do is to bring your own prescription medicine with you (if you don’t tell the customs, they won’t know). Or else she can go see a French doctor, and ask him/her to write a prescription for that type of pill (showing them your own prescription and all).

Now dear US expat readers, fill free to add in what you want.

More Questions Answered:

  45 Responses to “An interesting set of questions that I won’t answer directly.”

  1. Re: Prescriptions

    I lived in Paris for a year and never had a problem having my scripts sent or bringing a few months supplies with me. Just make sure they are in their original containers.

    Re (to David): Missing items

    Sometimes one can miss their home country more than a particular item: when you are a little homesick, it can make you crave something you can't find. It isn't so much that the food item is better, it is just comforting to have it because you are far away. Sometimes in Paris, I would want crunchy peanut butter.
    The reverse can happen too. When I get nostalgic for Paris, I want a good Tart Tatin or to wear 'Petit Cherie'perfume.


  2. Kelly, I know… I was being ironic.
    I understand that Americans can miss their home food at times. But I can't understand how one can miss American food, Americans in France should be grateful to be saved from American food instead of missing it, whereas it's a normal thing to miss French food, wherever you are (except maybe Japan and Vietnam), regardless of your nationality.

    • I totally agree. (and wow, am I seriously replying to something from 2009? but it’s only 2 years, so whatever) Anyways…yeah the food here isn’t all that great. And if I ever spent some time in a country like FRANCE, I would never fix my mouth to say that I missed US food…Ugh!!! Good blog, very good blog…

  3. 1. Peanut butter!!
    2. Maybe something unexpected, like Californian wine?
    3. It's very easy (and cheap!) to go to the doctor here, even for a visitor, and get a prescriptions for birth control.

  4. I hate to do it, but I kind of agree with you, David. Though I have to write that not *all* American kitchens produce disagreeable foods. And whenever I've been abroad for an extended period of time, I've been able to prepare most of my favorites. Except some Mexican foods. Of course, those aren't even American…but it's a comfort food of mine, growing up in the Southwest as I did.

  5. Sigh. I'm a very patriotic American (though one that has experienced much of the world outside our borders). But I have to admit, no matter where I'm coming home from - Japan, Russia, Mexico, Australia - I'm reminded all over again how food in America just sucks. Sucks hard. And we pay so much for it too. The food everywhere else isn't just a little better, but miles better (Scandinavia is a big exception to this, however).

    That said, when I'm in France I can tell you what I miss the most: A taxi driver that only begins charging you once you actually get into the taxi.

  6. I loved the food in France, but we all have regional tastes that we miss from home, particularly foods from childhood, I think because it's homesickness-related. My mom sent Goldfish crackers, peanut butter, and gummi bears and one time salsa and tortilla chips (the French do NOT do Mexican food well, regardless of what they may think) so just send whatever junk food she might like at home. Don't bother sending chocolate, she's got better there, but junk food is nice and indulgent coming from mom, even if she's not craving it.

  7. Thomas - You really like the food in Australia better? I mean, actual Australian food…not the ethnic cuisine found there (which is, admittedly, awesome). I honestly don't favor Australian food much. Or, the best of what I've eaten there would be comparable to good American cuisine (I know, I know…if there is such a thing…I think there is). I especially disliked the concept of an egg over easy served on a hamburger. And Vegemite. Ick.

  8. Ok, I'm french. I am currently studying in the US. I looooooove french food. And I do agree that American food might not be the best. But here is what I would send your daughter. It's what I will miss from the States:
    Bagels. We don't really have those, they are not the best, french bread is better in my opinion, but it became part of my morning ritual, a bagel, a toaster, and Philadelphia, and I think I would miss it.
    Water melon gum too.
    And come on, Mac n' Cheese! Throw a few extra-cheese Kraft boxes in there. Not fine cuisine at all, but so, soooooo American. And definitely homesick-proof confort food. Mountain Dew too, if she likes it, it's just impossible to find it in France, unless you want to drive all the way to Spain.
    Peanut butter M&Ms, same thing, I never saw them at home.
    Then, not food, but what I like my mum to send me: French magazines. Girls magazines. Because if feels so good to receive and to read stupid girls' things abroad in your language.

    I hope it helped. I was studying in Lyon too and I loved it. I hope she is having fun!

  9. No comment on the American food, but I just wanted to add that several of my friends have successfully had their American birth control prescriptions filled at French pharmacies. I've never tried myself, but they've just gone in with it and had the pharmacist look up the French version or its closest alternative.

    But why doesn't she just ask her doctor for more than 1 month? If you're traveling, you can get up to 6 months of the pill at once.

  10. E -

    I know that, because of its British heritage, the Australians have some crappy food. And then there's vegemite. But I can honestly say the food I've eaten in Sydney is miles better than what I can get even at a good restraurant in LA. Granted, LA has the worst food in the entire US, but there you go.

    Oh, and all American food can't be bad, because the French love, love, love them that Tex Mex cuisine. They go crazy for it.

  11. Ha! I agree. LA does have horrible food as a general rule. I lived there for four years.

    Still, I didn't find anything genuinely "Australian" in Australia to be superb. Not to say all the food was bad, but what they did well were things I could find well done lots of other places. Including the US.

    I hate Tex Mex. My food sensibilities must not be in line with the French. (Though I'm always happy eating in France, so maybe). I love real Mexican food and Baja-style.

    Sorry for the tangent…

  12. Personally, I don't care about Tex-Mex. It's sure some of the less horrible food one can find in the US, but I wouldn't go as far as calling it good.
    And I'm not sure where Thomas gets the whole "the French are crazy about Tex-Mex" when most French people have never heard about Tex-Mex.
    Are we guilty of an over-generalization here Thomas?

  13. It's really easy to get a prescription for birth control pills in France. I literally just looked up an English-speaking doctor on the internet (though I'm in Paris so it's probably easier to find one here), made an appointment, went along and asked for a prescription. He wrote me one out with a minimum of questions. I had to pay 20E for the appointment. I took the prescription to the pharmacy straight away, they handed the pills over and I had to pay 30E for three months worth of pills. I don't even have a Carte Vitale yet (when I get one I'll be able to claim back the cost of the appointment and prescription) or any official residency documents.

  14. I find your slightly curmudgeonly attitude very charming, David. "Less horrible" food. Okay. I give up.

  15. David -

    The boom in Tex-Mex cuisine in France began in the mid 90s and is still going strong. And no, I'm not hallucinating this trend.

  16. Thomas, I'm not saying there are no such restaurants in France, but:
    -I'm not sure you'll find that many out of Paris.
    -There's a huge gap between: there are Tex-Mex restaurants in Paris or even the fact that there must have been such a fad at some point and "the French are crazy about Tex-Mex."
    -And seriously, don't believe anything you read about French lifestyle in the NY Times. It may be one of the best papers in the world on many topics, but definitely not on French lifestyle (and Elaine Scoliano is totally clueless about Paris, which is a shame when you consider how long she's lived here… my guess is that she's never been out of the 7th and 16th (maybe in the 8th or the 15th once or twice, maybe)).

  17. I think Cheddar is considered as highly dangerous in France (and should be made illegal -I think I'll will write to the ministry of health about that).

    As far as putting cheese on your pasta and baked potato, why would you want to do such a thing???

    (ok, with pasta, you could, and yes, you'd use Parmesan, no it's not French, but pasta recipes with cheese in them are not French either).

    Brownie mix (and any other kind of cake mix) should be listed with cheddar btw.

  18. David is being sarcastic right now
    I think the majority of French people never tried any real aged sharp Cheddar, which is too bad because like other English and American cheeses (Stilton anyone?) they're worth a try.

    Basic Cheddar? meh It's just one evolutionary step away from Leerdammer kind of crap. And mac'n'cheese is usually desperately bland, I really don't get it.

    Sprinkling French cheese on potatoes a difficult task? Allo? How about you get out and eat some truffade, aligot, or (if you're not a traditionalist) tartiflette? Come on, do your homework!

  19. PS all sarcasm aside, great blog!

  20. Thanks.

    "cake mixes are awful, but my American flatmates go crazy for them"

    When one doesn't know better, one tends to like crap. (that applies to food, but also many other things: music, films, etc)

  21. On food - the foods I miss from America were not American … but from restaurants in America that did excellent international cuisines of the world… and you will find little to NO restaurants in France doing really good international cuisines; but rather trying to do (and failing miserably) poor imitations of such.

    So I buy spices and make my own. Which has made me a better cook in the process.

    David, Tex Mex is not mexican cuisine. And mexican CUISINE (as well as indian, chinese, thai and vietnamese) exists. These countries (just like here) have regional tastes and specialties that are fabulous … and that CAN be found in American city restaurants whereas I have never found such in French cities. Even asian restaurants here seem to be what I call 'industrialized' … not freshly done dishes with superb spices and quality ingredients.

    So yes … these foods, found often in America, are missed. I really though couldn't put my finger on many truly American foods that I miss. Or, for that matter, name any 'American' specialties that I had to have while there.

    Oh wait, I know! Really well done American style breakfasts. In restaurants … not cooked at home (which I can do). There's something about getting up on a week-end morning and headed to a convivial restaurant to have a leisurely and tasty breakfast. Yes, I do miss that occasionally.

  22. Concerning Foreign cuisine in France, it really depends what foreign cuisine you mean and where you are too I guess. It'll all depend on the size of the place (Paris has more than small towns) and of what cuisine (some of the most genuine Vietnamese cuisine you'll find in France will be in my home area, because that's where the refugee camps were during the two Vietnam wars, and most of the population hasn't really moved from the area since).
    Same thing in the US. I found some genuine cuisine from many countries in NYC, but in Florida, not really, except for Cuban, for obvious reasons.
    You also mention Thai and Chinese. Thai is rare, but where you'll find it it'll be genuine. Chinese… I guess Chinese cuisine in France deserves its own topic.
    Be careful though as genuine is the keyword here.
    Yes, even in Florida, I found restaurants from all over the world, but very few were genuine (every time I knew a certain cuisine or a friend did, we saw how the food we got was usually not genuine), I even remember that Vietnamese restaurant, owned by Vietnamese people, but most dishes were really adapted to American taste, and I remember how surprised and pleased they were when I'd order something out of the "usual".

    And I don't think I have said that Tex-Mex was Mexican, did I?

  23. I thought that it was you who mentioned Tex-Mex as an example of mexican food in Paris … but no it was a commenter (after I go back and re-read) sorry about that.

    And being a lover of int'l cuisines and having spent a fair share of time in Paris over the years…I never found the int'l restaurants I visited serving authentic versions. I was especially surprised that I didn't find a tasty Vietnamese restaurant in particular…you'll have to send me some tips.

    I guess the fact is that having lived most of my life in the SF Bay area (with a sidestep of about 4 years in NY) … I have been completely spoiled by the accessibility and variety of choices of authentic int'l cuisine, with even regional options within those (varieties of Indian, Mexican, French, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Spanish, Italian, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, African fare)…and I always wondered why … at least in Paris, or other of the larger cities…one wouldn't find a samplikng…especially given the French's obsession with food and eating.

  24. If I'm not wrong, you live in Dordogne. If you want to eat real Vietnamese, time to make a small road trip to Lot-et-Garonne.
    (e-mail me if you want more details)

    Living in SF and NYC I assume you got spoiled -as I assume they're some of the few places in the US where you'll find authentic foreign food (btw why are so many Americans using "international" meaning "foreign"? it's a rhetorical question, of course).

    Now, I must admit that even the smaller cities where I've lived in the US, I was always surprised to find so many foreign (authentic or not, usually not) restaurants in such small cities.

    I found the answer a short while later (and that will answer your question about why there aren't more in France):
    -In France we have such a rich and diverse cuisine that we don't "need" more different types of cuisine (400 types of cheese, remember, at least as many different dishes if not more).
    -In the US, the local cuisine is so poor and lame, that you have to have foreign cuisine to vary things once in a while.

    Note that things are changing nowadays, there's some sort of fad for foreign cuisine in France (especially Asian) but few of them are authentic (one day, I'll tell you about so called Japanese cuisine in France).

  25. @Non je ne regrette rien: if you visit Paris once in a while, Le Cambodge III is really worth a try (unless it really really changed since my exile). Best Bo Bun in the capitol.

  26. David-can't speak for others but in my vocab. foreign equates to unknown or strange(r) to me. International represents the fact that it is from another country … but it isn't unknown to me…

    Like when I say something is 'foreign' to me…it is unknown or unfamiliar. So foreign cuisine to me would be the food itself (if I was unfamiliar with it) … and not the country (international land) that it hails from.

    I started a topic about this on my blog…I find it interesting. Your statement about France's cuisine may be true … but does that really negate the need, interest, or curiousity about others? Apparently so for many French!

    Note also that many things are changing nowadays … you can find lots of tasty and honest cooking in the US and it is spreading beyond the big cities. Of course, that fact is still far overshadowed by the plethora of crap there as well. But then look at the size of the land! change will take time.

    I can name other cities besides SF & NY that have interesting dining and diverse cuisines … I've experienced them 1st hand. Portland, Seattle, LA, Chicago, D.C., well actually the list would be pretty long indeed. Again, the fact that the US is so immense means that in spite of the many places you can find good things to eat….there will always be exponentially more where you cannot!

  27. -Boulet: Mmmm… I gotta try it, I admit that I don't know much if anything about Cambodian food.

    -Non Je ne regrette rien: Well, you're a native speaker and I'm not, so I guess you're right. But I was always under the impression that "international" was used as a PC way to say "foreign" as if "foreign" was a bad word.
    For me "foreign" means what you said, but in an "international" context it means "not from your country", while I understand "international" as "related to several countries".
    It always amused me that I was an "international student" in the US as if I had several nationalities and/or I studied in several countries at the same time.

    Ok, I'm gonna check your blog (it used to be in my favorite and I must have deleted it one day by mistake, because it's true that I haven't read it in a whilef)…

  28. Hello!
    I am a college student myself and although I am not fond of it, my roommates love Mac&Cheese. I personally would love for my mom to send me Nutella. Yummmm! And since it's around the holiday, gingerbread should also be included because they don't have that in France (my French friend told me so). Another thing that they don't have in France is Whip Cream (however, I don't know if something from a can can be sent on air).
    Finally, ouais! I agree that Vietnamese food is the way to go (I am Vietnamese myself). Did you know that French's Lobster Bisque has very similar taste to a noodle dish in Vietnam called Bun Rieu Cua? Yummmy! (By the way, what is lobster called in French? I heard there are two different words for it, but there are different lobsters in French)
    American food: how about Texas Roadhouse? I thought their steak and ribs are pretty decent. Maybe I just love food over all.

  29. Young, Nutella is actually Italian, and it's everywhere in France, almost ubiquitous. One almost can say that it's the "European Peanut Butter". And guess what?
    It's 10 times better in Europe too (no, that's not subjective, it's no palm oil, that spoils everything good in the US).
    Same thing for gingerbread, it's originally from Germany (and around), and you can find it everywhere in France too (and much better, same old story).
    And then we come to whip cream… Whip cream is not Italian nor German, it's… oh it's French!!! So, don't worry about finding whip cream in France.
    But as you're Vietnamese, you're excused for not knowing that.

    Indeed, lobster has two words in French, because lobster in English describes two different animals (it's one of my big question, English that has always two or three words for everything, couldn't even find two words for two different animals).
    So Lobster can be Homard. That's the lobster with big claws (the giant crayfish), it's usually grey or even blue alive.
    And then you have "Langouste," that's the claw-less giant shrimp (spiny lobster) that's orange/reddish when alive.

  30. "lobster" in english has three words: maine lobster (the big one with lots of meat), scampi (your langouste), and spiny lobster (found mostly in the south), which has much less meat.

  31. Jadie, if I'm not wrong, "Maine lobster" (that one finds in many places in the world, not just Maine) is "homard", "scampi" is a dish, not an animal, a dish made from "Norway lobster" (our "langoustine") and spiny lobster is our "langouste" (and it as has as much meat as Maine lobster, unless you have eaten crappy ones).

  32. Messieurs, Madames.
    Getting in to this topic of what an american would miss, late as is typical of me..
    Not a food, Trader Joe, a quirky grocery store chain, quirky selection of foods, and service the big ones cannot copy.

    Comfort foods, yes,
    Peanut butter crunchy natural or organic
    don't even begin to draw a breath to mention Jif, Skippy or such.
    Corn Bread, send me Albers WHITE corn meal, and I could be quiet for a while.
    Molasses, the darkest, for the above.
    Pancake/waffles (american) Krustez Whole Wheat mix would do nicely.
    Maple Syrup for the above.
    Carroll Shelby's Chilli fixins' would do nicely also. (the closest to 'tex-mex' I will go)
    The problem with tex-mex is half is from Texass…


  33. LOL

    Are you for real?

  34. Monsieur David de 'ask a frenchman'

    I must confess that I am 1000% real, ok, with a hefty discount….

    I had read this topic, and saw your great response, then the comments wandered all over the place. What I kept seeing missing was what a parent would do with the kid in France, or other places for that matter, about some 'comfort food' or 'missing items'. The items I mentioned was a combination of what I experienced living in F, & CH, and about a friend's kid overseas for a while studying. Other than Trader Joe, which cannot be shipped, the other items are often unavailable easily. Then combining the corn meal with local items, like milk, flour, sugar, eggs, sometimes is better than here. The most dangerous item was the Chilli Fixins, one must go very lightly with the chilli for the first time. If done properly, by our ways, it can burn ones taste buds, and take days to recover..
    anyway, merci

  35. As an American vegetarian, I can tell you, I definitely miss being able to easily find tofu, different varieties of hummus and soy milk, and just about anything vegetarian in France.

    For me, traditional French food, because it is so meat-based, is incredibly unappetizing.

    So in terms of variety and choice, I have to say, the US wins.

  36. Ok, we're on a completely different topic here, but vegetarians need to stop saying that French food is meat-based, just because there's meat in pretty much every dish.
    Guess what, there are also plants in pretty much every dish, to the point that a purely carnivorous being would say: French food is so vegetable-based.

    Guess why?
    Because French food is omnivorous, just like humans are (or at least should be).

    But if you want to keep on with your unnatural eating habits, you definitely can do it in France, I can find tofu, hummus or soy milk (why would I want to buy soy milk though, I'm not sure, there aren't many things that are more gross than that) any time I want, you just need to know where to look (hint: not in French food stores, as those are not part of French cuisine)

  37. This has to be one of your funniest replies yet, David. Are you trying to be funny?

  38. Am I?
    Maybe. But that doesn't mean I don't think what I say.

    Vegetarianism is as wrong as eating junk food (and strangely you'll find vegetarians mostly in countries that have crappy cuisine).

    Why are there almost no vegetarians in France?

    That's the question vegetarians should ask themselves (but they don't because they wouldn't like the answer).

    That being said, I respect people's freedom of doing what they want as long as they don't bother other people with it. Vegetarians complaining about French food fall into that category.

  39. I thought you were sincere, but you're quite funny with it.

  40. Thanks.

  41. Great come back there David the Frenchman. I know this might be out of topic on this post, but there's something that I have to disagree about: there are many vegetarians in Vietnam (or shall I say temporary vegetarianism) and Vietnamese cuisine is no way near crappy.

    First, vegetarian food is quite popular there because of the popularity of Buddhism. When I said "temporary vegetarianism" I mean for some occasions in Vietnam, you just gotta have vegetarian dish as part of the meal, it's a tradition.

    Second, countries with crappy cuisine have crappy vegetarian food but delicious vegetarian food do exist (in countries with good cuisine, of course). If you like Vietnamese food with meat (who doesn't), you'll like Vietnamese vegetarian food because they taste almost the same except instead of meat or fish or eggs, they would be made of soy products, seaweeds, etc. You'll probably think no way, but it's true, especially if you find the right place to eat.
    These substitutions to meat-based dishes are great escape for meat-lover during traditional occasions. However, for those vegetarian who do not eat meat because they pity the animals, I think eating these Vietnamese vegetarian food would be hypocritical since they would be surely reminded of eating the real meat.

    For that, I think many vegetarians in the U.S. are missing out big time because vegetarian food in America does not have varieties and they do not how to process tofu properly, let alone be creative with it.

  42. Ha…

    I knew I should have corrected myself when I wrote that "strangely you'll find vegetarians mostly in countries that have crappy cuisine" because I knew somebody else would otherwise.

    Yes I'm guilty of Western-centrism here, as I meant in the Western world, not all over the world.
    I didn't want to single out the country that have terrible food (ok, let's do it: the Anglo countries), but yeah, I didn't mean the whole world.

    Many other countries have vegetarians but for different reasons, usually religious or economical (yes, meat is expensive, and not everybody can afford it daily).

    But as you mentioned, except for some religious nuts (cows are gods??? come on…), it's "temporary vegetarianism".

    But let's close the debate here, I'll open it another day as a whole topic when the situation arises.

  43. I was reading this and thinking "but I live in America, and I like my food!" and then I realized that out of all the food I eat, maybe 10% of it is "American" food. Lebanese food at home and (probably messed up) Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, French food everywhere else. And then there's school lunches. Pretty much the only "American food" I like is "French" fries… oh the irony…

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