Visiting relatives I haven’t seen for a couple of years, due to my not being able to travel. Attitudes to health vary so widely between the Uk and France. In the Uk we tend to underplay our symptoms with codes that everyone understands. So if someone says ‘my ticker is playing up a bit’ you know to keep the defibrillator on standby. In France, everyone is an expert and full disclosure an imperative. Reveal any symptoms at all, from a headache to a gammy leg and they will not only give you unsolicited advice, but also something from their wildly overstocked medicine cabinet to tide you over while they get the phone number of the best consultant, who is a personal friend of their plumber’s second cousin.
I tend to underplay but having not seen then for a couple of years, I’m under the microscopic scrutiny. Everything from my eating and drinking habits, my tablets to the frequency and detailed production of my visits to the loo. Heads are shaken, amateur advice is freely available, references made to relatives up and down the family tree who might have displayed a similar symptom one Wedenesday fifty years ago.
Like everything else, health is tribal. We’ve been in touch by phone, but when I was exhausted and very seriously ill, I couldn’t face the tribal inquisition. So I’m getting the full treatment now, every day with a different relative. I’m excused for the lack of phone calls, but my entrails are thoroughly examined. And I know the phone lines will be red hot, comparing notes.
There’s no point in adopting the understated Uk approach. So I give them full gory details and they lap it up. It comes from a place of kindness and concern. And also to sew me firmly back into the tribal tapestry.