In Washington D.C. and Paris Bound

Written by kvfawcett on November 19, 2010 – 1:11 pm -

I’m in Washington D.C., getting ready to head to Paris—and am I ever glad. I’ll miss my family, but we’ll resume our weekly Skype sessions. To tell you the truth, though, the girls are leading their own lives and becoming increasingly busy with school, birthday parties and things children do.

I’m looking at the clothes to be packed, gathering papers that seem to travel with me no matter where I go, and making mental notes of chores I need to do, such as alert my US phone carrier to reactivate roaming, so I won’t be hit with a mega bill when emails start rolling in the minute I arrive in France. My lists are beginning to multiply.

Electronics are sitting in one corner including a Kindle in addition to extra large jars of crunchy peanut butter, bars of pink Dove soap, bags of Hershey’s chocolate kisses and two bags of dark brown organic sugar which is probably available in France. Still on my to-do list: a run to a drug store that sells vitamins and other pills in super-size-me bottles.

I’m not living in fear over the current strikes. To be honest, I’m more concerned over the weather, so thank goodness for waterproof shoes, raincoats and umbrellas. For the past seventeen years, the Bonjour Paris mantra has been you don’t come to France for the climate.

Don’t get me wrong. I am following the strikes very carefully, reading the French news, watching France 24 and knowing the strikers are determined to strike and will do so until… well, until what always happens happens once again. They will stop because no one really believes the president and the legislature are going to cancel the retirement-reform legislation. And not everyone is happy: schools are closed, which the students may enjoy, but the parents of young ones do not. High school students are also protesting.

In case you’ve missed it, gasoline is beginning to run low in the tank farms—and the refineries are closed. But the French government is telling the gas companies to use their own reserves and don’t think they can tap into the government’s month-long reserve. Will the government force the lines to be open to supply fuel to Paris’s airports?

I am constantly querying friends in Paris as to whether or not they’re suffering and not being able to navigate within the city itself. Are grocery stores being raided? Are people stocking up on wine (this is as good an excuse as any) and has life come to a grinding halt? The answer has been no unless they are depending on trains; if so, there will more than likely be some inconvenience. One friend says she’s postponed her trips from the Loire to see her dentist in Paris, but it’s not the end of the world.

There are noises (and loud ones) about fuel supplies being cut off at Paris’s two airports. Will it mess up my flight? Time will tell and I may be fuming if my plane doesn’t depart much less arrive in Paris. However, this is a part (the worst part) of the travel experience and even though I’m eager to arrive home and walk through the Luxembourg Garden, if I don’t get home at the appointed hour, I’ll have something to write about next week.

Having lived in France for the past 22 years, I’ve learned unions (declining in membership) strike first and then negotiate. Actually, it’s a bit funnier than that. First, they issue a préavis, a notice that they intend to strike on a certain day. Then they strike, issue several more préavis, do it again, and then they negotiate or, as I suspect in this case, they simply go back to work. How much inconvenience they cause is another story. But here’s a précis: The flights that have been canceled (although not long-haul ones) cause havoc. The Eiffel Tower was closed for one day. If I’d only had one day in Paris, I might have been upset.

French postal workers are now making noises about striking. Yes, that would be an inconvenience. But nothing like it was when there wasn’t any mail the first winter I moved to Paris. Nor were there many faxes and who’d heard of the internet? That was the winter of major discontent (plus my being homesick) and a telephone bill that precipitated some very heated conversations between my husband and me.

I have attended so many strikes that feel more like a 4th of July parade—where people sing, chant, and naturally eat. Note that in France, attending strikes is similar to going to the movies: you don’t participate, but you do watch—and incidentally get counted as part of the manifestation. There are always food trucks and strikers stop before dinner because most French wouldn’t consider missing their evening meal.

People form a type of solidarity during strikes. I’ve hitchhiked, ridden on the back of motor scooters, biked and confined my projects to places I can walk. I cyber-commute no matter where I am, so I have a definite advantage.

The key point is the government is not going to cave in over the pension reform. As an American, the idea of retiring at 62 sounds pretty good to me. France has the lowest retirement age in the EU except for Greece, where the government—good luck to them!—is trying to raise the retirement age for women from 50 and for men from 57 to 60 and 62. Germany’s retirement age is 65 and it’s being upped to 67.

One thing I do want to weigh in over is the fact that CNN, France 24 and other media outlets can cause things to look worse than the reality. As I’ve said, no one I know—or have read about—is actually suffering anything more than inconvenience so far. And it worth noting that even some of the students who are protesting have conceded that life expectancy is much longer than it was when the current pension system was established.

Strikes to worry about: dock strikes, fuel strikes, truckers because of the movement of goods (e.g., food), etc. Would my bet be this will be the last strike? No. Do I think there will be more days of disruption? Yes! And, for the record, striking or attending a strike beats working. And the poor French Socialists think they’ve got a lock on the presidency in 2012. They also think Galileo was wrong and the sun revolves around la belle France.

My worries are more centered on France’s long-term economy, the euro zone and the fact that too much bread is being pre-made in factories. In spite of these problems, and given my druthers, I wouldn’t live anyplace else.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Memories, Paris, Provence, Loss, Sadness and Joy

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:19 am -

Ever since September 11, 2001, most people can’t have that day come and go without remembering the devastating destruction and loss that occurred. Three thousand people lost their lives, and we lost some of our freedom. For many, it was the end of an age of innocence. It’s one of the defining acts in recent history that has impacted travel and so much more. As much as we’d like, the world will never be the same.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was sitting at my desk in Paris in the afternoon, writing away. Because of the six-hour time difference, it was morning on the East Coast of the U.S. My son would usually sign on his computer and thank goodness for AOL instant messenger (IM)—even though we were on different continents, I had the feeling of being able to “talk” to him if necessary. As soon as he signed on, he started typing as if in a whirlwind. Where was I? What was I doing? He told me to turn on the television so I could see what was happening.

I ran into the living room just in time to see the second tower crumbling down. This couldn’t be real. Clearly, this was a bad movie and couldn’t be real.

Please remember these were the days before most of us had high-speed Internet, much less Wi-Fi. I grabbed my laptop and moved into the living room, plugged in the rinky-dink modem and, amazingly enough, was able to snag an AOL dial-up connection.

Sitting on the sofa in total disbelief, I IMed with my son and a couple of other people on my buddy list. Who could possibly believe what were seeing on CNN and why was this happening? The horror and the terror were not to be believed. It would be a while before we knew the whys…

I was unable to reach my mother who lived less than two miles from the Pentagon. All of the phone lines were jammed and there was no way I could make a call from Paris to Washington, DC. The irony was my mother thought I should move home (meaning where she was) because of some mini-bombs that had recently been detonated on the Champs-Élysées.

A buddy list friend, who lived in the area, finally contacted my mother who’d been sleeping. My son had gone home to his wife so he was off-line.

People frequently want to know what it feels like to be an expat. In this case, I wanted to be with family. But would that have changed anything? In essence, we were all impotent and could do nothing but wait and hope the nightmare would abate and we’d wake up and realize it had been a bad dream and shake the dust out of our eyes.

Phyllis Flick, who’d just moved to Paris to study, had rented a room down the street and didn’t have access to CNN. Even though we’d never met except through Bonjour Paris, she asked if she could come up to the apartment so she could see English-language television. That was fine with me. I was pleased to have the company and I think she camped on the sofa in front of the television. To be honest, the entire time was a blur.

How well I remember my neighbors knocking on my door and asking if there was anything they could do for me. We really didn’t know one another, but they knew that I was l’américaine and at times such as this, even the French don’t stand on formality.

The memory of my downstairs neighbor who worked for Microsoft will be indelibly etched in my mind. Michel appeared and insisted I come downstairs for dinner and their door was always open in the event I wanted coffee, company or a cigarette. Yes, it was politically and socially correct to smoke in La Belle France then.

My husband Victor had left for Provence a couple of days before. He so loved that house in the vines, and I was planning to join him a couple of days later. Since his U.S. office was headquartered next to the World Trade Center, he was concerned about many of his colleagues and friends. What a terrible time when he heard that one of the offices where he’d worked was no longer standing. So much sadness.

When I started writing this, I realized today is the fourth anniversary of Victor’s death. I came across this article in the archives of Bonjour Paris and thought it would be appropriate to republish.

To the many people in all of our lives who’ve been lost for myriad reasons, let’s raise a glass to them. To those who are our friends and part of our families, let’s do everything possible to nurture and cherish them.

Please know I consider Bonjour Paris readers family. You may come and go, but we’re a community and so many thanks to each and every one of you for being there.

September 12, 2010

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Around the World, Paris |

Culture Shock of a Food Junkie

Written by kvfawcett on June 25, 2010 – 1:12 pm -

Some people gauge a country by its museums and monuments. Others gravitate to a place because of sand and surf. Many head to destinations based on what they can buy and bring home. None of these reasons is right or wrong. People travel for their own reasons—and that’s their business, not mine.

But no matter where I go—and I’m always ready to go anywhere, even to places where I can’t get a visa—there are always some must-sees after the usual major tourist attractions. You don’t come to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower any more than you go to Siem Reap in Cambodia and not visit Angkor Wat: granted, we know that.

After Notre Dame or the Luxembourg Garden, my list also includes places where people shop for food. Street market or supermarket, it’s all the same to me because we can learn a lot about a culture from the food people eat when they’re at home—in other words, the food for sale in the markets. The prices of groceries, from staples to produce to meat, can give some idea of the general condition of a country’s economy and a rough notion of how large a proportion of household income the locals are willing (or forced) to pay to feed themselves.

Perhaps my fascination (obsession?) with grocery stores began when I moved to Paris and didn’t speak French beyond bonjour, s’il vous plaît and merci. I was intimidated by the open markets where, if I touched a tomato, the vendor might slap my hand loudly saying, N’y touchez pas. I’d slink off and wonder if my cooking days were over and what were those cuts of beef and why did the chickens still have their heads on and no, I didn’t want it, merci.

I found solace in the Monoprix, where I could read the labels, take my time because there wasn’t someone else standing behind me and what do you mean, you have to bring your own bags and pack your purchases? I spent hours in that store on the Rue de Rivoli across from our apartment on the Place des Vosges. And I learned enough to grow confident in taking on the real markets.

This is true everywhere. You have to get used to the way food is displayed, priced, and used. Those elements after all are cultural, not universal. For example, Australian supermarkets are expensive even when buying local products such as fruit and cheese. I was surprised by the high cost of Australian beef. The wine is good, but (OK, I’m prejudiced) wines of comparable quality can be purchased for less in France.

Now, in Asia, I modify my list unless I’m in a grocery store that caters to foreigners. It’s not hard to identify them since they stock many items few locals would consider buying, and the stores generally have bigger grocery carts. There will be boxes of cereals and few Asians begin their days by eating Wheaties (“the breakfast of champions”) for their get up and go.

Rice is cheap according to Western standards. Not too many foreigners are searching for tiny portions of dried shrimp and other weird-looking items. If you crave peanut butter, chances are it’s going to set you back more than you want to pay unless you can’t do without a fix. Forget wine and opt for beer.

Obviously, no matter where I travel, I compare products with what I’m used to finding in France. But then, consciously or not, I inevitably compare shopping in France to shopping in the States. Parisian markets are for the most part much smaller than American grocery stores. If you want to go to a huge one, you’ll have to go to the suburbs to stock up, but without a car getting your purchases home presents a problem.

The good news is that Internet shopping has come to France, and local markets deliver. About once a month, I’ll order all the heavy stuff that I don’t have to look at—like bottled water, cleaning products, and wine. I know what they are—and let someone else lug them. I’d rather confine my daily shopping to produce, meat, fish, and my caloric downfall—cheese, glorious cheese. And then there’s the mainstay of life, bread. There’s nothing as good as a baguette that’s just come out of the oven, and please let me confine my croissant intake to a maximum of one a day.

When I lived in Washington, DC, I shopped at the same grocery store. Occasionally, I’d stray to the French Market but invariably was horrified by what I’d need to shell over at the check-out counter. The Georgetown Safeway (a.k.a. The Social Safeway) was the store of convenience and choice. When Washington was a village, I had to allow extra time to say hello to neighbors, friends, and parents from the school my son attended.

After being closed for a year, the former building has been replaced with a 71,067 square-foot one that’s state of the art everything and is “the greenest supermarket in the District of Columbia.” It has been built and will be maintained according to LEED Standards. There are even especially assigned parking places for cars that are fuel efficient like hybrids and electric cars. This is the ultimate in going green. And yes, you’re expected to bring your own bags—if not, each plastic bag costs five cents.

Who’d ever guess I’d experience total and absolute culture shock surrounded by produce, every type of food product and thousands of bottles of wine? And this wasn’t in an exotic destination where you’re not quite certain of what’s precisely being sold.

On May 6th the new Safeway had the grand opening the area’s residents were eagerly awaiting. People entered the store totally wide-eyed to be greeted by so many employees asking if they could help you, did you find everything and passing out samples. When I asked where the ladies room was, someone walked me to it and opened the door. I was fully expecting for them to enter the room with me and… never mind.

A guest from the U.K. accompanied me on one of my visits and was clearly overwhelmed by the size of the store and its vast selection. Choosing a cereal was enough to send him into a cold sweat. And what’s this about having a sommelier and a temperature-controlled wine room selling vintages that cost in excess of $100 per bottle.

Yes, this is an over-the-top store. Even the selection of flowers made me stop. When I ended up at the cheese counter that has an enormous selection, I was so happy until I looked at the prices, swallowed hard and put them down. There was no way I was going to pay that amount of money for a pasteurized Brie and will wait until I’m home in Paris.

I had a revelation. People who work in French supermarkets will never kill you with kindness. I suspect when the Georgetown Safeway is running smoothly, many of the company’s senior management will disappear and shoppers will be left to their own devices.

But, the food items I want—bread, cheese, wine and produce—cost substantially less in France. And who cares if I can’t choose from 22 brands of toilet paper. I’d rather buy cheese,merci, not to mention truffle salt.

No matter where I go, I take myself. And within my inner core, there’s an indelibly etched part of France, and certainly its food that will be with me until the day I die. C’est normal. You can’t live somewhere for 22 years and not be impacted by its culture.


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If I’m Not in Paris

Written by kvfawcett on June 25, 2010 – 1:08 pm -

Bonjour from Washington, D.C. If it’s late April through early June, chances are I’ll be in the Nation’s Capital. It’s not because I feel the compulsion to wave the American flag. Just because I choose to live in France doesn’t mean my forehead isn’t emblazoned with an invisible beacon flashing “Born in the USA” à la Bruce Springsteen. I’m proud to be an American—even if I do find certain things baffling on this side of the Atlantic.

I try to be in Washington for my granddaughters’ birthdays and school events. Even though some people may consider my carbon footprint environmentally irresponsible, I’m lucky to be able to celebrate significant events in person. Travel is a priority and a main line item in my budget.

Many expats miss important family occasions because of distance and the time and cost of travel. Of course that’s also true of people who never leave the United States which, after all, is about as large as Western Europe: the distance in air miles from Madrid to Moscow is less than the distance from New York to Los Angeles. But the euro and Europeanization notwithstanding, you travel farther in Europe. And let’s face it, not everyone speaks English.

The fact that my job is located in my computer (dear lord, please don’t let it crash again) allows me flexibility few people have. Even with increased cyber commuting, virtual offices and on-line meetings, most workers still need to make a physical appearance in an office on a frequent basis.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s no way I’d want to head Bonjour Paris if I didn’t live in France. But there’s no need for me to be there 365 days a year. In fact, it’s better that I’m not. Each time I return after a trip of more than a few days (a long weekend in Morocco doesn’t count), it’s as if I am seeing the city in a new light. This is especially true if I return to Paris after the August vacation when many storefront businesses look completely different. Perhaps some people don’t work in August, but that can’t be said of many French construction crews.

So I was puzzled or, really, put out when someone who knew I was away shot me an email saying she didn’t believe I could write about Paris if I weren’t there. My response was downright snarky. But then I came to the realization that some of my best insights about the city I love are derived when I’m not there. The idea of not being able to feel the pulse of the city elsewhere or what’s taking place is downright nonsense. In Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth declared his manifesto for the Romantic Movement, saying that powerful poetry was composed from “emotion recollected in tranquility.” I may not write poems, but I think the feelings of daily life can be felt directly in one place or another, but recollected anywhere—and often more clearly and movingly.

The reality is when I’m in Paris, I may not always have my hand on its pulse. More than likely, my hands are on the computer keyboard and doing the same things anyone does when working. This is especially true if they work at home and a trip to the grocery store is considered an outing.

Even though traveling can be a pain in the derrière—and who enjoys dealing with security screenings, delayed flights, the recent bouts with volcanic ash and being stranded?—when I see a plane, I want to be on it.

Travel, whether it’s for business or pleasure, is the best way to learn about other cultures and mores and to gather a more global perspective. It is also the best way to see my own cultures—American and French—more clearly.

After 22 years of living in Paris, I look at things with a French attitude. My idea of home is a comfortable apartment near the Métro and a good bakery, not a 5000-square-foot MacMansion in the suburbs with a one-hour commute on clogged roads to work in a cubicle. I did not intend this, but this is what has happened to me. Or this:

Last night I toured Washington’s monuments after dark with a friend visiting from abroad and admired the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials as great examples of architecture—and symbols of the American republic. But they don’t make my heart stop the same way it does when I drive by the Assemblée nationale in Paris at night. Perhaps it has to do with lighting? The perspective? Maybe I’ve gone native? I don’t know. It’s a powerful feeling, though, and I can recollect it here in the United States.

Consider buying Travel Insurance. And you’d better believe that my Medjet Assist policy is renewed each year.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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How Many Ways can you say the Economy is Rotten?

Written by admin on March 27, 2009 – 12:21 pm -

No one is happy about the world’s financial situation. If we’re not experiencing a depression, it’s certainly one hell of a recession. Economists can call it what they like, but unemployment rates are spiraling out of control and even though we’re allegedly not experiencing inflation, certain necessities feel as if they’re more expensive. Perhaps it’s because people have less disposable income. Expats have to deal with the situation in the old country as well as where they are living at the moment—and realize there’s no place to run. 

A trip to my local grocery store has me looking at the receipt more than once. Why did it cost so much to buy so little? There was less of a sting last year and the only really good buy that appears to be left are bottles of wine at Ed, the discount grocer at the end of my block. For less than three euros, I can buy bottle of wine good enough to serve to company and drink it with a baguette. The French are still buying bread because it’s part of their religion as well as tradition. And perhaps it’s because the cost of a baguette (not specialty breads) is price-fixed by the government.  

Americans are used to clipping coupons and trying to make the most of their purchasing power. But as long as I’ve lived in France, I’ve never received a brochure before now telling me that Franprix (a medium sized grocer with numerous stores in every quartier) was going to be open on a Friday night between 8 and 11 pm. It was a nocturne exceptionnelle (which is not the same as a Chopin composition) and six euros would be deducted from clients’ bills if they spent more than 30 euros.  

My neighborhood store wasn’t mobbed and the salesclerks looked bored silly. Perhaps people who live in the more upscale areas of Paris would rather dedicate a Friday evening to going to the movies. What might have been a huge success appeared to fall flat. 

However, you’d have to be blind not to see that deep-discounted “promotions” are taking place in many stores in Paris. It may not be sale time, but when there’s a will, there’s a way to persuade customers to buy—or die trying. 

Each time I turn on CNN, it is clear that things are worse in the U.S. and that it’s time for banks and financial institutions to be regulated. If you weren’t feeling nervous enough, the constant re-looping of the same bad news story is enough to make people not want to leave home — if they still have one. This isn’t to minimize the severity of the crisis; my friends in the U.S. send emails filled with doom and gloom scenarios.  

How could things go so awry with AIG, one the world’s largest multi-national companies? As for Bernard Madoff, it’s hard to imagine that so many people could have been snookered by the king of Ponzi schemes. Where was the SEC in spite of numerous warnings? 

The French aren’t happy at all when it comes to their present and future security. On May 19th, more than a million people throughout France went on strike. Employees of the private sector joined traditional public sector strikers such as teachers, transport workers and hospital staff. People were protesting President Sarkozy’s cuts to the public sector and to France’s welfare system and are holding him accountable for failing to protect workers from the economic crisis.  

Ironically, even though there were so many people striking, people who live in or were visiting Paris didn’t feel much of a disruption unless they were near the Place de la République where the demonstration took place. Because of a recent regulation, buses and metros are required to operate in Paris – with less frequency – but people could still get around.  

Unemployment is on the rise and the French are scared for their futures. All of this has a familiar ring. But contrasted with the French, Americans rarely take to the streets over economic conditions since most labor unions, such as the AFL-CIO, are substantially less powerful than they were in the 1950s. 

All we can do is hope for the best — and that the hard times won’t last too long. But as the man in the White House said, we didn’t get into this mess overnight and we won’t get out of any quicker.


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Health Care for All

Written by admin on March 21, 2009 – 12:23 pm -

One of President Barack Obama’s goals is to make health insurance affordable and accessible to all Americans by utilizing the current healthcare system. This would include using existing providers and insurance plans.

As an American, this would be a dream. Not everyone can afford the wildly expensive health insurance policies, many of which have so many deductibles that people may find their insurance isn’t worth much except in the event of a catastrophic illness.

Some states in the U.S. forbid insurers to decline patients because of pre-existing conditions. In other states, it’s the insurer who makes the call and can do as they like and do.

In addition, monthly premiums might run as much as your housing costs. It’s not a pretty picture and, as a result, too many Americans go without medical insurance.

Being a French resident has increased my awareness (as well as the funds in my bank account) that medicine in France is a whole lot cheaper than in the U.S. A consultation with an internist costs 22 euros. And French healthcare is exceptional.

Because of government controls, prescription medications cost a fraction of what they do in the States. I was just able to buy a six-month supply of a pill I take for the cost of one month’s supply of the same pill purchased in the U.S. My cost for a month’s worth of pills was two dollars less than my co-pay. 

Having said that, if you need an aspirin in France, its much more expensive than in the US. Expatriates, once back in America, stock up on enormous bottles of vitamins, aspirin and other over-the-counter drugs. There’s current legislation pending that will enable French residents to buy non-prescription drugs for a reasonable price at certain grocery stores and parapharmacies.

Being an expat of a certain age, I don’t understand why Medicare doesn’t cover people who don’t live in the U.S. Some of us view it as discrimination and can’t believe it’s so difficult to do the mathematic calculations between what a procedure costs in Nebraska and what it would cost overseas. In spite of ongoing lobbying, American citizens who choose to live outside of the U.S. are under the financial gun. We’re hoping this will change sooner rather than later.

As things stand now, the same doctor’s visit and other medically related procedures cost very little in the E.U. (and even less in countries that are developing medical tourism, such as Singapore and India).

A few U.S. insurance companies are sending patients overseas for complicated surgical procedures to save on costs. Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently did an in-depth report on CNN, explaining this may become increasingly prevalent. The hospital he toured in India was nothing less than state of the art and many of the physicians had been trained in the U.S. 

The differential cost in medical care personally struck home recently when I had a houseguest from the U.S. His vacation was spent in misery, since he developed numerous symptoms from some mysterious illness. Don’t get the wrong idea – I usually don’t aim to kill people who stay with me. But on his second day in Paris, he awakened with the rash from hell. His body was covered with hives and it wasn’t a pretty sight, not to mention he was in excruciating pain from the itching.

Off I went to my local pharmacy to explain the situation, and returned with a box of antihistamines and some body lotion. The pharmacist couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating. Contrasted with the U.S., there’s a drug store on nearly every Paris block and they sell almost nothing but medications. In France, you may be able to buy a toothbrush in a pharmacy, but forget milk and other sundries—la pharmacie is not CVS.

When my guest wasn’t better the next day and had developed additional symptoms, we headed to the pharmacy (which can’t be more than 500 square-feet in size). Two of the pharmacists held a conference and decided he should go to the doctor. 

One phoned a near-by one and made an appointment for him to be seen immediately. We were told to rush to the office since it was a Saturday and the office was only open until noon. So we wouldn’t lose time getting lost, one of the pharmacists drew a map to show us the most direct route.

My guest, now the patient, was seen within minutes of arriving in the doctor’s office. None of this “sit and wait business” I’ve become accustomed to in the U.S., in spite of having a walk-in appointment.

If someone becomes sick in France and can’t make it to the doctor, he or she can call SOS Médecins — a network of 1000 doctors who make house calls 24 hours a day. When you speak with the dispatcher, explain you’d prefer a doctor who speaks English and describe your symptoms. The price varies depending on the hour you call. But the group guarantees a physician will be there within an hour. And it’s usually sooner. They can come to your house and even give shots at your home.

Many people say that all of the perks of the French medical system can’t last, as the French social security system (sécurité sociale) is under severe financial strain due to an aging population, which has contributed to a huge increase in spending on healthcare, pensions and unemployment benefits in recent years. As of February 2009, France’s health spending alone is around 10 percent of its GDP. Then again, America’s is over 14 percent—and I’m not always sure we get the best care for the high prices.

You can’t help but wonder if there will ever be parity when it comes to medical care and goods and services. For right now, I have US insurance, and I also tap into the French healthcare system when needed. Fortunately for me, I have the best of both worlds.


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Medical tourism is booming

Written by admin on September 26, 2008 – 2:46 pm -

Don’t be shocked if some more affluent friends return from faraway trips looking extremely well rested. Look more carefully. There may be telltale scars. Medical tourism is booming.

Medical tourism is on the rise. Some noted destinations are India, Brazil, Argentina, Panama, and Malaysia. According to statistics by McKinsey & Company and the Confederation of India, it is forecast there will be an explosion of people heading overseas to save money to have certain procedures done.

In 2004, an estimated $40 billion was spent in the medical tourism industry. It’s forecast that by 2012, revenues will top $100 billion. Brazil is known as an international Mecca for cosmetic and plastic surgeries. Ivo Pitanguy, the world-renowned plastic surgeon who opened a clinic outside of Rio de Janeiro more than 40 years ago, catapulted the country into the limelight. He trained doctors from all over the world and if you were a disciple of the master, it was tantamount to the plastic surgery Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

Currently, Brazil is the second largest market for plastic surgery in the world after the U.S. That’s attributed to the high quality of service and its comparatively low cost.

Brazil is also becoming a medical tourism destination for other types of procedures. It has the most hospitals of any country outside the U.S. that are fully accredited by the Joint Commission (JCAHO), the largest U.S. hospital accreditation organization, according to MedRetreat, a website dedicated to medical tourism.

The flight time is approximately 8 to 12 hours from most US cities. That’s an additional reason that the country is predicted to become one of the world’s most dominant economies, according to Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs.

Panama is another country that’s hopped on the medical tourism bandwagon. The costs, on average, are 40 to 70 percent lower than costs for similar procedures in the U.S., according to a report on medical tourism published by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) last November. Hospitals catering to foreigners are clean and English is the lingua franca among the personnel. Many of its doctors have been trained in the US and the country views medical tourism as a way of bolstering the economy.

Costa Rica, like Panama, has become a popular destination among North American patients for inexpensive, high-quality medical care. Costs of procedures are generally cost less than half of the same procedures in the U.S.; the price of a dental veneer, for instance, is approximately $350 in Panama, whereas the same procedure is $1,250 in New York or Chicago. With those types of savings, you can afford to take a vacation.

Malaysia’s medical tourism industry has experienced staggering growth over recent years. According to the Association of Private Hospitals, the number of foreigners seeking healthcare services in Malaysia has grown from 75,210 patients in 2001 to 296,687 patients in 2006.

The large volume of patients in 2006 generated approximately $59 million of revenue. It’s projected that the number of foreigners seeking medical treatment in Malaysia will continue to grow at a rate of 30 percent a year until 2010.

There’s wide array of available medical procedures—including dental, cosmetic and cardiac surgeries—at significantly lower costs than in the U.S. In Malaysia, cardiac bypass surgery costs approximately $6,000 to $7,000.

India has become a well-known medical tourist destination for cardiac and orthopedic procedures. In the past, American patients have traveled to India for procedures such as Birmingham hip resurfacing, which wasn’t unavailable in the U.S. since it hadn’t been approved by the FDA until recently.

Medical tourists also journey to India for procedures that cost a small king’s ransom in the U.S.; for example, Apollo Hospital in New Delhi charges $4,000 for cardiac surgery while the same procedure would cost about $30,000 in an American hospital.

But not all US doctors are sanguine over people traveling abroad for medical care. If something goes wrong, they’re in far-away countries. And many people don’t allow enough time for extensive follow-up visits.

But unless medical care (and not just cosmetic surgery which is a luxury), are covered by insurance, there’s bound to be a surge of people traveling overseas for various surgeries. It may mean life or death.

(Listen to me discuss this issue on WTOP.)


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