Actually, it’s l’Hotel Dieu, which is the oldest hospital in Paris and situated BESIDE Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cite (Island). It was founded in the 7th century and is the most central hospital in Paris, although recently the Palais de Justice across the street wants to close it down and take over its space. It doesn’t look that old because it was revamped when Haussman had to rebuild Paris in the late 1800s and tear down (mostly) everything medieval.
Little did I know that anyone could walk right in and find some peace in its courtyard behind the entry. [Go to http://www.360cities.net/image/france-paris-hotel-dieu-hospital#0.00,0.00,60.0 to manipulate your 360 degree view.] How did I find out? Well, it turns out that all kids in William’s grade (1, or CP [Cours Preparatoire]) require a medical examination, which he received in school (ahh, do you remember the good ‘ole days when there used to be a school nurse?!). But the doctor didn’t like the fact that his last diptheria/pertussis/tetanus/polio (DPTP) vaccination was 2 years ago. When I told the doctor (she spoke a little English, phew!) that his treatments were on schedule according to our home country’s recommendations, her response was, “In France, we have them every 5 years. My grandfather had tetanus, and he died.” Oh. She wanted me to go to another vaccination clinic for a second opinion, since we are foreigners and maybe foreigners have different restrictions. Oh. So she sends me off with a list of Centres and a request form asking for the second opinion. The closest one: l’Hotel Dieu.
So this Monday I set out, having expectations of waiting in long queues in a hot room with a lot of people. I decided to go while William was in school in the off-chance that I would be given the OK not to require the vaccination. After being directed to the wrong floor by reception, another French woman and I found our way to the Centre and immediately lined up. I had already decided in my mind to let her go ahead of me as she was so kind to escort me along and ‘chat’ with me (I thought she worked there). But in one minute that line of 8 people were told to “SIT DOWN! SIT DOWN!” by the surly woman behind the desk, the vaccination receptionist. Great, I thought. This happened to me at my language test (that’s another story) when there was no line, so no one was served chronologically, and that just irks me when I am competing with 20 more people in the room. We all give each other ‘looks’ (I am as good as the French when doing that) and sit down in the very warm room. The surly receptionist tells everyone, “We ALL have appointments, there is NO need to line up!” BUT, I didn’t understand what she said at the time, I just figured I was going to have to wait for a very long time. Luckily, another woman walked in and had the courage to tell the lady she needed an appointment for her elderly mother (after being warned by the lady I accompanied). The receptionist hunkered down at her desk and called out for anyone who needed an appointment to see her. So the lady I came in with, lines up and I decide to join her because I was behind her, after all. There is still a man sitting with the receptionist, silent, waiting for his papers to be processed by her. He cannot complain. He is at her mercy. When it is my turn, I say in my really BAD French that my son’s school doctor was seeking the advice of another doctor.
Receptionist (R) in French: Do you have an appointment? You need an appointment.
Me in French: I have a paper that says, ‘Sans rendez-vous.’ [=’without appointment’] (I show it to her.)
R. looks disgusted and crosses out a bunch of addresses, complaining, “This is wrong! This is not open”…yada…yada.. She points to the bottom of the sheet with its printed date (aout/97). “THIS IS OUTDATED!!” Or something like that, and hands me back the sheet with the ‘sans’ crossed out and replaced with her written ‘SUR.’ Since I tend to give up too easily, I try to continue to ask if there is a doctor who can help me.
R: You need an APPOINTMENT!
At this point, I have forgotten that she had written appointments for the people ahead of me and I resign with a “D’accord” and leave. The man slumped in the chair in front of me is silent the entire time, still waiting for his turn. I SO wanted to yell “B*TCH!” when I left the office. But I go home and analyse the remaining vaccination centres over lunch and take a metro to the 15th. I get there 5 minutes after it opens and am 5th in line. I get an immediate answer of “your son requires a vaccination” (and the nurses stopped helping the lady in front of me[!] in order to ascertain my unusual request). Ten minutes later, I have an appointment for William, but not after a series of questions, one of which, “You live in the 3rd [arrondissement]? Did you not go to l’Hotel Dieu?” At which time, my brain just couldn’t come up with the French translation of “The lady was a bitch and didn’t want to help me.” So I answered in my poor French, “Oui, oui! J’ai visite deja mais–elle–ne–” and somehow the nurse figured out I needed an appointment and didn’t get one. Funnily enough, there was a nurse at that clinic who was FLIPPING OUT, shouting and slamming her fist on the desk because she had lost a patient (he was wandering somewhere on the premises). It is uncommon to see a French person lose his/her cool. But not uncommon to see a French person unhappy in his/her job and take it out on someone else. We are all the same…
Now the question of the day is: What would have happened if my stubborn, English hubby were requesting aid to the vaccination receptionist in his broken French?! We’ll never know…