This morning my kid woke up with a horrific cough. We decided to give him some cough syrup. Here were the options:
This happy colored box with easy to understand directions that were written not only on the box, but also the bottle (just in case you lose the box).
This very serious (and frankly kind of boring) box with no directions on the box or the bottle. But there WAS the leaflet. Ah yes…the “leaflet.” Uggg! This thing was more like a dissertation. Remember the “hold the mail” request? The five-page “form” to ask the Postmaster to hold your mail, as compared with the American 3 line form? This was the same. Italians just can’t do concise, clear and straight to the point, even when taking medicine. But maybe that is what makes them so fun and lovable?
Anyway, after our cough syrup situation this morning, I got to thinking about differences not only as it relates to instructions for medicine, but the entire approach to meds in the States and Italy.
First of all there is the marketing importance of the over the counter drugs I mentioned. Look above at this colorful aisle of pain and cold medicines from Texas. So bright, so cheerful, just screaming: “Buy Me! Buy Me!” What do the aisles of medicine look like in Italy? I don’t have a photo because all the medicine is kept in the back of pharmacy and only the pharmacist has access to it. You go to the pharmacist, tell them what the ailment is, and they choose what to give you or you can also ask for what you want – but you can’t just go pick it off the shelf. And when you do get your medicine, it will always come in the serious box – because medicine is serious stuff after all.
So speaking of pharmacies. Here is one in America and right next to it, one in Turin. Another difference between pharmacies is that in America you can buy beer, food, magazines, wrapping paper and household items. In Italy you will find personal care items, beauty products, perfumes and baby products – no beer or snickers. But the trade-off is that sometimes there will be chandeliers at the pharmacy! Keep in mind that some of these places have literally been around for hundreds of years.
In America, medication seems to be big business. During our trip home this summer, we saw commercial after commercial for prescription medication. All of them asking you to self diagnose, then to discuss your own diagnosis with your doctor and not only that, but suggest to your doctor the possibility of this medicine you saw on tv as a solution. Here is an example. (But I have to admit I DO love those little Zoloft guys…they are so cute).
In Italy you will never see this kind of commercial. They have commercials for over the counter medication, but they certainly don’t encourage you to talk to your doctor about prescription medication.
Along the same lines, Italian doctors really don’t like to medicate. I understand this may be an attempt to keep costs down, but in the States, wow…those docs (at least mine) loved, loved, loved trying to dope me up. Anti-anxiety was their script of choice for me. Do I talk a mile a minute? Yes. Do I talk a lot? Yes. Am I a little high-strung? Ummm…yes. Do I worry about stuff that is probably never going to happen? Err…ok…yes. Does that mean I need a drug to “fix” this? NO! ….no Italian doctor has ever offered me an anti-anxiety drug.
In the end, every country has its own way. My sis was living in Dubai and could buy antibiotics without a prescription.
But back to the pharmacies, I admit some of them are truly beautiful. On your next trip to Italy, make sure to stroll into a few in the city center – it is always nice to take a step back in time – even if you have a headache.