For the last few weeks, my coughing has been worse than usual – which is a feat. Clearly, taking pre-emptive Advils to relieve my inevitable sinus headaches is not a long-term solution. My dad suggested that I explore foreign medicines. After all, perhaps they had discovered a remedy missing in the US; not unheard of, since charcoal pills are virtually unknown in the US, but they relieve stomach pains better than any other medicine I’ve taken.
And thus, I found myself at a Swedish pharmacy in Malmö. Not even the second-largest city in the country, it had to be more affordable, right? I suppose so, if you consider $50 for over-the-counter nasal spray to be reasonable. I’ve bought nasal sprays in the US with no insurance, and I’m not sure if I’ve even paid that much for prescription versions. So, that venture was short-lived – and not even interesting, since the self-service pharmacy model made it possible for me to browse until illustrations of noses confirmed I was in the right place.
Enter Poland: the holy grail I’ve been holding out for when it comes to buying anything. Almost out of shampoo? Cheaper in Poland. Broken phone charger? Poland it is.
Today, day one of our stay in this country, I ventured to the pharmacy. It’s good that the word for pharmacy is similar in most European countries, because the only visible display inside had face creams. Other than that, it was just the two women behind the counter dressed in white lab coats, both in their mid-20s, I would guess. I waited for the customers to depart and then approached the older of the two. I got out a phrase somewhat resembling ‘Can you help me please?,’ but I clearly hadn’t thought far enough ahead, because she actually understood me and waited for what it was I needed. Did she speak English or Russian, I asked. No Russian and a bit of English, she answered. Now, in Denmark, if someone tells you that they speak ‘a bit’ of English, you can be fairly confident that they could teach the language. Here, she wasn’t exaggerating.
Now, Russian and Polish sound and look a lot alike. This is especially good news since I was getting no internet service on my phone, so translation was not an option. At the grocery store, it had been remarkably easy. If I didn’t know the word itself, I could at least play the process of elimination: I don’t know the word for ‘pork’ (which I don’t eat), but I do know the word for turkey (same as in Russian). Problem solved. So, as I set out to explain what I needed, I related each part in both English and Russian, just in case.
Nose problem was easy to communicate, as was coughing (a cognate to the Russian, though I think she preferred my fake hacking). But ‘chronic’ proved to be a challenge, so I moved on to ‘post-nasal drip.’ So it went: a few words in English, followed by a few words in Russian – attempting to alter the sounds that tend to differ in Polish (e.g. ee to oo) – all while pointing to the sinus cavity inside my head and mimicking dripping. Yes, I too was surprised that she didn’t burst into laughter.
On the plus side, I managed to get some kind of nasal spray and some kind of cough syrup. On the bonus plus side, they look more powerful than over-the-counter, but only cost me $9 together. On the minus side, I’m sure she thought that I was indicating insanity, not post-nasal drip. At least she has a fun story to tell when she gets home tonight.
Post Script: I proudly told her ‘good day’ in Polish as I was leaving, and she proudly said it back in Russian. At least she thinks that I’m a polite crazy person.