Meaningless small talk leads to a meaningful connection! + parler de pluie et du beau temps
Echapper belle: What we are avoiding, alluding, dodging, and running away from this week!

Abasourdi + Chez le dermato: The French don't see the skin doctor (or the dentist) twice a year

Leaves stone building
I try to illustrate every post with photos, but it's a bit challenging when the topic is the doctor's office. Who wants to see a picture of that? So enjoy this random shot instead!

Today's word: abasourdi

    : stunned, taken aback, thunderstruck
    : deafened

Book: 365 Days of French Expressions: Learn one new French Expression per Day

Listen to the following words, read by Jean-Marc: 

Click here for the soundfile

Je suis abasourdi par le nombre de personnes qui veulent «connaître» l'univers alors qu'il est déjà suffisamment difficile de se repérer dans le quartier chinois de New York. I'm astounded by people who want to 'know' the universe when it's hard enough to find your way around Chinatown. --Woody Allen


    by Kristi Espinasse

Twenty-two years ago, when my brother-in-law, Doug, came to visit us in St Maximin, he was left abasourdi (thunderstruck) at the dry cleaners. The red-haired owner, of a certain age--who rocked a jaw-level blunt cut--turned him away. (Or rather, turned his chemises away.) "There are too many shirts! I can do three. C'est tout!"

I felt the same way, recently, at the dermatologist's. Just like French dentists, skin care doctors aren't business savvy. It's not that they reject your money--they are simply mal à l'aise with the business of healthcare. So when a proactive patient shows up at their door, they are, like my brother-in-law, a bit thunderstruck. 

Since going under the knife in 2011 to remove a tumor from my forehead I am careful to get to the dermato yearly--sometimes twice a year. But this is the first time I have been chewed out by my doctor for anything other than too much sun exposure (tell that to my 9-year-old self in the Arizona desert). But I'm ahead of myself--just like I'm ahead of skin cancer--or try to be. So let me back up and tell you what it's like to visit a French dermatologist....

I brought my husband with me. Not for moral support--I brought him in for a check-up! As a former wine farmer, he shares a common pépin with other agricultural workers: skin cancer. He had his first carcinoma frozen off during our previous "couples appointment." (I like to save both the doctor and us time--by this two-for-one rendez-vous). 

Jean-marc vines tan
My husband, Jean-Marc (aka the guy who records the sound files for this word journal)

"Who'll go first?" My 60-ish doctor piped up. Like the dry cleaner, mentioned above, she wore a blunt-cut--hers a little longer than the redhead's... and both shared a quirky and bold character--two things I love in people.

Vas-y! I said to Jean-Marc, watching my husband walk into the examination room and strip off all his clothes. Now I know what the doctor means when she says, "il faut TOUT enlever."  As she probed Jean-Marc, both his body and his lifestyle, I perused Doc's antique-filled office. What a great desk! I thought. Look at all those statues from far off exotic places... She must be a traveler! 

"You can join us in here," Doc suddenly said, and I wondered, for an instant, if she might've mistaken me for a kleptomane? Now I'm being paranoid--which is what brought me here in the first place, i.e. those spots on my face.

I took a seat on a stool near the foot of the examination table, where I had quite an eyeful of my husband (from his toes right up to his nose. As my eyes traveled up along his backside, I was noticing his cute butt...when Doc suddenly said, "I'm going to have to freeze this one. You've got the beginning of a carcinome basocellulaire." She was talking about a patchy red spot on his back. The freezing would be painful, but not as bad as a freezing below one's lower eyelash--I should know!

"But what if I blink or move my eye?" I remembered asking the doctor, on a previous visit as she aimed her fuming ice wand at my eye. She answered casually: "Ce sera une très mauvaise idée...."

Memories. Memories. Presently it was my turn to be examined. I'd stripped off my clothes (including my culottes!) and stood there on the cold floor tiles waiting for the doctor, who was back in her office, completing my husband's medical file as he handed her his carte Vitale, or health care card.

"Déjà?" The doctor said, looking my way. Any confidence I'd gained following my husband's example fell to the floor along with my jeans and underthings. Looking away, I saw a giant roll of paper--and wondered if I could help the doctor along by lining the examination table...better yet I could roll myself in it....

I'm so glad I didn't because my next two moves would infuriate le médécin who'd reappeared beside the examination table, leaving my husband to peruse the well-decorated office across the way.

"Just hold your horses!" she said, snapping at me. (Well, maybe she didn't say "horses"...but her words stampeded forth so abruptly they left me in tears.) What had I done besides not wasting a moment to tell her why I was here? I had said, "j'ai ça... et ç ça"... quickly pointing out three suspect growths. Perhaps it was my get-to-the-point American way? Any vitesse on my part had to do with not wanting to hold up any clients that were patiently waiting in the salle d'attente

"I have my way of doing things here!" Doc barked, proceeding to systematically examine me from head to toe. Eventually, she softened. "I understand you have had a bad experience with skin cancer, and it's normale you are concerned," she said, looking at the scars on my forehead and nose. But not every bump is cancerous. With that, my dermato handed me an ordonnance for Fluorouracil--for use on those "suspect" spots. "This way you can treat them yourself. This cream will provoke a reaction if they are cancerous. For the rest, You only need to see me once a year."

I looked at the prescription for "Efudix"...Wasn't that the cream that turns your face into one big scab? For two months? If and when I use it I'll have to hide out somewhere.... Maybe my doctor, the traveler, can recommend a place?

Pas de panique. Today's takeaway is simply this: when you go to a doctor in France, take your sweet time.  Why not carry that lesson out of the doc's office and into your life. Prenez le temps. Pas de stress. Isn't that the main thing when it comes to good health?

abasourdi = taken aback
la chemise = shirt
mal à l'aise = uncomfortable with something
le dermato = dermatologist
le pépin = snag
vas-y = you go ahead
il faut tout enlever = you must take everything off
la culotte = panty, underpant
la salle d'attente = waiting room

Paris Peace T-Shirt available in a rainbow of colors
Embryolisse - face moisurizer from France with so many uses. See the reviews!
La Tisanerie French Tisane - a warm, soothing drink before drifting off to sleep

Sunglasses sunhat protected from uv rays

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Here's my Flourouracil experience:

My dermato prescribed Fluorouracil too, and so did my sister's doc. Her face blistered all over. I got a few red spots (and I have a history of skin cancer) and one red patch. I had to do a course for 2 weeks, wait 2 weeks, then another course for 2 weeks. After the second course, the red patch didn't go away. Went back to the derm last week, when it had faded to light pink, and she said no more need for antibiotics and I could start using soap and moisturizer again. She gave me mild samples. Used them one time and the patch was bright red again. Now I'm back to Mupiricin (antibiotic she prescribed earlier that doesn't cause contact dermatitis). Maybe forever? I hope not.

The good news is I didn't find the Fluorouracil treatment painful. And you can easily cover the spots with makeup, as I did over the Xmas holidays.

Good luck@

Chris Allin

Dear Kristi,

The first picture I saw when I found FWAD was you, sitting in a car, forehead exposed with an explanation of your surgery. I was overwhelmed by your story and the candor with which you told it. At that moment I was hooked and have loved the journey forward as you continue to be so very honest, with sensitivity and humor!

Marsha D in Tennessee

Time to find a different doc. Rude is rude, and especially when a patient is in a vulnerable state like being undressed and having a history of the very thing the visit is for. In many circumstances I learn of what appears to be a cultural defensiveness directed at Americans who are used to customer service and a decent level of politeness, yet who actually do nothing to engender such hostility. I have noticed a French expectation also of ridiculous passivity of patients, and this again is what she seemed to chide you about when you simply voiced areas of concern. I know I would have a horrific time if I lived full-time in France and had to depend on health and dental services from jerks and would have a snappy reply in French at the ready for those moments. But then I am a retired nurse and have no hesitation to express my body autonomy nor confront rudeness in healthcare settings. I hate this for you, Kristy, because I know how so very nice and of a somewhat sensitive nature you are and hate potential "engueulades". I'm glad the good moments of interactions for you outweigh the negative hopefully. Also I would research that topical médicament for your condition with summer approaching and see if something less irritating can be done. Bon chance, dame la douce!

Laura C

Sometimes a little American hypervigilance is useful! When our daughter was a student in Granada during her junior year, she followed the Spanish custom of going to the dentist once a year and returned with eight cavities! Franklin's, "Ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is wise even if it's a drag...

Cheryl in STL

I guess I've been lucky that the few times I've been to a doctor in France I've not been asked to undress! I'm going back to Paris and Bretagne in April and I'm still recovering from some major back surgery. I'm praying now that I won't have any problems! My body certainly shows how horrible my back has been...I couldn't even walk, so I have unseemly fat lumps that are taking their sweet time going away! Yikes! I'm thinking that I could put anything off for two weeks!! I hope your treatment cream works magic so you don't have to deal with that same doctor anytime again soon!

Gail Accuardi

I worked in beloved garden for years and didn't have the information or sense to wear sun screen until I found I had melanoma twelve years ago. It required an operation nd even then came back after the operation and a nasty dose of Interferon. Another operation and then another dose of interferon. I survivedd just barely, the interferon. I became allergic to it so i cannot have it again. I see my derm. doc. twice a year and under the same uncomfortable circumstances of your examination. But it's worth it, knowing that skin cancer is being checked. Once the doc. told me she had seen more cancer in the last year than a; the years past combined. So be careful and prudent to check regularly. Love your photos!

Devra Long

Walter and I have our 6 month dermatologist appointment this Thursday and I wish you could go with us! We have been seeing Dr. Ruth for over 20 years and although she is quirky, she is a fabulous doctor! We go in together and she finds things that I didn't know were there; I too believe in prevention.

Carol S Dean

Hi, Kristi!
Thank you so much for generously sharing your time with Annie and me at Le Rose Thé yesterday. We have been saying over and over how much we enjoyed visiting with you, and how you seemed so genuinely interested in hearing all our stories.
We certainly will touch base again when we're both back in France together.

All the best. A la prochaine!


Faye LaFleur

I'm with Marsha D. If I felt I needed exam every 6 months, I would go, even if it might mean going to 2 different doctors to get what I needed...sittin home stressing for whole year is also dangerous to your health! A friend if mine said to her doctor husband, "MD does not stand for "made divine"!


All I can say is - thank you Kristi for being so touchingly honest and frank. I think it helps cowards like me and I sense it helps others too. But you deserve and need a more sympathetic doctor. However, I know you won't stop going for checkups. And taking your "other half". Someone as kind as you should receive only kindness - but sadly that is not always the way of the world. "Karma" my daughter always murmurs - and I have been known to put the odd name in the freezer .... Try explaining that to a curious 4 year old grandson. Very best wishes to you and to any others in this group who have suffered or are worried.

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Carol. I was just telling my sister the same thing—how good it was to visit with you and Annie. You are both so lively, interesting, and beautiful. Take good care and bon voyage to Columbia, and to Oregon, for Annie.

Ms Linda in California

Before I realized that your French MD was a bit insensitive -- or at least expressed different cultural values (about nudity, etc.) --I was going to say: the mental images more than made up for a photo!

Cynthia Lewis

Hi, Kristi,

From someone who worked as an RN for almost forty years, I can appreciate the thoroughness of your dermatologist. We all have different personalities and hers is what it is. We Americans, by in large, have a problem with complete nudity and would be ever so thankful for a small sheet to assuage our modesty. However, hold on to her for she is giving you good professional care.

It would be nice (à mon avis) to offer patients the cover sheet or in the case of a lady a paper gown plus a folding privacy curtain while they undressed! But in France, I would do as the French in order to have a thorough exam of my skin from "tippy top to toey toe" as a friend of mine says.

As always, thanks ever so much for sharing your wonderful insightful and interesting stories with us.
Best wishes.

Ron Cann

The most amusing thing about interacting with the French in a public or professional situation, is their arrogance. This can feel "rude" until you remember that they have absolutely nothing to be arrogant about. We often smiled to ourselves when this would happen. (However, on a friendship/private basis, the French are amazingly warm and generous). The Parisian dry cleaner (coincidence?) who acted offended when we first moved to Paris because I didn't know enough French to easily communicate, eventually had us over to his apartment for drinks with him and his wife on Christmas Eve after 10 months of active engagement. I had learned more French, he had warmed up, and perhaps, we each felt we had won over the other.

Catherine Berry (But you are in France, Madame)

This post has brought back some raw emotions. When a diagnosis is bad, you need empathy, especially when you are far from home and your husband does not speak French.

Deborah Rhoades

How is Jean Marc's spot on his back doing? I, as a retired RN, do not think the rudeness was called for. You weren't trying to tell her how to do her job, after all. You simply wanted to show her what you were concerned with. I agree with all the rest of your commenters on one thing: you are too nice and too sensitive a soul to be treated that way. Please keep us posted how you both are doing.


I don't think It’s a French way doctors act. It was just her! Terrible personality for a doctor. Could you find someone else?


Our dear Kristi,
All of your posts are wonderful,and always help us find some needed inspiration in our own's is no exception with timely advice to not be hesitant about visiting the derm and the dentist!
Hardly the places one longs to go,but when you realize these visits can in the long term improve your quality of life,it is more than worth the effort.
Thank you for this!
Natalia XO

Dorothy in Rhode Island

I think that you'll find you only need to put Efudex on your 3 spots of concern, not over your whole face. You've been protecting your face from sun for several years, so I'm sure it does not need a whole-face treatment! The Efudex will easily be rubbed into your skin and not be noticed. If you use makeup that can go right over it. The response to Efudex will tell you whether the spots are suspicious--abnormal cell growth will lead to a scab.
Good luck! And keep using your big hats!


Amen Marsha!!

Ethel L Walker

Pictures are great, I only wish that you pronounce just the word 2-3 times before and maybe after a sentence, because at 63yrs old it's difficult to get it right and unfortunately french is best learned young!

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristi,

You reminded me that I need to go for my yearly dermato checkup. I have been lucky so far but I remember laying out in the sun as a teenager with baby oil. Crazy! I wear sunscreen now and hats and I was just talking to my daughter Tara the other day about putting sunscreen on every day. She is a big rock climber and loves to be outdoors. I have encountered doctors with terrible bedside manners too and they can be a great doctor just not great at interacting with patients.


In Australia, a dermatologist will always have a privacy screen for a patient to undress behind, and a modesty sheet is provided. This screen is then moved as each area of skin is examined. Positive aspects- patient is more relaxed, Doctor is spared the sight of less- than-perfect bodies all day.( We don't all look as good as you and Jean-Marc, Kristi.)Better conversation and doctor- patient communication then ensue. I must hope that my skin does not suddenly go to pot during my next visit to France! Yikes! I also dread losing my shoes whilst travelling in France, as I have wide feet( but happy, undeformed feet) from going barefoot all year around . Imagine having to go into a French shoe store " les pieds nus" . Un vrai cauchemar! ( in bare feet, what a nightmare).
I have used Efudix- Australia has the dubious fame of being the skin cancer capital of the world. Here the advice is to keep the sun off the spots whilst they are being treated ( your use of hats is excellent, sun avoidance even better where possible ) and my dermatologist advised covering a spot with a loose gauze pad if in the sun unavoidably for a longer time. Use of any other creams or cosmetics on the treatment area was best avoided whilst treatment was active. I had a big scab- like lesion during treatment, , I doubt that make- up would have done the trick!

Leslie NYC

I went with a friend once to consult a surgeon. After my meeting the friend said, « He was a little bit Master of the Universe, but that’s what you want in a surgeon. » I have found specialists particularly are often socially clueless but all about their profession. In the U.S. I feel disappointed at being told I can leave on my underwear ar the dermato’s:what if I have a cancer underneath? I have had biopsies done on moles in sunfree zones.
I guess I see your glass as half full!

Jenny pessereau

Your rude doctor reminded me of my own experiences in bordeaux where I lived as a young newlywed. We do need a think skin in France when it comes to certain interactions.

I hear you and your husband are interested in Oregon. My husband is researching a move from Napa to Oregon to grow grapes. If you’d like to exchange “les astus” or put the Frenchmen in contact with each other, let me know.
Best wishes in the meantime,

Lee Isbell

I was admiring your dermato's approach. I get about a 3 minute exam, full underpants on and a paper vest. He's never interested in the things that worry me on my skin. I need to see him now, suspicious spots, but will probably have to wait three or four months for an appointment. But then, I have absolutely no modesty around a doctor. It's his job to look at my body, and the better look he gets, the happier I'll be. Maybe I should see your dermato on my next trip to France!

I've had a couple of emergency visits with the French medical system. I had some unhappy injuries but they were certainly helpful despite having no English whatsoever.


I joined the FWAD community about the time you were moving from St Maximin so I had forgotten you had lived there. That is where my railroad friend Chris and I pedaled the VeloRail!

During a few of our many stays in Bédoin, we've had guests who had to consult with a physician. Our experience with the clinic in Bédoin has been completely positive and incredibly inexpensive compared to the U.S,

My wife had a Moh's procedure right before a trip to Menton, France. The sutures needed to be removed while we were there. A nurse came to our apartment, removed the stitches, gave us many local travel suggestions as she worked, and charged us 35 euros. Amazing.

Margie R.

It would be the last time I ever saw that doctor. She sounds arrogant and out-of-touch.
As for Efudex, I had a horrible experience with it. It is very abrasive and I can't imagine using it for two months! Google "Efudex side effects" and Efudex images; it is a brutal treatment. Here is an example of a woman who used it for only sixteen days:
I hope you can find another dermatologist, Kristi.

Margie R.

P.S. I see my dermatologist every three months for a total body check because I have had melanoma twice in the last three years. My incredible dermatologist found two totally atypical melanomas - one was white bumps on my ear and the other a colorless melanoma that blended in with my skin (she was alerted because of a tiny, tiny freckle that "didn't look right.") She saved my life twice. I have also had three MOHS surgeries for squamous cell cancer and numerous basal cell removals and freezing of other spots. All from too much sun growing up in Colorado and then moving to California. If you ever come to southern California, Kristi, I have an amazing dermatologist in Thousand Oaks, California who is not only brilliant, but kind. Plus the MOHS surgeon in the same office is an absolute miracle worker and my scars are barely visible.


Translation please: wtf is 'rocked a jaw level blunt cut'? Probably American slang but incomprehensible to Brits.

Kristin Espinasse

Hello Tonton, I agree--that sentence needs work. What I meant to say was that her red hair was fashioned in a blunt cut (or carré, as they say in French). There are different lengths for this cut. Hers was short, falling right below her jaw line. 

By *rocked*, I mean she wore it well! (It is not a word I use (I am not rock-n-roll enough to rock that word.

Audrey Wilson

What is it about French dermatologists ? I had to wait 4-5 months for an appt ?then I hit an extremely rude & abrupt one She even snatched my cheque book from my hand whilst i was searcrhing for a pen ,& filled it in herself !!! My french Is O.K for that,certainly !

Lee Isbell


Lee Isbell

I have to wait that long in the US. And then you get his attention for a big five minutes.

Cynthia Lewis

I knew exactly what you meant, but only because I am around my grandchildren and those of my friends!


I agree with Marsha. Rude is rude. I too had a doctor yell at me for taking one of my medications when my blood pressure went high (she had temporarily taken me off the medicine while trying to find the cause of another problem). I was concerned about having a stroke and her nurse had simply said, “come in tomorrow” but nothing about not taking the medicine. I am looking for a new doctor.


I found this same reaction while staying with my daughter in France. I was so worried about having to take my very out of shape as a result of dropping them glasses frames to the eyeglasses place to be adjusted. I had rehearsed the correct phrases to use to ask for help. When the glasses technician heard my accent and saw me struggle to communicate, he gave me an on the spot vocabulary lesson on words to use when discussing glasses and sight. I was charmed and grateful! Do you think my grey hair might have had something to do with this kind reaction?

Leslie in Oregon

For the last 8 years, I have had a combination of skin conditions/diseases that have required me to see my dermatologist for a full-body examination and treatment of ongoing or new symptoms every 3-6 weeks. Before each examination and treatment begins, I am left alone in the exam room to remove all my clothes and don a loose, below-the-knee cotton gown which, like a hospital gown, is open, but can be tied closed, in the back. My dermatologist knows exactly how to manipulate that gown while she smoothly moves me from sitting, standing and supine positions, so that she can carefully examine every inch of my skin (including my scalp) without ever making me feel "exposed" or in any way self-conscious. The treatments she administers currently may include multiple injections into my scalp and/or liquid nitrogen ("freezing")therapy (including applied with a Q-tip to the delicate skin under my lower eyelashes). I am a fair-skinned redhead with a history of basal cell carcinomas, and my dermatologist has also biopsied a suspicious lesion 1 or 2 times each year. I have never felt any pain during the examinations, biopsies and treatments she has done...she is very gentle, quick, and adept, and she distracts me with interesting conversation so effectively that I often have to ask whether, she has done the injections or a biopsy yet. I am writing all this, Kristi, to give you an idea of the kind of care a patient can get from a dermatologist. I had to search a bit to find my dermatologist, but that search was well worth it. Under her care, my skin conditions/diseases (which are not curable) have abated. When one starts to activate again, I usually can quickly stop the progression of that activation with the topical medications my dermatologist prescribes for me. If not, she knows how to stop the progression of the activation during our next pre-scheduled visit, before it becomes a major problem. And, crucially, my health insurance pays most of what my dermatologist charges for her services, because all of what she does is medically necessary to treat my dermatologic diagnoses and because her charges are reasonable.

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