The article below was written by Colette Davidson. She has written articles for this blog before and this is the second article she has submitted to this blog. Her blog is located here.
I love Papis… I mean, Paris!
Written By: Colette Davidson
France loves to shake things up. After three years in this country, I don’t necessarily look for absurdity anymore. At first, I noticed it all around me. Like, why were all the men under five-foot-five with shaggy beards and John Lennon glasses? And why didn’t women give the courtesy smile when leaving the public bathroom stalls?
Still, I am not immune to bizarre experiences here and so, because I am apparently due, I had one. It was like giving birth, really. Scary and painful but joyful afterwards. At least this is what I assume child birth to be like. The closest I have come was when I crotched the beam on a straddle jump at gymnastics practice in the ninth grade, and then landed it perfectly, minutes later.
Well, my vagina didn’t exactly have to push a live, human head out of itself today, but I do think it was sufficiently traumatized, as was I. In any normal American setup, going to the gyno would just be mildly humiliating. But in France, it’s downright weird. No other fancy vocabulary to describe it. Just weird.
First, I have to say that the Paris doctors are really doing something right because ever since I got here, it’s one fancy waiting room after another. Whereas in smaller towns, the doctors actually put up copies of their medical diplomas on the walls, the Paris ones just sling a Monet up there or place a finely crafted piece of modern art in the corner.
Dr. Villeneuve was no exception. In order to disguise the fact that her office was in the middle of the French version of the projects, she filled her space with wicker chairs with white cushions, potted orchids and bamboo. I knew I was going to get along fine with this one. Until, until…
An unusually hoarse voice called my name and I wandered over to shake hands with not a woman… but a girl. A girl my age.
Now for some reason, I have more of a problem letting someone who I could share a beer with after work look at my hoo-ha than a mother figure. Maybe because in my head, moms are supposed to help you out in a bind. Like when you have a yeast infection? Okay fine, the logic doesn’t make sense, but I was really struggling to picture this girl who could be one of my friends seeing me naked after only knowing me for ten minutes.
Luckily, the doctor wasted plenty of time getting to know allll my family history, from A to Z, in classic bureaucratic French style. At one point she asked me, “when was your last ‘frotti.’” Having no idea what this meant, I did a quick mental French vocabulary check. So, “frotte” meant “to rub.” Surely she didn’t mean to ask me when the last time it was that I masturbated. How about sex, then? As I tried to remember the last time I had been “frottied” she said in a perfect English accent, “pap smear.” Ah ha! I answered a few more questions about my grandmother’s cancer and my asthma, and we were through. By the time I had to strip down, I felt like I had known the doctor for years.
Dr. Villeneuve told me to take my pants and underwear off and sit on the table. Where was my paper apron thingy they normally give you? Nothing doing. I just had to pants myself and sit. And then, to my horror, the doctor proceeded to take my blood pressure. Couldn’t she do that while I was fully clothed? Did my bush have to be exposed while she was checking my risk of heart attack?
Minutes later, though, I was pushing back into the usual position. There was a lovely photo of the Buddha above my head in classy black and white. Gosh, I love these Paris doctors, I thought.
When Dr. Villeneuve had taken her fingers out of me, I started readying myself to sit up. Not so fast. On to the breast exam! As I wondered how I was going to expose my breasts to the doctor without becoming suddenly fully naked, she instructed me lift my top and take my bra off. So, fine, I lost that battle. I suddenly flashed back to the period in high school when I wasn’t sure if I was straight because I couldn’t get a guy to talk to me, and realized then and there that getting felt up by a girl was definitely not my thing.
Sitting up, I said, half-blushing, “It’s so different here than in the States,” referring to the awkward t-shirt lifting, bra unclasping moments before. “It’s hard to know what to do.” The doctor chuckled at my description of the open-in-the-back-ass-crack, life-size paper napkin we are given in the U.S. “Here, it’s a lot more…naked,” I grimaced.
We went back to her desk while she fiddled around with my, er, scrapings, when she asked me where I lived, down to my metro stop. Great, I thought, I was going to get asked out by my female gynecologist. Then I remembered how earlier I had confessed to having a regular boyfriend during the whole, “are you getting any” conversation and assured myself that I was in the clear.
“Now,” said my doctor, looking up. “I’m putting your pap smear in this envelope. It’s already stamped and addressed. All you have to do is fill out this form, enclose a check, and put it in the mail.” Was I getting this right? She wanted me to take my pap smear home with me? Sometimes the French were too much. First, no air conditioning or toilets in public places, and now this. Someone was going to get a nasty letter.
As I put the clear plastic case into my purse, I tried to keep the horror off my face while I thanked the doctor and wished her good day. After three years in France, this was definitely a new one.
Walking out of the office, I decided to look on the bright side. I wondered, what would my pap smear like to do for fun? I mean, it’s not everyday that she gets out and about. Perhaps I should show her a good time.
First, I ordered a Super Cookie from Mie Caline, the McDonald’s version of the French bakery. As I licked the chocolate from my lips, I considered offering her some. But then I remembered how too much sugar disturbs her flora and fauna and decided to just polish the thing off myself.
Next we rode on the metro. Whoa, did someone have motion sickness! I was surprised, considering all the vibration my pap smear is usually used to, considering I see my boyfriend a few times a week.
We got off at Hotel de Ville – one stop early – because I wanted my pap smear to see the Seine. If you’re going out for the first time in Paris, you really can’t miss it. We watched the boats go down the river and she even convinced me to take my sixth photo of the same scene. She can be pretty demanding, that little bitch.
Finally, we got to our destination. A Hungarian author was reading from his book in front of this great English bookshop near Notre Dame. My pap smear was all ears as the man spoke about book burning, poetry and Hungary before the war. At times, I started to drift off, but not my lil pap. Turns out she is quite the little history buff.
To polish off a great night, I treated her to a complimentary glass of rosé. I had sort of assumed she would be more of a red, Cotes-du-Rhone kind of girl, but she slurped her wine down in three gulps. Nobody ever said pap smears were classy.
On our way home, I gave pap a little pat through the cloth bag she was riding in. I felt that under such short notice, I had shown her a pretty decent time. We didn’t meet any men, but perhaps that would be for another time.
As I went to sleep, I felt comforted knowing pap was right next to me, just snoring away. I tried to keep the fan on her so she wouldn’t start disintegrating. Was I supposed to keep her in the fridge? The doctor hadn’t been too precise when handing her over.
The next morning was rough. Pap and I both knew we had to say goodbye; that we might never see each other again. But I promised her that her trip to the lab would be extremely exciting. And of course she believed me. Pap smears don’t get out that much.
On my way home from the post office, I looked in my day planner to see what the day had in store for me. To my horror, I saw that I had scheduled my first-ever appointment with a shrink. I guess we would have to talk about my troubled past during my second visit.