19 May 2011

Drugs ! I Blame Patrice.

It was a few months ago when Patrice my hairdresser nearly cut my throat with his open razor because of my sneezing that he thrust a piece of paper into my hand and said that ‘Aerius’ was a sure fire cure for hay fever.

I wandered into the nearest pharmacy, handed over the bit of paper, said I was on holiday and could I have some Aerius please. The pharmacist shook her head and said ‘not without a prescription’.

J suggested I go to Dr Fang but he hates being told what to prescribe so I passed on that suggestion.

After researching Aerius on the internet and finding that indeed, it is usually only available by prescription, I entered another pharmacy the following day and once again handed over the paper and asked for some Aerius, again explaining that I was on holiday and was really suffering. Once more, there was a shake of the head and a ‘not without a prescription’. I’d also taken Guy’s inhaler along (which I use) and held that out explaining that it was empty and could I have a refill. Inhalers are also only available by prescription, but within seconds I had a new inhaler in my hands, and I wandered out thinking, ‘only in France’.

Undaunted by my Aerius rejections, I sent an e-mail to my neighbour Angie’s mother, who used to run a chain of pharmacies in Florida where she still lives. ‘Could she investigate the availability of Aerius for me and maybe send me some’.

Tina came back to me within hours saying that she would indeed get me some, or Neo-Clarityn which is the same thing, but in the meantime, I found that Aerius was available on-line and said that rather than involve her in the ‘Aerius project’, I would try and get some myself.

It was cheaper to order Neo-Clarityn, so I ordered 60 tablets, pressed the button and a few days later my UK account was debited and I waited. And waited. And waited.

I sent an e-mail to the pharmacy company but there was no reply. I sent another e-mail a few days later and ……… the website had closed down! I mentally accepted that my $50 had disappeared into some scamster’s pocket.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, a rather official looking letter from the French Customs (Douanes) arrived asking me to go to their offices at Nice Airport on a designated day at a designated hour. I knew exactly what they’d got their hands on – my Neo-Clarityn!

Onto the internet once more, I discovered that the importation of drugs into France without a licence is a complete no-no. I kind of suspected this but if you don’t look you don’t get worried! But I did, and I am!

And so yesterday I got on my scooter and headed off to the airport. There were quite a few signs for ‘Douanes Fran├žais’ and upon reaching the security post I handed over my letter. My identity card was exchanged for a pass and I was told where to go.

Once inside the complex which was worryingly close to, if not, air-side, I wandered around completely untroubled by the many workers loading and unloading freight and after a few minutes found myself in a decidedly administrative area which didn’t look quite right.

As I was an hour early for my meeting, I had breakfast in what was quite obviously a staff restaurant, read the Nice Matin and then followed the signs for the ‘Chef Douanes’.

At the office, I handed my letter to a woman who shook her head and said I shouldn’t be in that area, it was 'interdit' and I needed to go over to Terminal 1.

Off to T1 I went and handed my letter to the guy who does Vat Reclaims. He suggested as I was still early, I wait 10 minutes. I grabbed a free FT and sat down.  

A few minutes later I was escorted into an office and there sat the fiercest looking  woman I’ve ever seen. Not good news.

She indicated a chair I should sit on and started typing on her computer, never once looking at me and the following conversation took place in French (or Franglais in my case!):


Tom Cupples.

First name only please?

Tom (she had my ID card so I don’t know why she was asking).


I provided it.



Do you know it is illegal to import drugs into France?

They’re not drugs – they’re medicine. They’re for my hay fever.

Medicine is drugs. Were you aware?

No (lying).

Where did you order them from?

I told her the web site name.

Is this the first time you ordered drugs on the internet?



Oh no – I forgot, I get my dog’s drugs on the internet.

I didn’t hear that.

I said I order my dog’s drugs on the internet. My vet is ok with it.

I said I didn’t hear it.

Ah O.K. (finally getting the message).

There then followed a 30 minute lecture on the carrying of and importation of ‘drugs’ into France. Then the nasty bit:

There is a penalty.

You mean a fine?


Now I had mentally prepared myself for something approaching €500 and when she said €100 I almost smiled but caught myself just in time.

I handed over €100.

OK, so can I have my Neo-Clarityn?

No – they’re confiscated.

Not even a few?

Good day Mr Cupples – as she handed me my receipt. Then, as I was leaving her office, she called me back and handed me 10 tablets. Aaaah!

PS - J has just returned from Dr Fang's (Guy's ill) and handed me a packet of Aerius. They were free!!!!

My wife isn't often wrong but she was right again.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting bit of sleuthing! Now all you have to tell us is if Aerius/Neo-Clarityn is an improvement on other antihistamines. As another Brit with horrendous hayfever (is this a British trait?)I'm always on the look for something to relieve the springtime curse (and what a curse it's been this year).

Another Tom in France - but in the north.

Allison said...

This whole post made me laugh, Tom! (I always feel like I'm laughing at your misfortune, which is awful, but you write in such a funny way I just can't help myself!).
You have the most hysterical and entertaining life of anyone I know -- I love reading your blog (despite my lack of comments, I always do enjoy it immensely!).

Anonymous said...

Nice post Tom, typical French bullshit and a typically pragmatic French solution.