Firoozeh Dumas moved from America to Germany and experienced the opinionated world of German customer service at the pharmacy or, as she calls it, the shame shack:
Let’s say you have a borderline embarrassing medical condition. Here’s how it goes down in America: You go to Target, walk past the dollar bins (keep walking, your local landfill thanks you), stroll to the pharmacy located near the free restrooms, pick up your over-the-counter medication, amble toward the registers while deciding which one of the many available cashiers will have the pleasure of ringing up your purchase, and finally pick up a pack of gum or the latest Disney princess Band-Aids. A minute later, the cashier asks, “Did you find everything you needed today?”
I moved to Germany two years ago, and my German friends tell me that they dislike this fake American friendliness. But it’s not fake! If you ever respond to the cashier with, “I did not find the all-in-one solar-paneled suntan spray with built-in fan that doubles as a beer mug,” said cashier will call over a colleague whose sole purpose will then be to find this object in the vast caverns of Target. Granted, maybe both of these employees hate their jobs, but you will never know that by their pleasant behavior. That’s America.
[Now to Berlin] I … approached the pharmacist. “I am looking for medicine for foot fungus, fusspilz,” I added, in a low voice.
“This is for YOU?” she asked loudly, pointing to me. Her English was fine. Volume control, not so much.
… As soon as I confessed, a second pharmacist popped up, like a jack-in-the-box, from behind the counter. She said something to the first pharmacist, who said something back. It all sounded very judgmental. “What did they say?” I asked my daughter, who is not only my restroom decoy but also my translator.
“You have foot fungus?” the second pharmacist asked. Why was she getting involved? I did not need, or want, two pharmacists.
“Yes,” I said, again.
She then reached for a small box behind the counter.
The first pharmacist said, “You use TWO times,” holding up two fingers. “Every day.”
“Wear socks, then wash socks,” the second one added.
“Wash socks in HOT water,” the first one said.
“But not with other clothes,” No.2 added.
“Separately,” No.1 said.
“More laundry! Lucky me!” I said, trying to be funny, which never works in Germany.
“This is because you have foot fungus,” No.1 reminded me.
“Yes, I do,” I confessed again.
I paid for the ointment, while my daughter selected a lollipop.
As we left the shame shack, I felt a pang of nostalgia for the Target employees whose names I may not remember, but whose earnestness I do. I miss you.
I had minor surgery a couple years ago. Before leaving, a seemingly normal German doctor in his late 50s came by to advise me about wound care at home. I asked him when I could next take a shower. He said: 'Wait 2 days. And don't use soap of any kind.'
'Why not?' I asked.
'Why, do you normally use soap when you shower'?
'Uh, of course.'
'Well, I don't. You shouldn't either. Nobody should. By all means shower, but avoid soap. All that stuff does is clog your pores and stick germs to your body, and it's terrible for the environment. The only reason people use it is the big companies have convinced them by marketing that they need to smell like flowers. Your body is covered in natural oils that have protected it for hundreds of thousands of years when soap never existed. Soap destroys that natural protection layer. Don't use it, ever.'
'But what do you use to avoid stinking like a French whore?'
'Nothing. Just a nice shower of plain water every couple of days.'
He was standing about a meter away from me and never came close enough for me to test his theory.
I still use soap when I shower.