For the last few weeks, I’ve had this thing where I’m constantly clearing my throat. I had a sore throat and a cold in Italy in January, and it left in its wake this aggravating sensation of an irritation in my throat. I came back to Austria and went to the doctor. He said, “It’s probably a virus, give it a week.” In that week, I came down with a horrendous cold, which buried the throat clearing under a tidal wave of snot. That lasted two weeks, and when I resurfaced, the throat clearing was back with a vengeance. “Damn,” I said, and headed off to another doctor, one rumored to be an excellent diagnostician.
This doctor gave me a couple of prescriptions. One is for my stomach, because acid reflux can cause this. The other is for God-only-knows-what. Snot, presumably, because the other thing that causes this condition is the slow drip of mucus down the throat, sliming the vocal cords to the point where one has to “clean” them. Thus the constant, noisy, and embarrassing throat-clearing. By the way, I use the word “slime” advisedly, because the German word for mucus is Schleim.
Anyway, I went to get the prescription, and an amusing and informative ritual ensued. By way of comparison, let’s look at an American prescription bottle (discretely turned to protect the innocent, i.e., me):
Notice just how much text is involved, and how many instructions (this is not including the page of printed instructions that came with the bottle). All kinds of info about when and where it was dispensed, how to take it, how not to take it, how much alcohol not to ever, ever drink with it, why not to operate heavy machinery while under its influence, how pregnant not to be while taking it, etc., etc.
Now, let’s take a look at what I got from the Apotheke in Vienna:
When you pick up your pills, a nice lady in a white coat takes out a felt-tipped pen, just like the one your grandma used to use to write the birthday card she sent with your yearly $10. She then writes, by hand, the complete instructions for taking the medicine. 1-1-1 means one pill morning, noon and night, and the rest of the text says, “for three days, then as needed.” My name is nowhere on the package, nor are there dire warnings about possible risks to myself, my automobile, and my unborn child. If I have a medicine cabinet in a multi-person household—and I do—then I’d better remember which meds are mine, because the package won’t tell me. And if I have questions about what this stuff is (and I’m not totally sure what it is), I’m out of luck, because nowhere does it say from which pharmacy I actually got it.
In addition to being charming and funny, I think this says a great deal about cultural differences in the concept of liability.