Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Thicker than water

I know that I should have done this many times before but today I went to the local town to give blood.

Unfortunately my wife and I couldn’t agree on the times that the poster had said this would be possible so I rang a friend who lived in the town.

My friend is a nurse who works in a distant hospital but I figured that her professional interest would have been aroused and therefore she would know.

It turned out that confusion was as resident in her house as it was in mine, but as she lived just up the road from the biggest of the towns advertising campaign sites she volunteered to wander down, have a look and ring me back.

Twenty minutes later she reported that the sign, a cloth and pasted numbers affair hanging on the railings of the local secondary school had been tampered with.

“It’s not today, the 19th of August but the 91st of August and the hours are from 01h00 to 30h00 and again from 51h00 to 18.01.”

“I’m fairly certain it finishes at six in the evening,” she added.

I decided to risk it.

Now rumour has it that the French will refuse English blood as revenge for spreading Mad Cow Disease to the continent but I was forewarned and ready.

The blood donation centre was the main room on the ground floor of the Town Hall, last visited by me for the auction of giant eggs.

At one end was a screen behind which a doctor would administer the final health checks before giving the ok to drip. At the other end several tables generously laden with baguettes, foie gras, drinks and cakes – no vent in France would be complete without an opportunity to eat.

In front of the picnic were the registration tables staffed by two of the local volunteers who had dressed up in white coats for the day. Two more unlikely looking characters would be hard to conjure- the first a giant whose white coat looked like a bib on a lumberjack and the other looked like an original cast member from Snow White.

I said Bonjour, and shook hands and announced “I would like to give blood, if you want it.”

The giant looked at me and asked, “What is your origin?”

“English, but I’m vegetarian.”

See, I was ready. And I wasn’t lying. Though I have since slipped I was vegetarian in Britain and my first years of living in France. More importantly I was vegetarian through the crucial years of floppy bovines, and never ate beef before that either.

I was passed to the registration tables, given a health questionnaire to complete and encouraged to ask if there was anything I didn’t understand.

At one point I asked Sneezy (or was it Dopey) if sticking a tube down you to look at your stomach was considered an operation but he very kindly said I should ask the doctor, he only had a white coat.

Then I sat in the line of chairs for the waiting.

There were five of us at the time, the man who usually sells me Pizza, someone I didn’t know and a person connected to my children’s school. I know that’s three, but you get my point.

We were neighbours.

In the middle of the room were the relaxing chairs, two nurses, a lot of tubes and plastic bags and buckets of blood.
You could watch every needle prick.

At one point a woman entered to register but was unable to for several minutes, as she had to kiss everyone in greeting, including the two people strapped up in the chairs.

At last my turn came to be interviewed.

“Bonjour” – I tried my best French accent.

She switched on her computer and got ready to type my name.



She stopped. “Quel origin?”

“Anglais, mais je suis vegetarian.’

“Ah oui, mais depuis quand?’

“From 1977 to 1998’’.

She hesitated, and her fingers moved away from the keyboard.

“Completely vegetarian?”



“I ate some cheese.”

“I’m sorry we are not authorised to take your blood.”

“Why not, the cheese was imported to France too and many of these people ate it.” (Probably not true as the people around here produce their own, excellent cheese, but it must be true for some French.)

“I’m sorry but Mad Cow Disease can stay dormant for 40 years and it’s not just the meat it’s the milk too. I can’t take your blood”

“Even though French people would have consumed the same cheese?”

“Yes, you see it’s the official legislation.”

“It’s kind of racist legislation isn’t it.”

“In a way, yes.”

“Not really in a way, really.” I was reaching the outward limit of my ability to construct a grammatically correct French sentence.

“I’m sorry”.

Like yesterday, racists everywhere.

I left.

Sneezy and the Giant insisted I keep the free merchandising that each person registering was entitled to, even though I felt like an unclean fraud.

Any vampires out there, I’m still a virgin.


Janet Bianchini said...

Very well written story! Shame about the unbelievable treatment.

Giving blood in the Uk was a piece of cake, in comparison. (I'm going back a fair few years, though!)

popps said...

I guess there really should be some pan European legislation.
Would the Italians take yours?

Janet Bianchini said...

With an Italian passport, I don't see why not!

Vicki Hollett said...


popps said...