Today I think I’ll be Miss Pompidou

Before my first trip to Lebanon in October 2009, my Lebanese friend told me about two movies that I should see that he thought would give me insight into Lebanese culture and customs. One of them was Caramel (which I fell in love with) by Nadine Labaki, and the other was West Beyrouth by Ziad Doueiri. Caramel was easy to find, but I couldn’t seem to get my hands on West Beyrouth..but anyway, that’s beside the point.

Caramel Nadine Labaki

Caramel the movie by Nadine Labaki

Caramel the move

"Miss Pompidou"

photo credit

I distinctly remember one scene in Caramel, where the girl who is about to get married reveals to her friends that her husband will not be “the first man she has ever been with” and how she has to go to the doctor to get a “little operation..”  The movie later shifts to the clinic scene where she tells the reception that her name is “Miss Pompidou” or something like that..

I don’t think the fact that she was getting the operation (it is common the world over I think) struck me so much as the fact that she could easily use a false identity without so much as being prompted to show ID.  But I resigned myself to the fact that she was likely in a black market/underground clinic where people could get surgical procedures without being asked so much as their name.

Fast forward a year.

I was reminded of this scene in Caramel when I was listening to a friend tell me about how she never uses her real name when she goes to the doctor in Lebanon.

“What do you mean you never use your real name?  Don’t they ask you for ID?  How do you file insurance claims if you run tests? What if something goes wrong during a procedure, how do you process the claim?” I asked her.

She looked at me like I had grown another head.

“You’re sooo American!” she said, “It’s common practice for people to not use their real names when they go to the doctor,especially when it has anything to do with taboo topics if you know what I mean…Lebanon is so small, and many people have uncles and aunts who are doctors..And doctors, around here??  They all talk, they all know each other.  So, to answer your questions..I never use my real name, they never ask me for ID, I always pay in cash, and if something goes wrong with a procedure the only thing I can do about it is deal with it!”

Naturally, all of this information made my head spin.  Yes, I know, I come from the US where they ask you for a background check even before they clean your teeth..but STILL!  I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that in Lebanon, you can go to the doctor without confirming that you are who you say you are!  What about your medical records?  What if you get in an accident and are unconscious and no one..not your parents, not your insurance company, nor your primary care physician..is aware that you have an underlying pre-existing condition because there are no medical records under your name (not to mention the fact that you have to lie to your parents)?!?!  I just don’t get it, and really think it’s not a smart or safe way to go about dealing with your health.  And all because of appearances?  Where does it end?

All of this whirled around in my head for a few minutes..I turned back to my friend and said, “Let’s say I really wanted to ruin your life.  Following your same logic, couldn’t I go to a doctor using YOUR real name, you know, since they don’t check ID or anything..and pretend to have all of these diseases?  What would you do then?  I could easily slander your name in the same way you are trying to protect it!”

She fell silent.

I went to the doctor for the first time the other day.  And as was to be expected, they handed me a paper to fill out and asked me for payment.  Nothing more, and nothing less.

While there, I saw the below..

Doctors in Lebanon

What the hell constitutes a special consultation and an extended visit?

Anyway, that’s a topic for another day..

9 Comments

Filed under life in Lebanon

9 responses to “Today I think I’ll be Miss Pompidou

  1. WOW! That’s a first for me!!!!
    I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere in Lebanon!
    I mean ok doctor clinics have become a little like a supermarket but that? that’s too much!

    I won’t go into the other part of your post, its just lame not to use your real identity at any doctor’s…(knowing what the highest ratio of “special operations” is in this country)

  2. Simon

    That’s awesome! would love to use any of these names;
    – Don Simon Corleone (or the Godfather to you!)
    – Mr Red, Mr Black (or any color!)
    – The name is Bond, Simon Bond
    – Mr Simon Kadafi
    – Mr Van Helsing
    – Mr Deniro
    – Austin Powers🙂 (-> has to be my fav)

  3. Which clinic or hospital did u go to? Extended? special? i’ve never seen this bf. My advice never go back.
    As for using a fake name, many girls pretend to be virgins. It could be bec the subject is a taboo in their family. It could be to protect themselves from gossip. Beirut is small, u are always bound to bump into someone. Or simply that the guy marrying this girl comes from the 15th century, he expects his bride to be a virgin and to bleed on their first night. It sad but it’s a reality among many.

  4. I love your idea. Look up the symptoms for chlamydia and herpes and go slander away😉

    On a more serious note, there is no real centralized medical record in Lebanon, so if something happens to you when you’re far from your “usual” doctor, most probably a lot of information about your preexisting conditions is going to be lost unless someone is there to notify the doctors when you check in the emergency room.

    • Yup, that’s what I wanted to say. If you’re not going to your usual hospital or doctor, they won’t have your full records and good luck trying to retrieve them.

  5. Damn, that’s one pricey doctor…

  6. S

    hmmm very weird.. i live abroad and during this summer i went to the doctor in lebanon, he wanted to see both my lebanese id and my foreign one, which he copied and kept in my “folder”, since i don’t live there, he wanted me to keep him posted through email in case something went wrong.. so I found this very strange

  7. still didnt find west beirut?
    i looked for it on youtube and found it in pieces, but you can still watch it that way
    try it, i have downloaded the whole movie

  8. Laurie

    I found it interesting how in the movie, she didn’t have to use her name at the doctor, but the other girl couldn’t even rent a motel room for the night without producing a marriage certificate.

    Regarding my experience with doctors in Lebanon, I find it interesting how I had to call them on their personal cell phones to schedule an appointment, and then pay them personally in cash before leaving the room.

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