Please no..not the pharmacy!!

Even after living here for a year, there are still a few things I have yet to get accustomed to..

Like pharmacies.

Yup, you read right. Pharmacies.

You see..most pharmacies in the States are located within convenience stores (think Walgreens or CVS) or large supermarkets..And most of the time, unless you are dropping off or picking up a prescription, you almost never have to communicate anything to the Pharmacist other than “When will the prescription be ready?”, or “I am picking up a prescription for Mr. So and So.” (that is, unless you have a specific question about a medication).

I really like this system.

All of the isles are clearly marked off, all of the items are easy to find..making going to the pharmacy convenient, easy, and hassle free!. My theory as to why this is so, is that it helps people avoid a lot of embarrassment and questioning looks.


Inside a typical American pharmacy. A million different medications, all for the same use..however clearly marked for shopper's convenience.

But in Lebanon (giggles to herself)..going to the pharmacy, at least for me, isn’t a pleasant experience at all.  In fact, it is very UNpleasant, awkward..and sometimes just plain weird.  I seriously get a pang of anxiety (much like I get when getting into a serveece) every time I step foot into a pharmacy here.

You see, most of the things that I’m accustomed to being over-the-counter (on shelves) back home, are behind the counter here.  Which means that every time I go to the pharmacy I have to ask the pharmacist for any and everything.., unless I’m buying make up, face cream/wash, or stockings.

To me it just doesn’t make sense to have things behind the counter unless you need a prescription to buy them or unless they are reallllly expensive!  I mean, right?

Now maybe this doesn’t seem like a big deal to you.  But it becomes a big deal to me when I’m standing there, trying to explain to the pharmacist (who is in plain clothes by the way, dressed just like me..It’s amazing what importance I’ve been trained to give to a lab coat.  Somehow, telling a stranger dressed in plain clothes your personal problems is a lot more uncomfortable then telling a stranger dressed in a lab coat your personal problems) what I need.


Typical Pharmacists.. (don't you just love how stock photos from the States always have every race accounted for?) Anyway, I digress..

You see, most of the time, if not ALL OF THE TIME the pharmacist has no idea what I’m talking about.  Probably because most of the medications here are obviously known by different names in the States.

And instead of being discrete about it, and asking me to explain further..the pharmacist calls everyone else who works in pharmacy over to where I’m standing..(and sometimes even the other customers as well).. to try and help him understand what I’m saying.  And before I know it, I’m surrounded by five or six people and using hand gestures to explain what I need. (:::wildly gesticulates in the air:::)

Now don’t get me wrong..I appreciate the gesture, I really do..but on more than a few occasions (and after 5 minutes of hand gestures), I have run out of pharmacies with no medication in my hand, and a very flushed and embarrassed look on my face.

After telling some friends about my pharmacy phobia..I heard stories, specifically from women, that were even worse than mine!  Like times when they would go to buy contraception, only to be refused service unless they could produce marriage papers, and other times when they would be given menopause medication instead of contraception!!  (Who knows if this was on purpose, or by accident..but imagine her surprise when she found out she was pregnant.)

But maybe, just mayyyybe.. this discomfort is the price I have to pay for everything costing me one tenth what it would cost me in the States.  I don’t know..what do you think?  Am I being ridiculous?

Have you ever had something uncomfortable or embarrassing happen to you at a pharmacy  in Lebanon?  I’m hoping I’m not the only pharmacy phobe out there!


Filed under life in Lebanon

50 responses to “Please no..not the pharmacy!!

  1. ZouZeta

    well you are not totally wrong here, sometimes discussing your case with the others in the pharmacy is so annoying and it lacks privacy….
    The most embarassing moment was when i had to buy tampon and the guy there said:
    “ohh you look so young to be married..”, when i said i wasn’t and didn’t even get what he was talking about or referring to, he was like “ohhh… and gave me the look”
    i just left and felt very mad…

    • np899

      People said this to me in Beirut too!!! That’s why I’ve STOCKED UP on tampons for when I leave for Lebanon next week!!!!! I mean, I know I’ve encountered a few people in the past in the U.S. who have the same response to using tampons (including my mother who is from Lebanon), but come on!…

      I also had a situation at the pharmacy where I was burnt red all over and in pain from the beach, and I was asking for aloe vera/something to cool me off, and the pharmacist kept giving me regular sunscreen -_-…but that’s probably b/c I was having a hard time explaining myself in arabic…btw, I found that lebne helps alleviate pain from sunburns haha…

      • You know what, you are the second girl who told me that she stocks up on tampons before coming to Lebanon. The other girl was too embarrassed to mention it here, but she sent it to my in my personal email instead. That is just crazy! Have they ever stopped you in the airport before? hahaha I can only imagine the look on the customs agent’s faces when they find a suitcase full of tampons! lol lol ahahahha Mannn,,talk about backward thinking! And the aloe thing..haha woooowww..

  2. Ahhhhh!! That is soo uncomfortable! What? You aren’t supposed to wear a tampon until you’re married? Jeeeze.. Wow..

  3. Looool! The beauty of Lebanon. I hope it doesn’t change soon 🙂

  4. Mar1

    Typical Lebanon:
    – Girl walks in a pharmacy and asks for contraception and get the :S look.
    – Guy walks in and asks for condoms, gets a smile and a nod…sometimes even a *u da man* wink.

  5. I wonder what would happen if I went to buy a condom. I’d probably be shooed out of the pharmacy. HA idiots :/

  6. I’m still trying to figure out what in the name of hell you were trying to buy that required this much gesturing 😛

  7. A marriage certificate????No way????
    This is not the middle ages…
    I had trouble getting the same formula under a different name.
    I hate it when customers are leaning on top of me and hearing about my woes and my every intimate detail.

  8. didie

    hehe i’m with you on this one!! but i got the method 😉 once i was really sick so my cousin (a leb guy) came with me to a pharmacy. for what i understood he just tell them i had a stomachache and didn’t give any further details. meanwhile, i was avoiding any eyes that could meet mine, i was too afraid somebody would ask me some questions in my language! anyway thanks cousin! but i don’t think i would go to a pharmacy alone…

  9. I have THE solution! 😀

    Some pharmacies deliver! Yes! Everybody delivers in Lebanon!
    The dikken around the corner, the dry cleaner, and even the pharmacies! Just ask and this might save you a lot of gesturing! And most importantly you won’t have to look at the pharmacist give you weird looks trying to communicate with the eyes and all…

    Hope it is going to help you deal with your pharmacy phobia!

    • Karim that is a fantastic solution,,,exceppt I don’t speak Arabic! The reason I have to use hand gestures is because they can’t understand what I’m saying, or what I’m asking for! What I need to do is learn all of the names in Arabic,,and then I think I’ll be good to go with the delivery. Thanks for the solution! So delivery.. ahah..

  10. Citizen8

    Pharmacies in the States are more like supermarkets! You literally walk in and “shop” for medication… In any case, I know what you mean, and by far the most professional pharmacy I’ve been to and the only one I frequent is one that is in Achrafieh, called G-Pharmacy or something like that, it’s in the same building as Chili’s. Almost nothing is behind the counter there, except maybe Thera Tears… You should check it out…

  11. Gass

    My concern with the local pharmacies is that we don’t find everything we want. Some drugs don’t even exist and the pharmacist will try to recommend a far alternative just to make a sale!
    It’s loose compared to other places! The people behind the counter don’t look professional and for them it’s another business. And.. you can find a pharmacy on every other corner in town in less than 50m distance between each, with empty shelves and a few boxes of panadol !
    The 2nd best thing I’ve heard about Lebanon – after hummus of course – is that we have the best doctors in the world. BS! My experience with doctors is even more traumatising. Lebanese are still in denial !

    • You know..I was wondering about the qualifications of pharmacists here. In the states,, you have to go through years and years of school (I think around 7) in order to qualify to be a pharmacist. It is a job that pays extremmmely well..think $150,00 to $200,00 straight out of school!! It is a highly respected and sought after profession. But it’s very different here. Yes, it seems like they will just sell you whatever even if it is not what you need or want just to keep you as a customer. That is very dangerous and risky business..I’m guessing there is no oversight of the industry?? Not good, not good at all!

      • Marcel

        I feel offended hearing that, we, Pharmacist go through the same educational curriculum *more or less* it takes at least 5 years to complete the studies. If you see a “pharmacist” not wearing white coat, just do not bother to use that pharmacy simply as it might be biochemist standing behind the counter. The problem is in the rules in lebanon, no one really checks on these smaller pharmacies what is going on in there, but if you visit one of the better pharmacies *not gonan mention names * you will find everything on the display OTC while things that need prescription or a more specific things behind the counter.

        All condoms/ tampons things are over the counter, and why not simply by them at local grosary shop , such as spinneys – they tend to be cheaper at such places fyi.

        Just enter the pharmacy, and if you really shy to ask for that anti fungal cream or whatever, think that way : we are used to it, we do not really care, we wont giggle or stare at you – ofc that only applies to a real pharmacist now a chemist behind the counter.


  12. T

    I find it helps if I look up the generic name of the medicine online before I go, so they know what I’m talking about. But yeah, having everything behind the counter makes me uncomfortable too.

  13. Youssef

    Obviously there is no arguing about how embarrassing it could be to get some things at the Pharmacy. I, in fact, still wonder why CVS or Walgreens in the US don’t have a self checkout counter like other grocery stores. I remember in school, in Lebanon, we had a kind of dare to see who would go to the pharmacy and ask for a pack of condoms. of course there was hesitation because we all were easily recognizable by the pharmacists in any of the half dozen pharmacies in our neighborhoods.

    So one thing that worries me is accessibility. The fact that everything is accessible to anyone without any laws or implementation of laws has always been something that I never liked. A 10 year old boy buying a pack of cigarettes for his mom/dad has always been something that bugs me. And there is definitely an epidemic of addiction to things of the likes of cough syrup in the US. Things that are available off the shelf can be as dangerous as those that aren’t. So in some way, i’m glad that there is some sort of barrier to entry when it comes to something like this. Obviously this doesn’t mean that it could never happen in Lebanon but it just gives some sort of safe impression. But that is a minor concern and obviously doesn’t prevent things like tampons to be sold off the shelf (which they are at supermarkets, so go there for that kind of stuff!).

    There is definitely a cultural aspect to this as well. There is the privacy issue and the sex issue. The sex thing has been discussed in a previous post so I won’t go too deep into it. Definitely the older generation looks at marriage and sex like the US government/Christian Church does. The only purpose to it is reproduction. That’s why the US government has not made any progress in terms of gay marriage and why the Church still bans condoms and Africa suffers badly from that!

    As for the privacy issue, well that doesn’t exist 😛

    I like to tell this story to illustrate the non-existence of privacy to non-Lebanese. When I was a kid I wanted to go to my grandmother’s house in a town outside of Saida. I asked my mom how can I get there after getting off the bus at the Nijme square in Saida. My mom told me simply “find a service, give him the name of your uncle and he’ll know where to take you” (my uncle and grandmother live next to each other). I thought my mom was being silly, but she wouldn’t tell me the ‘real way’ of doing it. So I got off the bus, found a taxi, gave him my uncle’s name, his reaction? He asked me which of the 3 sisters I was the son of! I know that Maya Zankoul has a comic about a similar situation. There are other stories, ones like going down to a store to pick up what my mom had bought but didn’t want to carry up the stairs and not having to say anything, the person in the store didn’t even have to double check why I had come in. And that’s in Beirut, not some small town (it gets worse there). And honestly, I found it convenient growing up. I had nothing to hide and didn’t really have to make a lot of effort in some cases. People knew who I was and for what purpose I was there so it was easy to go in, get what I want and get out. Obviously it gets in the way when you’re a teenager trying to date a girl in secret because her parents didn’t know 😛

    Get on a plane, fly over Europe, cross the Atlantic and land anywhere in the US and you basically do a 180! I remember being told that the cameras on top of traffic lights were just made unconstitutional because they invade someone’s privacy. Hunh? A camera used to detect if you ran a red light and send you a ticket in the mail invades your privacy? What? You’re in a public place, the government already has your license plate, driver’s license information and address, what’s private?! And that’s when I started tapping into the privacy subculture. It’s interesting. Some take it more to the level of paranoia, others like me give google everything it wants to know 😛 And it’s a HUGE clash and culture shock to go from a place like Lebanon to a place like the US.

    But in both situations there is definitely the need to respect people’s preferences. The lebanese are too nosy but it is definitely possible to go to a pharmacy that is not interested in your personal biological timeline. And it is also possible to avoid the nasty looks and stare downs. Maybe a couple of tips can help:

    * Find out what the name of the thing you want in both its US format or european format. Take that name down in writing and give that to the pharmacist.
    * For your first time to a pharmacy wanting something, have a friend with you to serve as your proxy for communication purposes. Then once you know exactly what you want/need you can go back the next time with that information and make life easier on yourself.
    * Do not be embarrassed by anything you do. If they think you’re a ‘slut’ for buying contraceptives, that’s their freaking problem.

    PS: I think the white lab coat is a hoax, many ‘pharmacists’ at CVS are nothing but cashiers in a white coat!

    • Wait a second.. I got a little lost in something you said. 10 year olds can buy cigarette packs for their parents here or in the States? It can’t be the States, but then you mentioned something about them being addicted to cough syrup..which I know is true! That’s not all they’re addicted to..but anyway I understand your point. It simply is a matter of cultural norms..had I grown up in Lebanon I wouldn’t be experiencing this..but you’re right, it’s definitely a complete 180 for me coming from the States. And something I’m really still trying hard to get used to.

      Yeah, privacy is a hugeee issue in the States! For example, if I don’t put my Mom’s name and phone number on the information I fill out when I go to the doctor..they won’t give her my medical records/test results..even if I get very sick and am unable to get them myself! I could be unconscious and they wouldn’t give her my records! So, I suppose we have two extremes in the US and in Lebanon..I wonder how it is in Canada, and in Europe..

      Thanks for the insightful comment always outdo yourself! 😀

      • Youssef Chaker

        oooops, i wasn’t very clear in forming my sentence, but you got it (clever girl :P)
        so… it seems now im up to date on your previous posts.

        Note to self: checking a blog periodically thinking that you won’t miss any posts doesn’t work. Subscribe to the damn RSS feed 🙂

  14. But just think of all the things you get that are extra here – there are ashtrays in my local pharmacy for those who need to smoke while awaiting a prescription, I bet you don’t get many of those in Miami 🙂

  15. Our local pharmacist knows EVERYONES ailments. She will be like, how’s your grandmother do she need so-so medicine yet? Did your cousin’s cramps go away? Did your aunt’s corn heal….. and I go like….wtf. Which is why I go to pharmacies outside my neighborhood and never to the same one twice a month….NEVER.

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  17. Dar El Akhdar

    Great post Dani! I like it when you introduce us to the US counterpart of the issues you tackle – this adds another interesting layer to your experience in addition to your appreciation of Lebanese happenings from the eyes of the girl from Miami 🙂 Keep it up!

    • You have no idea how happy I am to read that! Sometimes I second guess whether or not I should compare my experience in the States to my current experience in Lebanon..I guess I’m afraid of a backlash and ppl saying.. “well if the States is so much better, why did you leave?” When in reality, I’m in love with Lebanon, even with all of its quirkiness, and am so happy to be here! 😀

  18. Lets all pray for the most magnificent country in the world and the city of love beirut.

  19. Pingback: Please wait here.. | This is Beirut

  20. thesultanofcool

    I have to say that my contact with pharmacies has been slightly frustrating as well. My gf is so embarrassed to walk into one and ask for her lady products, that i have to end up going and asking for them myself.
    this is how it goes… boy walks into pharmacy, boy check pride at the door, boy approaches pharmacist with a sigh, boy explains to pharmacist what he needs, pharmacist look at boy in understanding and “feel ur pain” way, boy sits there as intimate women products are being piled up on counter, boy leaves with bag full of tampons & other poon products…
    i wud love a booth or curtain or something to separate me from the rest of the world while i’m on a pharmacy run. especially when i’m an envoy from Venus 😦

  21. I’ve developed quite a good relationship with the one pharmacy close to where I live that I can pretty much go behind the counter and look for things that I need or want. The only downside is if the owner’s brother is working I get stuck talking politics for an hour before I can leave…great guy, but I don’t always have the time. The biggest challenge for me was trying to figure out the differences in medication names and that some meds from the states don’t make it over here. Internet works wonders and I have some great doctor friends back in Virginia that have traveled a lot and know the meds I should look for.

  22. annie

    Hello,it’s weird what ur talking abt because I’m a pharmacist myself and I never give the wrong impression abt condoms or contraception ,pple come in and buy condoms and contraception and that’s 3ade ,something I see everyday and abt marriage certificate ????????Waiiiittttt,what????????What part of the country was that ,da7iye looooool ,aya pharmacy was that looool btwww u can’t expect pharmacies in Leb to be like pharmacies like in the States ,1st there is a problem of space here ,2nd the pharmacies aren’t designed to do shopping like in the supermarket

  23. annie

    Hehehe,next time if you have a question about medication ,ask me

  24. Ivy

    I think this all trickles down to the concept of personal space in Lebanon which I blogged about awhile back in my post
    “Personal Space: Foreign Concept In Lebanon Or We Simply Just Don’t Care?”

    It happens everywhere from the ATM Machine to the cashier at the grocery store and even the elevator …

    Here is my experience:

    “Have you ever walked into a pharmacy hoping to have a private conversation with the pharmacist about a medical condition only to suddenly find the next customer suddenly appear next to you bluntly listening to your conversation? Better yet, when that person gets impatient he/she starts moving even closer until they decide to shove their prescription between you and the pharmacist. ”

    It’s going to take a while before we stop being intrusive, I’m learning to live with it without making it a habit myself…



  25. Riham

    See, I went to the pharmacy here today. I started explaining what I want to the pharmacist, and he did give me what I need but I could swear he had a “wtf why is she telling me this?” look on his face.

  26. I’ve lived in Lebanon my whole life, so the thought of taking the medication MYSELF FROM THE SHELF seems very odd! HAHA

    Pharmacists to me are sometimes equal to doctors. I go in and I’ll be like “so what should I take for this cough?!”.

    I wasn’t even THAT embarrassed when I told my neighborhood pharmacist that it burnt while I peed. hehe

    But I get how you could find pharmacies to be weird over here. You’re used to a different and more organized system!

  27. stephanie

    i am lebanese and i ended up on this website by mistake i couldnt help but read what u wrote about our pharmacies and im really shocked as for what u have to say abt it. lebanese ppl r very welcoming and helpful however if ur used to a different lifestyle u can just go in, ask for what u want or search for it YOURSELF behind the counter if the pharamcist doesnt understand what u want (especilly since u got so frustrated) pay and leave.
    second im a girl and i buy condoms (and tampons for that matter) from pharmacies on a regular basis and nobody says anything nobody even notices
    you dont have to critize every small detail
    just get over urself

  28. Pingback: The foreigners’ guide to moving to Beirut, part 1 | This is Beirut

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  30. I dream of Lebanon

    I know my post is more than a year late lol. I am in love with Lebanon as well and looking forward to graduate with my Pharm.D degree here in the US and practice as a pharmacist in Lebanon. I know that there is some type of pharmaceutical chaos in most Middle-Eastern countries and I truly feel that there should be a need for change and someone got to start working on that issue. So I am full with hopes and wishes that I and certainly other ambitious pharmacists can do something about counterfeit meds and other pharmacy practice problems like privacy issue/lack of knowledge or even having someone else other than the pharmacist assisting patients. I work at CVS as an intern and I sometimes feel that I am just part of an assembly line–drop off to production to check out– plus insurance companies hassle gives and my other co-workers BIG headache. As an intern, I can counsel patients on their new meds and recommend OTC products for common illnesses like poison ivy–time for gardening =D– sinus congestion … etc. It feels good when I can be source of help but I rarely get those types of questions. I pay attention to what my pharmacist–my boss– does and she is basically just verifying what the techs are filling and maybe she’ll call the doctor once or twice daily to switch a medication for a specific patient, but at the end of the day she is just part of the assembly line as well :/ .. And because I am looking for something more satisfying plus knowing the fact that there is little control and regulation over pharmacy practice in Lebanon, I am hoping to end up practicing there. I feel your frustration; I think part of it is definitely lack of common language basis between you and the pharmacist. It’s like having a Mexican lady who only speaks Spanish at my CVS store lol; we would be using gestures and sign language haha. With all that being said, Lebanon is a beautiful country, and I guess we need some courage to get used to the system and it’ll all be good 🙂

  31. L

    Pregnancy tests, definitely. I hate buying them here. By the way, I like the convenience of getting antibiotics, etc, without a doctor’s prescription.

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