Yesterday another first since living in France: We all went to the dentist for a check-up. We had heard that dental care wasn't world-famous in a positive way here, so we asked around for a recommendation from the ex-pat community, and were told of Dr. Jean-Pierre Albouy.
Here in France, dentists are called "Chirurgiens-Dentistes" (surgeon-dentists), which can sound a little scary at first. When we go for a check-up, we don't anticipate any surgery being done.
In any case, we all needed to be seen for our habitual biannual cleaning and check-up, and the dental office made an appointment for all four of us to be seen at 4pm. At first I thought they must have an enormous number of hygienists to be able to swing that, until I realized they were just going to take a look in our mouths to see what needed to be done and get to know us, before actually taking any action.
We found the office on a narrow street in the city, miraculously parked right in front, and went up to the waiting room. Classical music played as we looked out of the window at a Roman aqueduct! Not every dentist office can boast of that.
The dentist arrived and displayed a friendly, professional bedside manner, offering French or English, as we pleased. We used both. His training for 3.5 years at the University of Southern California showed in his fluency. He took us all at once into the examination room, chatting with us along the way about how he has a Treo Palm device and asking how we like France, etc. As he examined us briefly from youngest to oldest, the others looking on, he explained that in France, there is no such job as dental hygienist. If anyone cleans your teeth, it's a dentist, but apparently the French on the whole don't really believe in the importance of professional cleanings. Hence the national health care system doesn't pay for them. We pay 20 euros for a dental visit, but 95 euros for a cleaning, since it's considered "facultatif" (optional). This particular dental office, however, does offer cleanings, thanks to Dr. Albouy's Californian training. But he said only one of the four of us particularly needed it at the moment, the rest could wait another six months. So we made an appointment for January, and merrily went on our way, happy with the results of our first French dental foray: no "caries" (cavities), and the most family togetherness we've ever experienced in dental care. In California, we tried to keep our whole family's regular appointments within a day of each other for solidarity, but this topped them all.