Montpellier, France: Donating blood at the Place de la Comédie

On my way out to do the shopping this morning, I was walking across the Place de la Comédie, and I noticed a sign that there were blood collections going on. I hadn’t given blood since I was seventeen years old, and I hadn’t actually tried since September 11 last year, when I was turned away because of the crowds. I wasn’t in a particular hurry, so I figured I could kill an hour or so giving a pint.

This post is an excerpt from a letter I sent to family and friends on December 25, 2002, when I was living in Montpellier, France. It took me a few days to finish the letter, so these events probably took place several days earlier.

It was actually a pretty good experience, since I was suddenly introduced to a whole new set of vocabulary. Filling out the questionnaire wasn’t a problem, but the interview with the doctor was kind of amusing. She was trying to ask me questions about my medical history discretely, but when she did, I could barely understand her. So part of the conversation went something like this:

— (Doctor, in French) (Sounds like mumbling, unintelligible to me.)
— (Me, in French) What?
— (Doctor, a little louder in French) (Still sounds like mumbling to me.)
— (Me, in French) I’m sorry, I don’t understand.
— (Doctor, now practically shouting in French) Have you ever had sexual relations with another man?
— (Me, in French) Not at all, never.
— (Doctor, suddenly in English) Never?
— (Me, in English) No, never.

This type of misunderstanding that led to raised voices also took place when she was asking about my prior drug use, so the whole conversation had me chuckling. It almost seemed like she was surprised with some of my answers, which made me wonder if I was sending some sort of signals I was unaware of. Do I look gay? Or like a druggie? When she repeated the question, I felt like she was waiting for me to say, “Oh, well, there was this one time in college, and I’d had a little too much to drink, … ”

Apparently, any sort of current or former homosexual activity is a disqualifying event for giving blood, at least here in France, and there were several signs posted to make that point abundantly clear. I can’t remember if that’s true in the U.S. For reasons that were unclear to me, being English was something else they were on the lookout for, and I think my “English” accent made her a little suspicious, but I was able to convince her I was an American.

In the end, it was neither deviant sexual behavior nor drug activity nor national origin, but rather a trip to Belize in 2000, that got me a yellow warning sticker on my form, but they were still happy to take my blood. It took them a while to get the full pint out of me because of some flow problem or placement of the needle, but in the end I was rewarded with several glasses of apple juice, several sandwiches of bread and sausage, and some chocolate.

I was also given a fairly tacky Christmas tree decoration, being told to take it home to my wife, who I can’t say liked it much.

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