Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon has always maintained that Le Brésil is a Mediterranean country, save for an accident of plate tectonics which saw it move west rather than north when it came out of Africa eons ago. Recent corroborating evidence has reached us, through BBC Radio 4.

The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.

In the South of France, near the Pyrénees, there are dozens of “spa” towns, where thousands of French come to “take the cure” (at government expense, naturellement). In these parts, there are more pharmacies than you can shake a forked stick at; if you do shake a forked stick, odds are you’ll dowse a “fresh” water spring, whose pungent sulfurous odors will certainly remind you of the adage to be very careful what you wish for.

Consider the village of Amélie-les-Bains, a spa of under 3,000 inhabitants which employs no fewer than five pharmacists, all of whom are overwhelmed by malingerers describing assorted health problems such as noblesse oblige, a/k/a gout.

Being French, these local worthies will dispense medicinal advice, and as a lagniappe, while filling out your prescription, will tell you which of the local fungi are edible, as against those which will bring you urgently back to their pharmacies for relief.

But we digress. Recently, the French Gouvernement, determined to improve access of all citoyens to medicines, sent up a trial balloon, whose main provision was this: hypermarkets and convenience stores (Gasp!!) could sell non-prescription medicaments, e.g. aspirin or antacids. But as the BBC put it, “pharmacies feared they would lose business and fought back, customers stopped describing their symptoms long enough to sign petitions….”

Are you waiting for the punch line? If you live in Brazil, you already know it: “le Gouvernement retreated.” Let us return almost twenty years to the Plano Real, first promulgated in June 1993 through a Presidential Decree having some sixty-plus articles, largely dealing with restructuring the economy so as to eliminate inflation and price controls, thus successfully turning Brazil into a market economy, along the way lopping three zeros off the currency for the fourth time in 26 years.

Returning to our point, le Gouvernement du Brésil, anticipating by at least a decade its unfortunate French follower, added two extraneous articles to the Decree, whose main provision was this: hypermarkets and convenience stores (Gasp!!) could sell non-prescription medicaments, e.g. aspirin or antacids.

Pharmacies feared they would lose business and lobbied ferociously, so that, in 1994 when the Plano Real was finally sanctioned, Congress, whose divining rods were more sensitive to voters than those of the administration, had excised the offending articles.

So, unlike in the U.S. where many of us grew up, neither Brazilian nor French hypermarkets can sell aspirin or antacids, because that “convenience” is not one local consumers desire. Mediterranean cultures prize the small business, the friendly neighborhood store, the dispenser of arcane advice, and legislate accordingly.

Politics trumps Economics. The human factor (“fraternité”) trumps bottom line (“the pursuit of happiness”). MediTerraneanism, in the end, trumps both Plate Tectonics and Wal-Mart. Vive la France! Vive le Brésil!

Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)


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