Tales from the Sick Bed

Here’s the thing about illness. There are cultural attitudes about it. Don’t believe me? Try getting sick abroad, whether it’s on holiday, or while you’re living in a foreign country. 

I grew up with very British ideas about being sick. Like so many other things, there is an element of keeping a stiff upper lip. Add to this a mother who’s a doctor, and thus the idea that only when I had a temperature and/or was throwing up was I ‘properly’ sick, and you have the concept that you have to drag yourself everywhere unless you’re really truly sick. All the advertising panders to that same idea, for example in this (badly dubbed into Geordie for some reason) advert for Lemsip:

In my case, this has included walking all over Rome feeling unwell only to end up delirious with food poisoning, and the time I went to school with a sore throat only to be sent home. I even had a boss in the UK who told me (while I was on a temporary contract) “I love temps, they come in to work on their hands and knees if they have to”.

It wasn’t until I moved to New Zealand that I realised that not everyone in the world is the same. The first time I came to work with a cold, people were astonished. Going home on my boss’ orders that time, it felt odd- I was at home with just a cold! But then an odd thing happened…I felt better. Much sooner than I would have in the UK. 

In England, being sick is, in some ways, a sign of weakness- as in the Lemsip advert above. The business rival has tried to capitalise on the main guy’s illness, and failed because of the magic medicine. Very dog-eat-dog. 

In New Zealand, though, illness- at least physical illness- is just something that happens. You stay home, so others don’t get sick, and you rest, and you get better. That’s just how it works. 

Mental illness, of course, is another matter entirely, and one that merits it’s own post- so more on that next week. 

What attitudes have you noticed people have to sickness where you are? I’d be interested to know.

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