What's the Difference Between a Farmacia and a Parafarmacia? You may be surprised.

Farmacia v Parafarmacia: There’s a Big Difference

Dear Travel Diary

Today I learned the difference between a farmacia and a parafarmacia. Before I arrived in Italy, last week, I had no idea parafarmacias existed. I’d never encountered one before.

I have since learned there are parafarmacias in the Canary Islands as well, but I don’t remember seeing any when I paid a flying visit to Teneriffe a few years ago. Nor do I remember seeing any in the Spanish cities I visited during my previous trips to Spain. I’ve seen plenty of them in Naples, though.

A few days ago I bit my tongue. It was still sore today, so I went hunting for a tube of Bonjela or the best equivalent.

There are a few farmacias near where I’m presently living and I know the word “farmacia” means the same in Italian as it does in Spanish. A farmacia is a pharmacy.

Here in Italy, the rules are pretty similar to those in Spain. If you want any kind of over-the-counter medicine you have to get it from a farmacia. Forget the idea of getting a cheap box of aspirin or ibuprofen from a supermarket. It’s not going to happen. The farmacias have the monopoly on goods like that and, in my experience, the prices can be a little expensive.

When I walked into the parafarmacia earlier today, I had noticed the sign above the door did not say farmacia, but I presumed there would not be much difference. Even while I was standing outside in the street I could see the shelves appeared to be full of medications and the girl in the shop was wearing a white coat similar to the ones worn by the the people working in British chemist shops. Surely there couldn’t be too much difference between a farmacia and a parafarmacia. I was soon to learn they are two very different things.

The shop was empty, so there was no need to queue. I marched inside and asked the girl in the white coat if she spoke English. She didn’t, so I asked her if she spoke Spanish, she did so at least there were no communication problems.

When I explained what I wanted, the girl said I would need to go to a farmacia. “Isn’t this a farmacia)?” I asked her. She shook her head and explained it was not.

It turns out, parafarmacias only sell homoeopathic and herbal remedies. Though, it’s important to be aware the people who work in parafarmacias have to gain relevant qualifications. It’s very different from working in a Holland & Barratt or a normal health food shop.

So, armed with a better understanding of the difference between parfarmacias and farmacias, I walked a little further and visited the nearest farmacia.

It was a lot busier in the farmacia so I had to wait a little while before I could speak to someone. I’m guessing people have more faith in chemicals and drugs than they do in herbal remedies. I like to keep an open mind though. If the girl in he parafarmacia had offered me a herbal gel for my tongue, there’s a good chance I would have tried it. As it was, she didn’t so I had to look elsewhere.

The girl who eventually served me in the farmacia spoke good English and explained it was not possible to buy Bonjela. She offered me some Corsodyl gel instead. It cost €7 for a small 30g tube and the girl said I was lucky because it was on promotion. The farmacia normally charges more than €8 per tube. I find that a tad expensive, but it was a necessary evil and at least I now understand the difference between a farmacia and a parafarmacia. It’s always nice to learn new things and, when you travel a lot, there are always plenty of new things to learn.

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