Multicultural Remedies for American Pill-Poppers?

by contributor · 3 comments

multicultural remedies for american pill poppers

By Jennifer Planeta
Photo credit: Muffet

When I met my husband Artur, he was working at a time share resort in Assisi, Italy.  Tucked in the hills of Umbria, this resort was a destination for people from all over the world.  I spent many months there with Artur and had the opportunity to see the many travelers from all of the various cultures.  It was always interesting listening to the cultural observations and generalizations made by the Italian staff.

One observation: Americans are a bunch of pill poppers.  Because Artur was the maintenance manager at this resort, he was often called into the guests’ units to fix or adjust various things. As a result, he often saw the luggage contents that the travelers unpacked during their stay.  Without fail, the Americans always had numerous pill bottles. 

Regardless if these bottles contained meditations, vitamins, supplements or a motley of all three, the Americans seemed to be the only ones who consistently traveled with so many pills.  No other culture appeared to travel with or need as many pills as the Americans.  (Pretty interesting considering the power and wealth of the pharmaceutical companies in the United States.  Not to mention their grip on the American medical system.)

My husband did not grow up in a pill-popping culture. Far from it. Whether this was a result of availability, access or belief, I’m not sure.

In the wee hours of the morning one night last year our daughter was coughing and coughing. I got up and gave her some water which seemed to do nothing. Artur then asked her if she wanted to get up and eat a piece of bread with him. In my half asleep state I remember thinking, “Bread?  for a cough?! and at 3 in the morning?!” They got up, ate some bread and sure enough, her cough subsided.

The next morning I asked him if he grew up doing this when he had a cough, as I had never heard of such a thing. He started laughing, said “yes” and then explained the rational to me. I guess the bread sweeps the gunk out of your throat better. It boasts more traction that a sip of water I suppose.

This conversation led to a broader conversation on some of the natural remedies he grew up practicing.  Here are a few: 

  • If you have a cold, heat up a whole garlic clove in milk, add butter and drink. Don’t ask me how this helps but according to Artur it’s amazing.
  • For stomach problems related to, shall we say, loose bowels, eat blueberries. I guess they have a solidifying effect.
  • For a sore throat, dice up some onion, sprinkle it with sugar and heat it up a bit on the stove enough to get the juices to release.  Then drink the juices.  Again, he swears that while it might not taste good, it works.

I love learning about different cultural approaches to health and find natural remedies to be fascinating. Even though most of Artur’s childhood took place in a Communist society which as Americans, we tend to associate with a life of struggle and less plentiful, Artur probably grew up eating fresher and healthier food than I did as an American.  Not to mention the natural remedies that his family practiced rather than popping some aspirin or drinking cough syrup.

While the thought of drinking garlic butter milk is not appealing at all (ick!), I am not a fan of cold medicine and rarely take anything when I’m sick.  Perhaps I should consider broadening my cultural horizons and consider some of these natural remedies.

Printed with permission from More Than One: Two Cultures, Three Languages and a Toddler.

Is your culture a “pill popping” one? Or does it treat illness with its own set of cultural remedies? What are your favorites?

Jennifer Planeta is a part-time writer, full-time mother and an occasional tutor, teacher and translator of Italian. She met her Polish husband while studying in Italy. They now live in Washington State and are raising their daughter in English and Italian with a pinch of Polish. She is passionate about learning other languages and experiencing life through a multicultural lens. She hopes to find herself back in Italy someday living on a beautiful piece of property with sheep. You can find her at her blog, More Than One: Two Cultures, Three Languages and a Toddler.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Barbara March 28, 2012 at 6:44 pm

I like your post. Germans defintely also prefer natural remedies or at least plant-based medications for things like colds. There are remedies like bags of onions to put on ears for ear infections or various cold or hot wet towels around neck or feet. Herb-based medications are mainstream, not just confined to natural food stores. Antibiotics are suspect, unfortunately, vaccines, too. My German sister-in-law swears by the natural remedies. I don’t use them here in the US, but I’m glad that thanks to globalization I’m able to get herb-based cough and cold medicine from Germany online.


2 Motherlands March 30, 2012 at 9:42 am

Nice! I liked this anecdotal evidence of our strange and American ways. Everytime I go home, I am astonished at the number of pills my friends seem to take, for all sorts of things. Do you find Americans also pop a lot of pills where you are now? I think that is a relatively ‘natural’ corner of the country? I cited your article on Motherlands. Thanks.


3 Becky Smith April 1, 2012 at 4:17 pm

I don’t like medicine, even though I’m an American. I prefer to eat whole food. This is one connection I feel with the Russians I live with in Central Asia, although I’m not so sure about their natural remedies . . . eating dog fat for a cough remedy just doesn’t sit well with me. But, perhaps a lot of the Russian remedies are because they are influenced by the Central Asians around them, so maybe all of these weird things I’ve heard about are more naturally Central Asian remedies.

The book, Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon was a godsend for me. I had a hard time reconciling my American self with my Russian self until I read that book. Since that time, I am proud of the things I have learned from the Russians.


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