Travelling to France on holiday? Then you’ll have your EHIC and your travel insurance. But what’s your risk of getting “heavy legs”?
You’ll be relieved to know that your chances of a bout of “heavy legs” are almost non-existent. However pretty much the sole reason for that is because you’re not French – welcome to the world of culture specific illness.
Heavy legs (properly called jambes lourdes) is a circulatory condition of the legs, leading to feelings of heaviness, fatigue, and lethargy. Whilst it receives the genuine attention of GPs, and requires shelves of medication in local chemists, it remains unknown outside of France. Slipping over the border to Germany, any heaviness in your legs allowing, may put you outside the reach of jambes lourdes but you will face a different set of culture specific illness.
The first of these is Kreislaufkollaps (literally “circulatory collapse”) or Herzinsuffizienz (“heart insufficiency”). This is another problem with blood circulation, but this time affecting the whole body. The effects can only be remedied by days of bed rest, and it is taken seriously in Germany, whilst not appearing anywhere else.
This may be linked to the singularly German preoccupation with low blood pressure, or Neidrigerblutdruck. It’s regarded as leading to lethargy, giddiness, anxiety and even black-outs. Germans regard chronic low blood pressure as a disease that must be treated with drugs. The same blood pressure result anywhere else however, would probably be seen as a sign of excellent health.
Thinking of escaping to Italy instead? Then make sure you’re properly dressed, as the consequences of colpo d’aria – a draught of air to the spine or neck – are regarded as being similarly serious.
Of course culture specific illnesses aren’t just confined to Europe. China, Singapore, and Nigeria have all seen outbreaks of suo yang or koro – the belief that a cold draught or malevolent spirit is causing mens’ penises to retract into their bodies. And in Cambodia khyal cap is the fever and dizziness caused by the movement of ‘wind’ alongside the blood.
And what does all this tell us? That perhaps our illnesses are as more conditioned by what we expect than we might believe – and what this can tell us about the sometimes psychological basis of illness and the placebo effect.
If you’ve been intrigued by these illnesses specific to particular cultures then why not take a look at the emotions only foreign cultures have words for?
And if you’ve found this look at culture specific illness interesting why not sign up for my monthly newsletter here with three stories every month on the quirky side of relationships and psychology.