Among a host of first world problems is the mysterious Paris Syndrome – that horrible feeling you get when you realize the beautiful City of Lights isn’t all that you imagined it to be. And strangely, the worst to be affected by this bizarre condistion are the otherwise calm and collected Japanese.
As ridiculous as it sounds, Paris Syndrome is very real. Because of the way the city is represented in the media, especially the Japanese media, a lot of people labor under the misconception that Paris is a quaint, friendly little place with affluence reeking in its every corner. The women are imagined to be dainty and beautiful, the city is expected to smell like Chanel No. 5, parks filled with pigeons and waiters bursting into song at the drop of a hat. In fact, many Japanese really believe that Parisians are all thin, gorgeous and unbelievably rich. Inevitably, their bubble is burst on their very first day in the city.
Photo: Andreas Nilsson
Paris, just like any other city in the world, has its own share of pros and cons – a fact conveniently glossed over by most media outlets. The world prefers to immortalize Paris in a certain way, and that’s perhaps the biggest contributor to Paris Syndrome. But the truth of the matter is that the fashion capital of the world does have an ugly side to it as well. Many Parisians are quite unaccommodating of foreigners, especially those who do not speak French. Conversations in any other language are downright unpleasant, even more so with people who seem to loathe your existence on their land. The service industry isn’t always all that courteous to tourists either. The public transportation, far from being jolly metro cars, often consists of hot, overcrowded trains filled with screaming children and groping couples. Now, we’re not saying Paris isn’t beautiful, it is. But unlike cities like New York that have embraced their darker side, Paris is still presented as though it is the perpetually spinning world inside of a little girl’s music box. The difference may not seem like much to someone reading this, but for a first-hand experience, it can be hard to digest.
Photo: Joel Kabahit
So what exactly happens to those suffering from Paris Syndrome? I was curious to know too. Apparently, these tourists are gripped with anxiety, a combination of physical and psychological symptoms that aren’t very pleasant to deal with. It manifests in different ways for different people. Some are scared to go traveling again for a long time. Others suffer from acute delusions, dizziness, sweating, hallucinations, depression and feelings of persecution. In 2011, there were at least 6 cases of people who were struggling to come to grips with the fact that the city of their dreams does not exist, and had to be flown back to their own country for medical supervision. For most cases, a few days of good bed rest and hydration fixes the problem. The Japanese Embassy in Paris, however, does face a steady flow of calls and visits from Japanese tourists who want some reassurance that the city won’t collapse on them.
Perhaps this isn’t all too difficult to understand, given that Japanese and French cultures are poles apart. The culture-shock is probably pretty huge to digest, especially when getting simple, mundane tasks done can make someone feel harassed. It’s not just tourists, but exchange students and Japanese who have moved to Paris for work, who suffer from the ailment. It seems the four most important factors contributing to the Japanese struggles in Paris are Culture Shock, Communication Barriers, Difference in Culture and Physical Fatigue. The French are known to be rather free about speaking their mind, often forcefully. This could be hard to digest for the rather mild-mannered Japanese who are always careful not to offend. After I read about the Paris Syndrome, I did feel a little sorry for the Japanese. Well, it should help them (and everyone else traveling to Paris) to remember that the Paris in the movies is almost entirely different from the one that exists in real life today. Sure there a lot of gorgeous sights to explore and photograph, friendly people, and delicious foods, but just like any other city in the world, it has its rotten apples.