I first heard of Paris Syndrome when I was living in Korea. There were these chain bakeries and coffee shops all over the place with a Paris Theme. On every corner, you would find a ‘Paris Baguette,’ or ‘Tous les Jours.’ Much like you could find a Tim Horton’s in Canada pretty much everwhere. In card and stationery stores, there was often the paper carved pop-up cards of the Eiffel Tower, or the Arc de Triomphe. You wouldn’t need to look far to find something “French.”
There was an obsession with France and French culture and an overly romanticized one at that.
This wasn’t something unique to Koreans. Many people have a romanticized view of Paris. According to a poll in 2016 by the Paris Tourism Office, nearly 40% of people get their perception of Paris from fictional films and television.
In 2013, Paris was the most popular tourist destination in the world. With an interesting history, famous architecture, and food to die for, it’s no wonder tourists are flocking here. In 2016, Paris was the city with the sixth-highest international visitor spend in the world.
To most of the world, Paris and it’s residents are presented as dainty, high-fashion, Chanel No. 5 wearing individuals riding a bicycle along beautiful streets with a baguette in hand. This narrow view of Paris is put in front of all kinds of people via tour groups, films, advertisements, and other media.
When tourists actually visit Paris, they’re in for a harsh reality. And no one seems to be hit harder with culture shock than the Japanese. They even developed their own term for it – Paris Syndrome.
What is Paris Syndrome?
First coined by Japanese Psychiatrist Hiroaki Ota in the 1980s, Paris Syndrome is essentially an extreme culture shock. The effects of the supposed syndrome can include hallucinations, convulsions, and panic attacks, as well as general feelings of disorientation. Despite this, it’s not officially considered a mental disorder.
Essentially, when it turns out Paris isn’t the images seen in postcards, they have a breakdown.
Why I call Bullshit
Culture shock is common to many travellers, yes, some experience it worse than others, but it is a regular part of travelling.
I too found Paris disappointing. The Eiffel tower is shorter than I’d hoped, the Mona Lisa is practically a postage stamp in size barely visible behind the wall of tourists trying to snap a picture, and the city is filled with more men shouting out me to buy their 1 euro souvenir than high-fashionistas with poodles.
This not only didn’t ruin my trip – I still checked out the rest of the Louvre, explored the catacombs, and got some postcard-worthy pictures.
The city may be disappointing to those trying to have a trip like one out of a movie. However, a little bit of research could’ve saved these people a lot of trouble. And coming all the way from Japan to Paris without doing basic research about what to actually expect is surprising. As the Atlantic puts it, it’s also just too privileged of a problem to sympathize with.
As Paris Syndrome affects a limited amount of people each year (only 12 in 2013), a Redditor commented on a thread about Paris Syndrome “12 people a year out of a million? Maybe those 12 people are just nuts?” While it may be more amusing to picture every Japanese person who visits Paris fainting in dismay at the city, it’s simply not the case.
Only in recent years has Paris been making the news without the rose-tinted glasses. Recent waves of terrorist attacks and raises in crime has put Paris slightly lower on the list for tourists.
As long as you’re not expecting dancing waiters, a peaceful lunch beside the Eiffel tower, or being surrounded by beautiful smelling models your whole trip – you’ll be just fine. And if you’re not, the Japanese embassy has a 24-hour hotline for those suffering from “severe culture shock.”
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