LivingTravelParis syndrome: what is it and is it real?

Paris syndrome: what is it and is it real?

Whether in guidebooks, TV series or movies, Paris is considered the city of romance, with cheese and wine on every table and fabulously modern people strolling around every corner. But these fantasies often don’t manifest as reality when you visit them, creating a recipe for disappointment. However, for some, the disconnection can lead to genuine anxiety and sometimes even serious psychological reactions that require hospitalization.

Experts call the phenomenon “Paris syndrome” and say that Japanese tourists are the most vulnerable.

Nicolas Bouvier wrote in his 1963 travel diaries: “You think you are taking a journey, but soon it is the journey that is taking you.”

For many first-time tourists to Paris, Bouvier’s feelings run deep. The city, which has undergone a series of profound changes over the past century, may seem light years away from its stereotypical and romantic image.

Gone are the pristine sidewalks laced with smiling merchants in striped shirts or supermodels strolling the Champs-Elysees. The traffic is loud and terrible, the cafe servers are sometimes rude and direct, and where can you get a really decent cup of coffee amidst the many tourist traps in the city? New visitors can be truly baffled when they find that their image of the city just doesn’t match the occasional unpleasant experience.

How Paris Syndrome Happens

The difference between what a tourist expects to find in Paris and what they actually experience can be so jarring that it sometimes causes symptoms such as anxiety, delusions, and feelings of prejudice. This is more than just culture shock, say health professionals, who now agree that a transient psychiatric disorder is actually occurring. Due to the difference between the culture of Paris and his own, Japanese visitors in particular seem to feel the brunt of the problem.

“There are many people who are brought to France by a cultural fantasy, especially the [visiting] Japanese,” says Regis Airault, a Paris-based psychiatrist who has written substantially about the psychological effects of travel. “They go to the Montparnasse neighborhood and imagine that they are going to meet Picasso in the street. They have a very romantic vision of France, but the reality does not match the fantasy they have created.

In Japan, soft-spoken behavior is highly respected, and petty theft is practically absent from everyday life. Therefore, when Japanese tourists witness the fierce and sometimes aggressive behavior of Parisians or find themselves victims of pickpockets (according to statistics, Asian tourists are the most affected), it can not only ruin their vacation but lead them to a psychological confusion.

Japanese tourists have encountered so many problems with the culture shock between the country and abroad that a special service was opened at the Saint-Anne Psychiatric Hospital in Paris to treat the cases. A Japanese physician, Dr. Hiroaki Ota, has practiced since 1987, treating about 700 patients for symptoms such as irritability, feelings of fear, obsession, depression, insomnia, and the impression of being persecuted by the French.

In addition, the Japanese embassy established a 24-hour hotline for those suffering from severe culture shock and provides assistance in finding hospital treatment for those in need.

So what else explains the Paris syndrome? Of course, not all Japanese tourists who experience a Paris different from their fantasy will fall victim to the phenomenon. A major cause is personal propensity for psychological distress, so someone already suffering from anxiety or depression at home could be a likely candidate for psychological problems abroad.

The language barrier can be just as frustrating and confusing. Another reason, Airault says, is the specificity of Paris and how it has been particularly touted over the years. “For many, Paris remains the France around the Age of Enlightenment,” he says. Instead, what tourists find is a fairly ordinary large city with a diverse and immigrant-rich population.

How to avoid Paris syndrome?

Despite the name, the Paris syndrome is not something exclusively experienced in the French capital. The phenomenon can happen to anyone looking for paradise abroad: a tourist who takes a trip to an exotic land, a teenager who goes on his first solo adventure, an expatriate who moves abroad or a political refugee or immigrant who leaves. your home for a better chance. Similar experiences can take place for religious people traveling to Jerusalem or Mecca, or Westerners traveling to India for spiritual enlightenment.

All can cause hallucinations, dizziness, and even feelings of depersonalization, for example, temporarily losing the normal sense of identity and being one’s own.

Your best bet when traveling to Paris is to have a strong support network, either abroad or at home, to monitor how you are adjusting to French culture. Try to learn a few words of French so you don’t feel completely out of touch with what Parisians are saying to you.

And remember that Paris has changed significantly since that movie you saw in high school French was made. Keep an open mind, stay cool, and enjoy. And when in doubt, contact the closest healthcare professional who can allay your fears.

Read our full guide to what not to do in Paris for more tips on how to enjoy your trip and avoid common pitfalls.

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