Paris Syndrome

Amy J Wood

Immortalised in art, literature, film and music, Paris has been portrayed throughout the centuries as a seductive spectacle for the senses, a city overspilling with old-world charm and the promise of romance and passion. However, for a handful of Japanese tourists each year, this romanticised image shatters like the sugary crust of a Crème Brûlée, leaving them suffering from hallucinations, dizziness and acute delusional states.

A Romantic view of Paris in Woody Allen’s latest film ‘Midnight in Paris’ 2011

When the disappointment dawns that the dream doesn’t correspond to the reality, Japanese citizens can fall victim to ‘Paris Syndrome’, a disorder that carries both physical and psychological symptoms. In some cases the symptoms have been so severe that the afflicted had to be repatriated. For those suffering from a milder form of the disorder, Japan has a 24-hour hotline offering advice and assistance in finding treatment.

Elliott Erwitt’s ‘Springer’, 1989

Although the sufferers of Paris Syndrome aren’t exclusively Japanese, it seems that Japan is the nation most susceptible to it over all others. Culture shock is a major trigger: coming from a country where unfailing politeness, good etiquette and manners are customary, it is difficult for the Japanese to fathom the informality and the apparent rudeness of the Parisians. This is all, no doubt, exaggerated by the fact that they also have to deal with their ultra-idealised view of Paris being dashed before their very eyes. Thanks to advertising and the media, many expect to arrive to a charming tableau akin to a Doisneau photograph or a Dior advert; cobbled streets swarming with slender, Gauloise-touting, Gallic-goddesses, lovers locked in embraces along the Left Bank, mimes performing around the corner of every elaborate Haussmann block. Meanwhile, sweet sounds of the accordion float gently through the Parisian air. They certainly aren’t prepared for the scope of social problems that bubble beneath Paris’ bourgeois façade; the dirt, the inequality and the obscene amount of homeless, as well as the less pressing issue of the perverted old men.

Pierre Renoir’s ‘Bal du Moulin de la Galette’ 1876

This phenomenon is not reserved to Paris alone; Jerusalem Syndrome and Stendhal Syndrome are similar in nature. The former manifests itself during a trip to the ‘Holy City’, and sees the mentally sane transform into delusional religious obsessives with compulsive desires to cut their fingernails and toenails. Whilst those suffering from the latter are so overcome by art that rapid heartbeat and fainting ensue.