Paris Syndrome


Written by Amy J Wood
28 Monday 28th November 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. ‘Paris Syndrome’ first appeared as a medical term in 1991, in a report published by Dr Hiroaki Ota, a Japanese psychiatrist at Sainte-Anne Hospital in Paris. His report revealed that between 1988 and 2004, 63 patients had been hospitalised suffering from the mental disorder, needing to stay under supervision for an average of two weeks.

Japanese tourists take a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower as snow covers the French capital, Yoan Valat.

Although the sufferers of Paris Syndrome aren’t exclusively Japanese, it seems that Japan is the nation most susceptible to it over all others; of the eleven struck down  by the disorder this summer, the majority were Japanese nationals. 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. In an interview with French newspaper Libération, Dr Hiroaki Ota stated that many of the Japanese he’d treated said of Parisians: “They laugh at my French” and “They don’t like me”. These feelings are, 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.

Le Baiser de l'Hotel de Ville, Robert Doisneau, Paris, 1950.

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 homelessness, as well as the less-pressing issues of the perverted old men.

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 when are so overcome by art that rapid heartbeat and fainting ensue (particularly common in Florence's Uffizi gallery).

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