Paris Syndrome sounds like a condition a college freshman that has read too many Jane Austen books might develop. While the name implies something young and idealized, it can be a very serious disorder that, in the tourist season of 2011, affected twenty tourists visiting the city of lights, according to The Atlantic.
The idea of Paris is a perfect one: used in the backdrop of romantic movies, or to show how heavenly a perfume might smell in commercials. Paris is an alleged heaven on earth. Bridges are pictured over shimmery rivers in front of romantic sunsets, and when a person goes they expect to have a lovely honeymoon experience. Paris Syndrome exists specifically because there is a distance between reality and those expectations.
Paris Syndrome, which on average affects about a dozen tourists per year, hurts Japanese travelers more than anyone else. It has become such a problem that the Japanese Embassy in the city itself created a hotline for the very purpose of helping out its citizens. The line is available 24 hours a day, and aims to help those flustered by their unmet expectations. The hotline helps tourist get past their culture shock, or even seek hospitalization for those that need it.
The film industry is partly to blame for Paris Syndrome but there is one other reason that it affects Japan more than any other country. Their culture is far more polite than others. While the customer is always right in the United States, the customer is “king” in Japan. When a Japanese tourist goes to Paris they are facing, head-on, a culture where the server might yell at the dinner guest for not speaking the local language. This can turn their world upside down. Suddenly, not only is the shimmering, romantic city a dirty, dangerous, and realistic one, but it is also one where tourists just aren’t respected with the same manners that they are at home. Etiquette is very important in Japan, with everyday customs such as removing shoes before going indoors being widespread. Even the Washington Post has written about how to stand on escalators when visiting.
This is not to say that the French aren’t respectful—but the city is a real city, filled with real people with real, individual problems who don’t want to stop their day for a tourist. It is not the wondrous image filled with models often seen in movies. There is an expectation that tourists will know some French before going to France. It is understandable that the citizens would get annoyed by the expectation of perfection, without preparation.
Facing this reality check can cause continuous issues. While some simply need a good night’s rest, others have problems ever traveling again. Symptoms can include thoughts of persecution, paranoia, convulsions, and hallucinations. One man became convinced he was King Louis XIV. Treatment can mean hospitalization, therapy, as with most syndromes, and of course never going to France ever again.
So what can be done about it? There is the unrealistic hope that perhaps Paris could change its marketing. Films might start portraying the city differently, highlighting the occasional mugging in a film or that servers get paid the same no matter what, and their treatment of you depends on how nicely you treat them. This is incredibly unlikely, and for now the only remaining option is to remain aware, or, of course, never go to Paris.