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Paris syndrome: when some tourists are disillusioned with the capital

It was in 1986 that Dr. Hiroaki Ōta, a psychiatrist at Sainte-Anne Hospital in Paris, diagnosed what he would call Paris syndrome in a Japanese tourist visiting the capital. “The 1980s correspond to the rise of the mass tourism Japanese in France”advances the psychoanalyst Eriko Thibierge-Nasu. “At the time, there was a financial bubble in Japan, which led many Japanese to come to Paris, considered a mecca for tourism and shopping, in particular”she continues.

In the collective imagination, the French capital is as it appears in films such as Amélie Poulain, by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

What are the symptoms of Paris Syndrome?

However, once there, the gap between the imagined city and reality is enormous. The psychoanalyst reports a hundred cases in the 1980s, mainly young Japanese women who felt unwell in the capital. “Some found themselves with phenomenal debts, others experienced a big gap in how they were received, because they thought they were going to be treated like princesses”explains Eriko Thibierge-Nasu.

Disorders that led a number of Japanese to consult Dr. Hiroaki Ōta and prompted him to write a book. In his book, the doctor talks about several symptoms, such as antisocial behavior, anxiety felt in relation to the gaze of others, even hallucinations or even a desire for death.

“Some Awesome Cases”

“There have been some impressive cases”says Eriko Thibierge-Nasu. “In particular, I met a woman in the early 2000s, who had broken everything in her hotel room, after shopping in many luxury boutiques. All this shopping, all this luxury, began to persecute her. But this woman was already fragile before her stay, it was not Paris that drove her crazy”nuance the psychoanalyst.

One of the traveler’s syndromes

Like Stendhal syndrome, or “Florence syndrome”, which can occur in some travelers exposed to one or more works of art, Paris syndrome is considered a traveler’s syndrome.

“In the 1980s, we could see euphoric states, as in the case of Stendhal syndrome, which were out of breath and could cause a depressive state in certain fragile subjects”says Eriko Thibierge-Nasu. “With globalization, it is less and less frequent, because people are better informed, especially thanks to the Internet, and are therefore much less surprised on arrival”nuance once again the psychoanalyst.

The Paris syndrome today

“While the term has persisted, today it is more of a media term. Clinically, there are little things I notice when I hear some Japanese people coming to see me, but it’s much less spectacular than people imagine”, she describes. According to her, there is rather a difficulty for some Japanese to adapt to the codes of Parisian life, which are very different from those of their country of origin.

Among the things that often come back from tourists or Japanese residents, a feeling of confusion due to the fact that many things do not work or not work correctly (transport, post office, ATM, etc.)

The psychoanalyst also evokes a feeling of rejection and persecution, with a real problem in relation to language and speech. “They can no longer stand the way some French people express themselves, ask them to affirm things or belittle them”, she recalls. How to overcome the Paris syndrome? “They need to understand the French people’s relationship to speech and the fundamental difference between speech in Japan and speech in France. And if it’s intolerable, they have to go back to Japan”advises the professional.

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