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Paris syndrome

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France and Japan have had a longtime love affair.  The Japanese admire French culture, especially Impressionist Painting, and are also big buyers of French luxury products.  Likewise, the French love Japanese Zen design, cuisine and above all manga.  Outside of Japan, Paris is the world’s capital for manga.

When French tourists come to Japan, they are amazed by a country seemingly like their own, as the Japanese have managed to maintain their traditions in the face of the forces of globalization and Americanization.   They are also delighted by the great courtesy of the Japanese people.

Unfortunately, the reverse is not the case.  Many Japanese tourists are shocked and disappointed by their visit to Paris – to such a point that they suffer from the “Paris Syndrome”. 

The world is full of bizarre psychological disorders, many of which are forms of Voyager Syndromes, like the Stockholm Syndrome, Lima Syndrome, Diogenes Syndrome, Stendhal Syndrome, Jerusalem Syndrome, Capgras Delusion, Fregoli Delusion, Cotard Delusion or Reduplicative Paramnesia.  But it seems that only the Japanese are struck by the Paris Syndrome!  It was first reported in the French psychiatry journal by A. Viala and others in 2004

Of the million or so Japanese tourists who visit Paris each year, about a dozen are reported to be hit a severe psychological disorder like acute delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution or anxiety.  Very many more suffer more or less quietly.  “A third of patients get better immediately, a third suffer relapses and the rest have psychoses,” Yousef Mahmoudia, a psychologist at Paris’s Hotel-Dieu hospital, next to Notre Dame cathedral, told the newspaper Journal du Dimanche.

What causes Paris Syndrome?  Very often Paris does not live up to the romantic, idealized image.  The apparent rudeness of French waiters and other service providers is shocking for Japanese who are used to a very polite and helpful society.  The Syndrome may also reflect cultural differences in communication styles, something which is exacerbated by the obvious language barriers.  Fatigue can play a role, as Japanese tourists have short holidays in which they try to cram in everything.  And of course, it can be just plain culture shock. 

We will never know the truth of psychological disorders like the Paris Syndrome.  But we can never be sure that our Japanese friends are not suffering from the Stendhal Syndrome, the rapid heartbeat, dizziness and even hallucinations that descend upon me as I am looking at a wonderful piece of art.  Or the sheer excitement of Paris may be too much for those tourists who had a sheltered existence in Japan.  After all, most Japanese struck by Paris Syndrome are ladies in their 30s.  Whatever the case, the Japanese Embassy in Paris has a 24 hour hotline for faint-hearted Japanese tourists.