Each year, Paris welcomes 45 million visitors to the city. Of those, roughly 1 million come from Japan. And of those million visitors, each year, about twenty fall ill to an odd condition called “Paris Syndrome” — effectively, an acute reaction to being in Paris.
Paris Syndrome is marked by a psychiatric breakdown suffered by the visitor, often including physiological side effects such as dizziness, an increased heart rate, and otherwise unexplained sweat. Extreme cases come with increased anxiety, a sense of persecution, and even hallucinations. Most of those affected are Japanese, but on occasion, a non-Japanese tourist will fall prey to the syndrome.
The cause? Most likely, it’s a mix of a few factors: jet lag from the long trip; elation (similar to Stendhal syndrome) from taking a once-in-a-lifetime vacation; the language barrier; and, most critically, culture shock. As the BBC noted in its discussion of Paris Syndrome, “[m]any of the visitors come with a deeply romantic vision of Paris [but the] reality can come as a shock. An encounter with a rude taxi driver, or a Parisian waiter who shouts at customers who cannot speak fluent French, might be laughed off by those from other Western cultures. But for the Japanese – used to a more polite and helpful society in which voices are rarely raised in anger – the experience of their dream city turning into a nightmare can simply be too much.” And, also according to the BBC, the Japanese embassy there takes culture shock seriously, staffing a 24-hour hotline for citizens and expats who suffer culture shock while in La Ville-Lumière.
But for some, a phone call provides no solace. For them, there is only one cure for Paris Syndrome: leaving the city, never to return.
From the Archives: Allergic to Water. As in, people who are. Really.
Related reading: “Eiffel’s Tower: And the World’s Fair Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris, the Artists Quarreled, and Thomas Edison Became a Count,” a historical backdrop on the times and circumstances that lead to the Tower’s creation and unveiling. Four stars on Amazon (20 reviews), mixed but mostly positive. Available on Kindle.