Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world. Millions of visitors flock there every year, planning to visit all the famous sites and experience the beauty that the city is famous for. But every year, a small number of the city’s many tourists actually become so ill they have to be sent home. It’s not food poisoning or a problem with the water that makes them sick. Rather, it is their disappointment with the realities of Paris that causes the debilitating illness that is known as Paris Syndrome.
Paris Syndrome overwhelmingly affects Japanese tourists. Around 20 Japanese tourists per year are reported to come down with the illness, and about a third of these end up being flown home under medical supervision. Its symptoms include dizziness, sweating, delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia. To treat the illness, removal from the city, bed rest, and staying hydrated are usually all that is required. But many who experience the syndrome become so traumatized that they vow never to travel again.
Many people are disappointed with their vacation destinations, but why is the Paris Syndrome so severe? And why does it seem to only affect Japanese tourists? The two questions may have a common answer.
Paris’ portrayal in the media and popular culture is typically quite idealized. We mostly see images of affluent Parisians, wearing designer clothes and eating expensive food. Everyone looks rich and thin, and the city is spotlessly clean. But Paris is a real city, and people there live much the same way that people in most major Western cities do. There are plenty of homeless people, dirty streets, and gaudy tourist shops. In Japan, however, this idealized version of Paris is even more intense and sanitized. When they visit Paris, many Japanese tourists are almost physically shocked that it is not Disney-like destination of their dreams.
To make the situation worse, Parisian culture is vastly different from Japanese culture. In Japan, politeness is the norm, even to tourists. In Paris, it is not uncommon for waiters and other service industry professionals to be indifferent to their customers or just plain rude. If you can’t speak French, you may be in for some especially rude treatment. Add to this the fact that most Japanese people don’t speak any French (and most French speak no Japanese), and the feelings of isolation and desperation are often multiplied.
Since neither culture is expected to change, and neither should they, cases of Paris Syndrome will probably continue for the foreseeable future. More honest media portrayals could help, but it would still be difficult to combat the romanticized vision of the city that exists. One can only hope that the victims of this mysterious condition recover enough to attempt another visit to Paris, one of the most amazing cities on the planet, even with its imperfections.