Apr 6th, 2023, 09:00 AM

Mental Misery While in the City of Love

By Ainsley Swenson
Image Credit: Ainsley Swenson
The physiological phenomena of Paris Syndrome and how many have experienced intense distress during their first trip to Paris.

Paris is known throughout the world as the City of Love. A magical city—the epitome of romance, class and refinement. While there is indeed a degree of truth in these stereotypes, some visitors to Paris are struck by an alternate, imperfect reality that quite literally makes them sick. 

The term “Paris Syndrome” was coined by Japanese psychiatrist Hiroaki Ōta in 1986, following in the wake of mass Japanese tourism in France starting in the 1980s. 

Paris Syndrome is defined as a psychological condition caused by extreme culture shock.  It is primarily—though not exclusively—experienced by Japanese tourists who are emotionally crushed when Paris does not live up to its overly-romanticized mythology. 

Symptoms include depression, disorientation, irritability, physical illness and hallucinations. While it is not part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), many experts recognize Paris Syndrome as a real psychological illness.

There are four factors that are believed to bring about Paris Syndrome. 

The first is the language barrier. Many tourists become quite uncomfortable when they realize that not everyone in the city will be able to speak with them in English or their native language, like they have observed in TV shows such as Emily in Paris

The second is differences in manners or behaviors. Japanese tourists who have suffered from Paris Syndrome report experiencing lower levels of formality in communication, mood, tone or humor than they are used to. 

The third is physical exhaustion. Overly-packed schedules and intense itineraries prevent tourists from getting enough rest. This can lead to mental weariness and general fatigue, which contributes to the likelihood of developing Paris Syndrome. 

The fourth, which compliments the point above, is jet lag. The physical fatigue generated by jet lag coupled with mental and physical weariness causes an overall feeling of malaise. 

In addition to the four factors listed above, there is the clash of cinematic fantasy versus the gritty, urban reality of Paris. Paris is not a movie set. Inhabited since 8000 BCE and fully urbanized by 300 CE, Paris is a multi-layered, multi-faceted, complex historic place.  

Trash piles up in the streets of Paris due to garbage strikes in Spring 2023. Image credit: Ainsley Swenson

In the Paris of the movies, everything is perfect. The cobbled streets are clean and empty, colorful flowers adorn every home and storefront, the architecture is uniform and stately, everyone is dressed impeccably and you can walk everywhere (with a baguette tucked under one arm and the other holding a poodle or impossibly cute French bulldog on a leash). 

In reality there is dog poop, garbage on the streets (especially now, in Spring 2023 as France grapples with the consequences of a rise in the retirement age), old buildings that are falling apart, people wearing normal clothes, crowds and tourist attractions that are kilometers apart. In most cities, all of these things are considered normal, but through the rose-colored glasses which many tourists view Paris, encountering this reality takes them very much by surprise. 

While only a small percentage of tourists develop this ailment, it has been considered a big enough issue for Japan and its tourists that the Japanese embassy in Paris “runs a 24-hour helpline for expatriates experiencing the syndrome”. And, despite providing aid via the helpline, the embassy sends home approximately 20 visitors a year accompanied by a doctor to ensure that they recover from the shock!

Paris, however, is not the only city to have inspired a syndrome that afflicts its visitors.  

Tourists in Italy and in India have also been known to experience similar symptoms of Paris Syndrome. The effects of Florence Syndrome come after looking at too much art, or India Syndrome after learning of the country's immense cultural differences in comparison to the western world. 

Paris Syndrome, as well as Florence and India Syndromes, are considered part of a larger group of psychological afflictions called Traveler’s Syndrome, the hallmark of which is disappointment from tourists when a city does not live up to its mythical reputation.

@karinalbertovna To all « I live in another Paris » 😄 #expectation #reality #parisian #reallife #emilyinparis ♬ original sound - Karinalbertovna

Despite the increase in discussion surrounding this topic, Paris Syndrome, and other ailments like it, are occurring less and less frequently due to the internet. The rise in global use of social media allows tourists to discover a great deal about a city before they actually visit it. Social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram provide an abundance of real-time, first-hand content created by local individuals and influencers who not only capture the beauty of the city they live in, but share the insider details about all the good and bad things that come with visiting there.