December 5, 2013
Paris Syndrome: The Japanese Tourist’s Curse
It is a real, acknowledged and diagnosable condition. An average of twelve Japanese people per year are helped by the Japanese embassy to go home from Paris in the company of a nurse or doctor after being struck down by Paris syndrome. Several more suffer from it, although not all have to be evacuated. They just have a bit of a weird vacation in Paris.
The symptoms are quite recognizable: extreme distress and anxiety, sweating and dizziness, nausea and even hallucinations. Paranoia and delusion are seen as symptoms too, but may also be part of the cause.
The cause is less clear than the symptoms, but high expectations of the glory of Paris versus the reality on the ground are thought to be a major factor. This is why Japanese people are by far the most likely to suffer from the condition. In Japan, Paris is portrayed as a magical place, with glistening yet exquisitely quaint and ancient streets, where everybody looks like a movie star and romance hangs in the air along with the smell of fresh coffee.
Anyone who has been to Paris will know that the idealized image of it, which to an extent we all have, can never be lived up to. It has a special something that nowhere else has, but that exists in and amongst a huge and complex city which is very rough around the edges.
Even the majestic central hotspots are filled with tourist industry staff whose idea of customer service simply isn’t the same as the super polite Japanese. Even if Japanese tourists don’t encounter the stereotypical ‘gruff’ Parisian waiter (although there are plenty and their chances are high), the standard approach to hospitality is different to Japan, and customers won’t usually be doted on in the same way as at home. Add to this the fact that Paris is the first place many young Japanese people, especially young women, want to visit, and the reality of not only Paris but the world outside of Japan can be shocking. Especially if it was supposed to be paradise.
If the tourist hotspots are tainted, things get even worse when tourists move off the beaten track, to where cheaper hotels may be, for example. Graffiti, homelessness, dog poo and litter, plus the general decay of an ancient European city, add to the realization that the actual Paris is a far cry from that depicted in the themed coffee shops and advertising of Japan.
Combine this sudden and shocking realization with the usual problems travelers face, such as language barriers, money changing issues and homesickness, and something of a breakdown becomes a distinct possibility.
One other problem making Japanese people more susceptible is the short, intense trips that they often have to take because of lack of vacation time in their jobs. Other tourists might have a bit of time to acclimatize. Japanese tourists, on the other hand, may already be two days into an exhausting and gruelling tourist schedule by the time the condition takes hold, so tiredness could play a part.
Perhaps the answer is to make a Parisian version of a theme park that already exists in Nagasaki prefecture, which created a life-size Dutch town for visitors to stroll around. That way the Japanese are in control.
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