In the mid-nineties I was in Ginza, Tokyo, teaching French to francophile Japanese who only dreamed of France, especially of Pah-ree-ssuu. On certain days the school would hold a salon of sorts, where students could drop in and chat with an assigned instructor about various topics. Conversations would always turn around France, French songs, fashion and literature… Students would talk wildly about mid XXth century’s France: Boris Vian, Simone de Beauvoir, Edith Piaf and Louis Vuitton (I actually myself first learned of LV there!). There was such a crave on the students’ part to delve into these specific subjects. They often showed quite a bit of erudition in them too, enough to make us gaijins blush. I asked them how was it that being so far away from that specific culture they accumulated so much knowledge on it. They explained it wasn’t the topic itself that mattered, but the dream. ‘Yume’.
“The dream, you see, is what we must have. What we dream about is secondary, almost accessory: what is important is to have a personal interest in something else, something we will research about. Most of us have no intention of ever visiting France. “
- “But you SHOULD visit France! You are so interested in it! Go take a look for yourself!” I replied, naively.
Little did I know back then that actually, this was not such a great idea. I had not heard yet of the Paris Syndrome. Coined by a certain professor Hiroaki Ota in the eighties, the term refers to a disorder affecting mostly disillusioned Japanese visitors to Paris, who expect a fictional world of cafés, models and riches only to find a dirty, violence ridden megalopolis. The discrepancy is such that some people develop a full blown mental break down, to the point of having to be repatriated by their embassy. Whether the condition arises upon coming in contact with the “city of lights” or was already there to start with, only waiting to be triggered, is debatable.
The maker of this first video went on-site and interviewed visitors about their impression of Paris (note how all the girls seem to have adopted the oversize-scarf-around-the-neck look).
This second video offers a more comprehensive and complete insight about the so-called disease, and contains interviews with psychiatrists and specialists. As you will see, Paris Syndrome is not as simple and as silly as it sounds. It is worth the look!
What about you? Have you visited Paris and felt let down by the city and its people? Or have you been, on the contrary, pleasantly surprised? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.