Culture

Paris Syndrome


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Ginza, Tokyo

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. “

yume_gyousyo

- “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).

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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!

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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.

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13 thoughts on “Paris Syndrome

  1. As a matter of fact, I did visit Paris in my early twenties and I did get the “Paris Syndrome”.
    People are rude, the city is dirty and whatever architectural treasures are left are buried under signs of all shapes and sizes.
    I don’t think I ever want to go back, no matter how “romantic” it is purported to be.

  2. Philippe, I’m so sorry this was your experience. I share it too! However the rest of France is quite different. As they say, Paris n’est pas la France, right?

  3. I just visited Paris last month with my husband and son. As a current French major, I tried to speak French everywhere I went, or at least to start out the conversation in French. I admit that my French still needs a great deal of work, particularly my comprehension skills, but I did find it sometimes disheartening that many of the French–particularly waiters and waitresses–were condescending and somewhat rude. I understand that it must be frustrating to have to deal with so many people who don’t speak your language or speak it well, but I had hoped that they would appreciate that I was trying to communicate with them in French.

    This did sometimes put a damper on the trip for me, and I left there having no desire to read or speak French for a while. As my school semester is getting ready to start, I know I have to get over this, and I know I will. Also, we still had a fabulous time and enjoyed seeing the beautiful city, but it was a relief to head to London as our next stop and enjoy the opposite of our French experience–very friendly waiters and people in general.

    I still intend to return to Paris, however, and I won’t let some rudeness stop me from further exploring and enjoying such a lovely, history-rich city and country.

    Thanks for the great topic and article!
    Christi Atherton

  4. Bonjour Marie,
    An excellent article and videos. I have a case study for you. I rented my flat to a Japanese student who came to Paris to learn French. She came down with Paris Syndrome. I had a very difficult year trying to help her. She will be returning to Japan soon. I, myself, am from New York City/Montreal. I have been living in Paris for +20 years. I have never had any problem adapting to the Parisian way of life. Even if the Paris syndrome makes reference to Japanese, it is true that I have seen many different nationalities come down with the Syndrome. They had to leave Paris as soon as they could. If you need more information about the Japanese girl and her story, please feel free to contact me.
    A bientôt,
    Joy

  5. Joy, you had first hand experience in the matter! How generous of you to have helped this student for a whole year. Thanks to you, she was able to complete a year, and will know that not all French are rude (although you are not, technically, French!)

    • Bonjour Marie,
      Je suis francaise! But, personally, I really do not think one needs to be of a particular nationality to help a sick person. Living in a big city requires certain behaviour. Many people are simply naive if thinking that people are universally the same everywhere.
      Even French from the provinces find it difficult to adapt to Paris, which should make tourists feel better, right?
      A bientôt,
      Joy

  6. I haven’t visited Paris recently and if memory serves me right, I had taken a 2 month break from London in 1987 to explore that effervescent city and look for employment there. It was true that waiters and taxi drivers had an abrupt demeanour even then, but the general public were quite polite and sometimes very friendly. I found it hard to get employment by virtue of the fact that I had had no previous experience of ever having worked in France before, even though my French was quite fluent and as a British National getting a work permit would surely have not been difficult. Recruitment consultants would verify that my French was very close to that of a native- although today, it is somewhat rusty. People I met were quite proud of their heritage and went on to some lengths reminiscing about Simone de Beauvoire and Jean Paul Sartre frequenting the cafes around the Boulevard St Germain and I happily allowed myself to be caught in that time warp. Sadly, without work my funds were quickly running out and I was speedily transported back to London by hovercraft. But now as I reflect on it, my “sejours” in Paris feel as though they were just a figment of my imagination! No, seriously, Paris will be a very different place today and reading the posts on this site is allowing me to experience the Paris of today. The Paris Syndrome, it seems is that perception about the good old days of glamour and decadence juxtaposed against the stark brutal reality of today. The illusion is clearly shattered – violence and crime will surely rear its ugly head as people struggle to survive today and that effervescence is no more manifest.

  7. Hi Christi. Perhaps it’s because they could tell you wasted 4 years and a whole lot of money studying French in a classroom and then couldn’t even speak it as well as a dedicated linguist who spends just two months living in France.

  8. Hmm… David, so you’re saying 2 months living somewhere makes you more fluent in the language than 4 years studying it? Why do ì have doubts about this, I wonder…
    Paris waiters have a reputation to be rude, many times verified.

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