A Japanese tourist, let’s call her Yoko, has just visited the Eiffel Tower. She took pictures, she wandered all day in Paris at a run with a group, and everything seemed to be going well, when suddenly, an anguish grips her. Yoko seems very shocked, and locks herself back in her hotel room. She doesn’t want to go out anymore, she has hallucinations, she is delirious. She is a victim of the “Paris syndrome”, which affects a few dozen tourists a year in Paris, in particular Japanese men and women – there are a majority of women there.
It was the psychiatrist Hiroaki Ôta who first put a word on this phenomenon, in an article in 1988. in 1987 – Hiroaki Ôta endeavored to understand the causes.
Language barrier and cultural gap
The Paris syndrome is caused when a traveler has, in a way, staked everything on the capital and its Iron Lady, and does not find the much vaunted beautiful myth in the images before him. “The disappointment linked to contact with daily reality is also a factor of incomprehension and anxiety, but also of disillusion and depression. The stereotypical image of Paris, a city of consumption of luxury goods, widely conveyed by news sources, does not stand up to everyday life: we are not all dressed by the great couturiers, our life is not only idle and cultural, politeness, refinement, gallantry “have fizzled out””, writes Hiroaki Ôta in a 2004 article.
Added to this are particular difficulties, which increase the patient’s isolation and anxiety. The language barrier, which causes in the Japanese lost in Paris a “feeling of strangeness”, and the gap with another culture, the Latin culture, which according to Hiroaki Ôta “allows fluctuations of mood”, “often direct interventions , sometimes excessive, even eccentric” which disconcerts Japanese tourists.
“The triggers change depending on the patient. This may be due to the sight of the rudeness of Parisians or the clash of cultures. Others cringe at the sight of filth in a city renowned for its street congestion program. Of course, there are also pickpockets,” explains psychotherapist and psychoanalyst Rodolphe Oppenheimer, who wrote an article on the subject.
Dizziness and cold sweats
It’s not just Japanese men and women. Contacted by 20 minutes, Rodolphe Oppenheimer says he saw Australians and Americans victims of this syndrome. “This translates into panic attacks, very strong anxiety. People sometimes feel like they are dying. But there are no sequelae, ”comments the practitioner, who cites other symptoms on his site: talking about Paris while wandering, dizziness and cold sweats, hallucinations. “These symptoms become more intense at the mere thought of visiting the capital,” he writes.
The practitioner treats these cases simply by talking: “They say to themselves “I have a stroke”, we explain to them that these are things we know, referenced, we reassure them about their health. It’s treated like a phobia. Rodolphe Oppenheimer compares this syndrome to two other, slightly different syndromes, called “Stendhal syndrome” and “Jerusalem syndrome”. Respectively caused by the shock of the encounter with a work of art, or with a strong religious experience, particularly in the Holy City, where a special police force intercepts people taking themselves for the messiah.
And the psychotherapist to confide in a personal experience: “When I was young, I met Julia Roberts. I was 16, and of course she had nothing to do with the wife of Pretty Woman. I didn’t have “Los Angeles Syndrome” (laughter), it was stealthy, but imagine someone who has waited a lifetime for this… In Japan, Paris is mythologized more than anywhere else. There is an expression in English that says “better leave the stars in the sky”. I believe that’s it! »