The "City of Light" can be blinding. So much so, that some say it can drive you mad.
Budding tourists often head over to the French capital after being fed images of "gay Paree" from fanciful Hollywood movies, Impressionist paintings, and adverts of well-dressed women on bikes. When they get off the plane, they’re greeted by gray clouds, graffiti, rude taxi drivers, and homeless kids. It isn’t all Sartre, Chanel, and cigarettes. Like all cities, Paris is a place of extremes. For some this intense juxtaposition is said to be so severe it can result in “Paris Syndrome”.
This phenomenon is only reported in the French capital, more or less only among Japanese tourists. Seemingly out of the blue, the distressed visitors can reportedly experience intense dizziness, sweating, increased heart rate, psychosis, hallucinations, depersonalization, derealization, and delusions of persecution. Supposedly, it's like a vivid and exclusive form of culture shock.
This is certainly intriguing but is there any truth behind it?
"Paris Syndrome" has previously made numerous headlines and was even the subject of a study in the French psychiatric journal Nervure in 2004 led by Professor Hiroaki Ota, a Japanese psychiatrist working in France. Between 1988 to 2004, the study revealed that “63 Japanese patients have been hospitalized in our department, still in acute condition” from the phenomenon. The authors went on to point out the factors which they believed were behind this unusual scenario. Most simply, it’s likely that exhaustion from the long-haul flights, jet lag, and overworking on business trips can provoke stress among visitors.
City livin' ain't easy: A man slumps down on a set of steps in Paris. Elvin/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
The new and unknown environment can also further act as a stressor. As mentioned, it’s also said to be associated with a disappointment and antipathy at the new environment. Paris on a rainy day can look and feel a lot different to the movie Amélie and there’s certainly less singing than in An American in Paris. On top of that, the language barrier and juxtaposition of culture can leave visitors feeling isolated and bewildered.
"With regards to Paris Syndrome, it is clear that some people who have travelled long distances may not cope particularly well with both the travel itself and the change in cultural, social and physical environment," Dr Nicolas Geeraert, a psychologist at the University of Essex in the UK, who has carried out extensive research on culture shock among international students, told IFLScience. "It is not inconceivable that such an event may be the trigger or the onset of a previously undetected latent mental disorder.”
However, he stressed "There is an important nuance here. I am skeptical that the travel would cause any mental disorder. Instead, I would imagine the travel could have been the proverbial "last straw" for those few individuals that are reported to have suffered from the Paris Syndrome."