French connections: A beginner’s guide to Paris Syndrome
While researching a previous blog on Stendhal Syndrome, I came across various references to a number of “city syndromes”. According to an interesting book chapter by Nadia Halim, city syndromes are “acute, (usually) short-lived disorders that have in common a similar set of symptoms and pattern of onset and recovery”. Each of the city syndromes that have been identified in the psychological literature is associated with a specific tourist destination (e.g., Jerusalem, Paris, Florence) and identified by medical practitioners (usually psychiatrists) when sufferers access mental health services. In essence, the condition is a type of ‘culture shock’ where an individual becomes psychologically disorientated when they experience new environments that feel alien to them.
One such city syndromes is ‘Paris Syndrome’, a psychological condition that appears to affect Japanese tourists only, suggesting that it is some kind of culture bound syndrome. According to an article in the BBC News, Paris Syndrome was first identified in 1986 by Professor Hiroaki Ota (a Japanese psychiatrist who was working in France at the time). The condition is said to cause mental breakdown when visiting the city. The incidence of the disorder is very small as reports estimate that only 10-20 people a year suffer out of millions of tourists. However, the only ‘cure’ is for the affected individuals to return back to Japan.
As far as I am aware, there are only a couple of academic papers that have been published on Paris Syndrome. The first one was a case study published in a 1998 issue of the Journal of the Nissei Hospital by Dr. Katada Tamami. This was a report of a male manic-depressive who shortly after visiting Paris presented with symptoms of insomnia, fluctuation of mood, aggression, irritation and increase in sex drive. Tamami noted that being separated from his family, and living alone in Paris, the man had an identity crisis as in Paris he was no longer a father or professor. His fantasy and idealization of Paris played a large part in his abnormal behaviour.
The second paper was by a group of French psychiatrists in a 2004 issue in the French psychiatry journal Nervure. The authors reported that between 1988 and 2003, a total of 63 Japanese patients had been hospitalized because of the condition (with a slight bias towards females in their 30s). Although the number of affected patients was relatively low, the Japanese Embassy arranged for a Japanese psychiatrist to work in the authors’ hospital (i.e., St. Anne’s Hospital). In fact, the Japanese Embassy has a 24-hour telephone hotline for Japanese tourists suffering from severe culture shock. The paper claimed that for affected individuals, the city of Paris held a “quasi-magical” attraction and that it was characteristically “symbolic of all the aspects of European culture that are admired in Japan”. A Wikipedia article on Paris Syndrome claims that: “the susceptibility of Japanese people may be linked to the popularity of Paris in Japanese culture”. The same article also noted that:
“Mario Renoux, the president of the Franco-Japanese Medical Association, states in Liberation’s article ‘Des Japonais entre mal du pays et mal de Paris” (December 13, 2004) that Japanese magazines are primarily responsible for creating this syndrome. Renoux indicates that Japanese media, magazines in particular, often depict Paris as a place where most people on the street look like fashion models and most women dress in high-fashion brands”.
The symptoms of Paris Syndrome are typically transient and include anxiety attacks, violent and aggressive outbursts, feelings of persecution, acute psychotic delusions (of paranoia, megalomania, erotomania and/or mysticism), dissociative and/or disoriented feelings, depersonalization, derealization, psychomotor abnormalities (e.g., dizziness, sweating, tachycardia), and – in some cases – thoughts of suicide. Interviews with the affected individuals revealed that the Japanese arrive in the city with highly romanticized expectations and that many had spent years dreaming of coming to Paris before doing it in actuality.
The authors of the paper published in Nervure identified two fundamentally different types of the syndrome based on previous psychiatric problems and when the symptoms occurred:
- Type 1 [Classic]: These individuals typically have a problematic psychiatric history and may travel to Paris for idiosyncratic “strange” or delusional reasons. However, the onset of the symptoms is immediate upon arrival in Paris (and may even begin in the airport).
- Type 2 [Delayed Expression]: These individuals do not usually have a personal and/or familial psychiatric history. The reasons for visiting Paris are typically for ‘normal’ travelling reasons but the onset of the symptoms is much later than the ‘classic’ type (i.e., three months or longer after arriving in Paris).
As an example of the first type of sufferer, the paper described the case of a 39-year-old Japanese woman with a history of schizophrenia that was hospitalized following a psychotic breakdown on her immediate arrival in Paris. She had come to Paris following an advertizing campaign that had the tagline: “France is waiting for you”. She took it to mean it was her personal destiny to go there and claimed she was going to become the queen of one of the Scandinavian countries (“Sweden, Finland or Denmark”). As an example of the second type of sufferer, the paper described the case of a 30-year-old Japanese man with no previous psychiatric history who came to France for educational reasons. The onset of the symptoms was five months after arriving in France and started when he moved into a Paris hotel (after initially studying in Reims). He was hospitalized after experiencing severe anxiety, insomnia, anorexia, and auditory hallucinations (i.e., voices threatening to kill him and his family).
One of the factors that appear to be common among sufferers is that they appear to be highly unprepared for the reality of day-to-day life in the city (e.g., the marked cultural differences, the great difference in language, the difference in public manners and behaviours, etc.). It is these differences that appear to act as a trigger for the onset of the behaviour. The most salient trigger for Paris Syndrome is thought to be the language barrier. Another factor appears to be intense exhaustion caused by trying to cram in as much as possible in the short time available for sightseeing alongside the effects of jetlag. Such factors are said to contribute to the psychological destabilization of some Japanese visitors. Another French physician (Youcef Mahmoudia) working at the hospital Hotel-Dieu de Paris claimed that Paris Syndrome was “a manifestation of psychopathology related to the voyage, rather than a syndrome of the traveller” and hypothesized that it was the excitement resulting from visiting Paris that caused the psychosomatic symptoms (e.g., increased heart rates, dizziness, etc.).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Angelique, C. (2006). Paris syndrome hits Japanese. The Guardian, October 25. Located: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/oct/25/japan.france
Fastovsky N, Teitelbaum A, Zislin J, et al (2000). The Jerusalem syndrome. Psychiatric Services, 5, 1052.
Halim, N. (2009). Mad tourists: The “vectors” and meanings of city-syndromes. In K. White (Ed.), Configuring Madness. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press.
Monden, C. (2005). Development of psychopathology in international tourists. In van Tilburg, M. & Vingerhoets, A. (Eds.), Psychological Aspects of Geographical Moves: Homesickness and Acculturation Stress (pp. 213-226). Amsterdam: Amsterdam Academic Archive.
Tamami, K. (1998). Reflexions on a case of Paris syndrome. Journal of the Nissei Hospital, 26, 127-132.
Viala, A., Ota, H., Vacheron, M.N., Martin, P., & Caroli, F. (2004). Les Japonais en voyage pathologique à Paris: Un modèle original de prise en charge transculturelle. Nervure (supplement), 17(5), 31-34.
Wikipedia (2012). Paris Syndrome. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_syndrome
Wyatt, C. (December 20, 2006). Paris Syndrome strikes Japanese. BBC News, December 20/ Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/6197921.stm
Posted on November 13, 2013, in Case Studies, Culture Bound Syndromes, Gender differences, Mania, Obsession, Popular Culture, Psychiatry, Psychological disorders, Psychology and tagged City syndromes, Culture shock, Hallucinations, Japanese tourists, Jerusalem Syndrome, Manic depression, Paris Syndrome, Psychological delusions, Schizophrenia, Stendhal Syndrome. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.