The British often say the only trouble with France is it’s full of French people!
But, it’s not only the British who have trouble with the French it seems. There is a condition called “Paris Syndrome” which is a type of Culture Shock especially experienced by the Japanese when visiting Paris – born out of unmet expectations of an idealised, romantic view of Paris and the reality of their experiences and encounters with the ‘rude’ French.

This syndrome was brought to my attention recently by a delegate on my course – I thought he was ‘pulling my leg’ (joking with me) – but, no, he was deadly serious.  So after a bit of research I discovered that Professor Hiroaki Ota, a Japanese psychiatrist living in France, was the first to identify the condition “Paris Syndrome” – concerning psychological breakdowns experienced by Japanese citizens travelling to Paris.

Shocking reality!

Japanese travellers often hold idealistic views of Paris, mostly concerning culturally specific expectations of service industry customs, societal manners, and urban hygiene. When Paris doesn’t live up to these expectations, a small group of travellers may descend into depression. Often, depression turns into psychosis, and leads to medical treatment.

The Japanese are used to a polite and helpful society where voices, raised in anger, are rarely heard, so coming up against the volatile French was a shock.  According to a BBC article by Caroline Wyatt, “An encounter with a rude taxi driver, or a Parisian waiter who shouts at customers who cannot speak fluent French, might be laughed off by those from other Western cultures. But for the Japanese, the experience of their dream city turning into a nightmare can simply be too much.

What factors induce “Paris Syndrome”:

  1. Language difference:  few Japanese speak French and vice versa. This is believed to be the principal cause and is thought to engender the remainder. Apart from the obvious differences between French and Japanese, many everyday phrases and idioms have a cultural context, meaning and substance which, when translated, add to the confusion – as they can’t be translated properly.  Also, some Japanese speak English (as a universal language) and naively try to use English on French territory… which is not always a good idea!
  2. Cultural Differences:  the large difference between not only the languages but the manner. The Japanese are deemed to be too polite for France.  Also, the French can communicate on an informal level in comparison to the rigidly formal Japanese culture, which proves too great a difficulty for some Japanese visitors. It is thought that it is the rapid and frequent fluctuations in mood, tense and attitude, especially in the delivery of humour, which cause the most difficulty.
  3. Idealised image: the Japanese have a popular romantic image of Paris which doesn’t match up to its reality.  It’s the inability to reconcile the disparity which causes the problem.
  4. Exhaustion: added to the above, many visitors try to cram too much into their trip, especially after such a long haul flight and the jet lag.

So, how common is this?

On average, up to 12 Japanese tourists a year fall victim to it, mainly women in their 30s with high expectations of what may be their first trip abroad. To address this, the Japanese embassy now has a 24-hour hotline for those suffering from severe culture shock, and can help find hospital treatment for anyone in need.


“Paris syndrome” is a transient psychological disorder encountered by some people visiting or vacationing in Paris. It is characterized by acute delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution (delusions of being a victim of prejudice, aggression, or hostility from others), derealization, depersonalization, anxiety, and also psychosomatic manifestations such as dizziness, tachycardia, sweating, etc. Japanese visitors are observed to be especially susceptible, and twelve to twenty Japanese tourists a year are affected. It was first noted in Nervure, the French journal of psychiatry in 2004.

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This entry was posted on Monday, July 11th, 2011 at 2:32 pm and is filed under cross-cultural differences, culture shock & stuff, East Asia, Europe, General . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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