Atlantic Cities

Paris Syndrome: Could Any Other City Produce This Bizarre Affliction?

Paris Syndrome: Could Any Other City Produce This Bizarre Affliction?
Reuters

There's a fascinating piece by Chelsea Fagan's over at TheAtlantic.com about the Paris Syndrome, an apparently real disorder, somewhat similar to a panic attack, that has afflicted at least 20 tourists this year while visiting the City of Lights. Most Paris Syndrome sufferers have been Japanese tourists, and the cause of their symptoms, which include "acute delusions, hallucinations, dizziness, sweating, and feelings of persecution," is thought to be linked to extreme disappointment that Paris is not always the magical, romantic wonderland it's so often made out to be in the movies:

The shock of coming to grips with a city that is indifferent to their presence and looks nothing like their imagination launches tourists into a psychological tailspin which, in at least six cases this year, necessitated the patient being flown back to his or her country under medical supervision. Usually, though, bed rest and hydration seem to take care of the problem within a few days. The Japanese Embassy, though, has had no shortage of people who, in the throes of the Syndrome, call or visit to be reassured that the city is not going to collapse in upon them.

This illness seems to have taken its place as the 21st century gout -- just slightly too privileged a problem to sympathize with. One imagines women with large, ornate folding fans fainting on street corners and mustachioed men's monocles dropping, with a little tinkle, into champagne glasses. Yet, for those who succumb to it, Paris Syndrome and its after-effects are very, very real. Sufferers have reported being traumatized by the experience, of fearing ever traveling again.

Every city has its stereotypes, and Paris's "problem" here does indeed seem somewhat laughable: the picture of it in the minds of much of the world is incredibly idealized, or as Fagan puts it, we "imagine the whole city just smells like Chanel No. 5 and has a government-mandated mime on every corner." Upon realizing this is not really the case, tourists with more delicate constitutions can apparently have a surprisingly difficult time coping.

Are there any other cities that have such strong stereotypes that tourists could fall prey to a similar psychological shock? It's hard to think of any that have quite the same level of overwhelmingly positive media portrayals, but perhaps a Barcelona Syndrome or a Venice Syndrome are not far behind. On the flip side, cities with significantly outdated negative stereotypes seem ripe for further study: the New York Syndrome, for example, could be brought on when a New Yorker smiles and says "hello" to a stranger on the street, or the Philadelphia Syndrome upon meeting perfectly pleasant local sports fans.

Sommer Mathis is editor of The Atlantic Cities. Previously she spent five years editing and reporting on the D.C. metro area at DCist.com and TBD.com. All posts »

Join the Discussion