Last week I took a two-day trip to Paris for research. This post is my final post relating to the trip (after the posts my visit to the National Library of France (Bibliothèque nationale de France), my visit to the Concorde Memorials, my visit to the Paris Catacombs and Photographing Planes at Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport). Rather than being on a specific thing that I did during my brief trip, this one is capturing my overall impressions of my visit, with the conclusion (yet again) that Paris Syndrome is real.
If you are not familiar with Paris Syndrome, this is how it is described on Wikipedia:
Paris syndrome (French: syndrome de Paris, Japanese: パリ症候群, Pari shōkōgun) is a sense of disappointment exhibited by some individuals when visiting Paris, who feel that the city was not what they had expected. The condition is commonly viewed as a severe form of culture shock.
The syndrome is characterized by a number of psychiatric symptoms such as acute delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution (perceptions of being a victim of prejudice, aggression, and hostility from others), derealization, depersonalization, anxiety, and also psychosomatic manifestations such as dizziness, tachycardia, sweating, and others, such as vomiting.
While the syndrome has been particularly noted among Japanese tourists, it has also affected other travellers or temporary residents from eastern Asia, such as those from China, Singapore, and South Korea.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_syndrome
I first came across the term a number of years ago in relation to an article in the British media about Japanese tourists experiencing this phenomenon (some of what was in that article, not surprisingly, was inaccurate). That the introduction to the Wikipedia page, therefore, includes the Japanese term for it and points to it being particularly noted among Japanese tourists is, therefore, no surprise – in fact the term and concept was first developed by a Japanese academic (as the Wikipedia page goes on to discuss).
I have never clicked with Paris. I don’t know what it is. And again, this time, I came away thinking that I still do not like Paris. I could name within less than a minute at least 50 cities in Japan that I prefer to Paris, let alone cities around the world. Paris would not make my top 100 cities in the world.
Yet, I didn’t have any particularly unpleasant experiences this time associated with what Wikipedia describes. My concerns about petty crime and such like (perhaps heightened by re-reading ‘The Missing Sister’ by Elle Marr, which includes references to such incidents) were misplaced. Overall, the majority (well, all but one) of the French people I dealt with were perfectly charming and helpful.
So what was the problem? After all, I cannot claim to have suffered from the more severe reactions suggested in the Wikipedia page.
Part of the problem may be that I now go to Paris expecting not to like it, and, as a consequence I particularly see the problems. This issue of expectations and its impact on how we perceive a place is something that I also discuss in relation to Japan in Japan: The Basics.
I don’t like the expense of Paris (my hotel was dreadful – small, not that clean, hot, and the extractor fan fell down during the night, so I didn’t sleep well (the receptionist didn’t seem that bothered when I commented on the heat and fan and merely said that they would get someone to fix it) – and was crazily expensive… I could have got a cheaper one myself, but was restricted on choice due to a new booking system at my university). I also don’t like the underground trains and stations – which I find dark and unwelcoming. But, other than that, I cannot put my finger on exactly why I don’t like Paris.
Some of the reasons why I don’t like Paris, I could also point to reasons why I don’t like London. But I also like walking in both cities. After finishing at the Paris Catacombs I walked about four miles back to the area where my hotel was. Despite the heat, it was largely a pleasant walk and a great way to see the city. However, the walk also brought home another issue for me – one that is not just restricted to Paris, but one which seemed most stark in that 75-minute or so walk.
My walk had started having just come out of the catacombs where the remains of about 6 million people are beautifully preserved. I then walked by Notre Dame, under-going its rebuild after the fire in 2019, which led to many people sending in financial donations to help. By the time I neared the end of the walk, I was passing homeless people lying in their own shit and vomit (I mentioned before about the smell of urine at the Concorde Memorial – and such smells seem to be everywhere in Paris). Most major cities have homeless people, but to see so many in such awful conditions, with people (including myself, of course) walking by and not doing anything, right on the back of seeing how some are prepared to pay money for a building to be re-built or how dead bodies are preserved, really pained me. I can never claim that I do enough to help resolve the problem of homelessness, but the issue has been bugging me more and more in recent years (coming up in my novels Hijacking Japan and FOUR). And then I came to a realisation. Perhaps I was not suffering from Paris Syndrome, it’s Human Syndrome. Maybe I’m just fed up with how poorly humans treat each other and how poor aspects of modern societies have become.
I don’t know when/if I will return to Paris next. I will do my best to go with a better frame of mind (for one reason or another I was probably not in a good place to start off with on this trip) when/if I go again. Also, I should make clear, despite my comment at the end of the previous paragraph, my issue is primarily with Paris. Paris does not equal France, and vice-versa, just as Tokyo is not Japan. There are many places in France that I love.
Despite the negativity of this post, overall the trip was great and I achieved what I wanted to achieve there. So, I will finish this post with the observation that I made while sitting at CDG waiting to return to the UK…