the paris syndrome

I still remember how I felt when I first arrived Paris. All the awe, overwhelm, the gasping that is the beauty of this City of Lights. But there is likewise a mix of shock & a little bit of dismay. I vividly recall speaking with a Thai friend about how one's smile can just disappear in Paris. Consumed by the speed of life, the stress, or that's just the way it is. It is not that hard to dive in the city's daily bustle that is so obvious even to a mere tourist. But living in Paris is a whole different story.

Last night, I saw a documentary on the Japanese expatriates in Paris & the mysterious syndrome simply called the Paris Syndrome. The show followed a Japanese couple on their honeymoon, accompanied by both their mothers (I know). First, one of the mothers almost had her purse snatched in the metro. Then in entering a shop, they couldn't believe how not even one salesperson attended to them. It is shocking for these Japanese tourists to experience both these normal scenes of Paris.

Then there's Kenzo, a Japanese writer doing a Paris-Tokyo back & forth for 10 years now, sharing his seemingly ordinary depression when he arrived Paris. He talked about the humiliation in ordering coffee in a café not because of the language handicap but on how the waiters handle their customers. He added that if he was the paranoid type, he would think that the waiter's disregard was because of him. He continued that Paris has so many opportunities to feel humiliated like when people cut lines where it is inexistent in Japan because of their culture of order & respect. And it is with the repetition of these daily episodes that Kenzo plunged into depression. He already had a serious back problem that worsened & necessitated a cane for him to walk. He found refuge in his apartment & refused to talk to anybody, especially to anybody French.

More than 700,000 Japanese tourists alone visit Paris & some 10 of those living here get hospitalized every year due to severe depression caused by the feeling of being oppressed by the French culture & its language that some even go to the extent of having neuroleptic treatments*. And I thought I was already sensitive & my having the occasional blues made me feel I'm losing it. At first I also felt humiliated with Paris' lack of customer service & especially its rudeness. I have also experienced my wallet almost being snatched in the metro. The other day in the supermarket, I was in line hestitating when I saw an old lady running as fast as she could, then she looked at me while she was cutting me in line. But all these scenes are ordinary & universal. In the Philippines, one might even cut you by pretending they don't even see you. At the worse, there are even no lines nor order when you're buying barbeque from the street vendor.

The Japanese are adorable people. They might even have invented the word polite. I've never been to Japan but I'm quite sure that like in the Philippines, there are places where you won't be treated as well as you expected & yes, but not as worse as in France though. But Paris still remains the world's number 1 destination & it's just probably that. The Parisians are so neck-high of tourists that at some point, they are just not that happy to see you. I know, we just cannot justify rudeness because respect is respect. That is why it's no wonder why the French are so uncomfortable with the kind of cutomer service they receive when visiting an Asian country. They are rather bothered, or surprised with this kindness they find outside France. But to add, going back to my last post, my cousin who visited Paris found the Parisians rather nice compared to where she lives (an Asian country).

My Thai friend & I might have lost our Asian smiles but we're not as fragile as to hit depression when we did experience the culture shock of living with the French. Afterall, the Paris Syndrome is exclusive to Japanese.

*facts from the show 66 minutes on M6, aired yesterday
More reads on the Japanese's Paris Syndrome here & here


From Manila to Paris, then to Marseille & to the Côte d'Azur, now in Singapore, clinging to a map of three worlds, where everything becomes all relative.


  1. very interesting... it's different here in Germany, people are distant but generally polite and when insistently smiled at, they eventually warm up. I think it has to do with the generation guilt of 2 world wars and all that ;-)

    the old ones are pretty distrustful but then most old ones everywhere are pretty grumpy anyway. customer service is not amazing but acceptable. and here there is order, no cutting in line, no short cuts, very disciplined, no wonder Japan and Germany allied together (man, that's pretty mean, hihihi) ;-)

    I think I may have mentioned an incident when some grocery attendant made me open up my very full bag which really pissed me off but when related to my husband, he said that she was probably just doing her job since my bag was very full after all. Incidents like this I try to brush off, when I get really pissed, I rant in English and act like a total bitch too, I think it evens it out... :D

  2. I totally agree that the German's more welcoming attitude might have something to do with their history. A German friend actually confirms it & added that they are more comfortable of speaking about this history.

    Again, I agree on Germany's discipline. Now living in the south of France, it feels closer to the Pinoy culture here - they take their time!

    The only thing about the Germany is that I find their language a bit impressive. They always sound like they're angry :) I think for us Filipinos, Europe is not too much of a culture shock for us. Should we thank our very Americanized culture for that?

  3. i agree, i think it's because we've also had a taste of colonization that we are not that intimidated of the western culture. or if we initially are, then we cope just nicely... :-)

    and the german language does sound like a person with a temper, hihihi, especially the ones from the northern part of germany...

  4. interesting makis. i still want to go to paris. i am sure it is not that bad, especially comparing it to manila.

    i like the smile and "how are you's" if it is sincere. i would rather be left alone if you are not sincere giving those.

    also, aren't japanese really prone to depression. do they have high suicide rate? maybe it's not paris...

    i read a book one time i think it was Le Divorce. one of the thing that was mentioned was that one of the complaint of french is that Americans smile a lot. it is true. i think the french are just less naive people. maybe they just know more about the world...who knows...

  5. i just read the articles. it is interesting. it is definitely cultural difference. travel makes us understand different cultures. they should probably educate japanese tourists or everyone who wants to visit paris regarding this. they should advise tourists not to personalize every insult and keep expectations realistic as paris is a big city and every big sity has problems...

  6. We really do cope well, Dennise:) I remember an Indonesian friend I met in our old barrio. Her husband was always out of town for business so she never really goes out except to do her groceries. She didn't want to take the train alone. A little bit a year or so after we met, she told me she met Indonesian friends in Marseille & she started taking the train & she started to learn to drive too. She was from Jakarta.

    Maybe it's also a difference of character because when I arrived Paris, my husband showed me how to use the metro once & off I went alone to explore Paris.

    Hi Loraine! Great to see you back here :) Yes, I heard that the Japanese are more prone to depression. And for Paris, they are like battered tourists - from the language barrier & the non-courtesy of the French. And visiting France is different from actually living here.

    You should really still visit Paris! We all have different reactions to different cities.

  7. My husband was the same, he did not baby me when I first got here, taught me how to read the tram routes, how to buy a ticket and validate it and then made me go to my Deutsch Kurs on my own after he showed me the ropes. Our initial reaction is to KEEP UP! And I think it'S so much better than to shy away...

    I have been to Paris once, just a 4 day, 3 night thing... I love the city, it is sooo beautiful but I hate the French drivers! It was in September and there was this street party of sorts in the bastille area that we somehow found ourselves in and suddenly, a riot started on the steps of that huge theater... some blacks were protesting and the police barged in and just tear gassed everyone and I HAD MY BABY WITH ME!!! and man, it was traumatic!

    But I would still want to go back... The city is truly breathtaking...

  8. OMG, what an experience! Tear gas, the only solution of the French police CRS. But I'm happy to hear that it won't stop you from revisiting the city :) What city is perfect, anyway?!