A new documentary discusses a bizarre affliction that has been widely (and uncritically) reported in the media to affect around a dozen of the approximately one million Japanese tourists who visit Paris each year. Paris Syndrome is said to occur when a combination of factors leave tourists with a particularly severe case of culture shock.
Symptoms are purported to include:
‘acute delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution (perceptions of being a victim of prejudice, aggression, or hostility from others), derealization, depersonalization, anxiety, and also psychosomatic manifestations such as dizziness, tachycardia (and) sweating’ – Wikipedia
Due to the relatively microscopic numbers reported, it seems to me to be all too likely that Paris has become the unfortunate victim of an illusory correlation. After all, twelve out of one million is a number that doesn’t immediately strike me as particularly statistically significant, to say the least. To put this figure in to perspective, seven per thousand of the adult population are expected to suffer a schizophrenic episode at some point in their life. That is the equivalent of seven thousand per million, a number which suddenly makes twelve per million sound much smaller indeed.
Unfortunately, there is little by the way of well documented reports or case studies of Paris Syndrome and Professor Hiroaki Ota, the author of the original report1 published in a French psychiatric magazine, appears somewhat impossible to contact. It is certainly stirring to entertain the thought that perhaps something as seemingly benign (to a modern western generation) as a holiday to Paris, could spark a breakdown so severe it requires the victim to seek refuge and be accompanied back to their home country. In many ways there is some logic to the idea, there has certainly been plenty of theorising by the media and the internet’s hivemind. In reality however, the explanation for this peculiar condition may come down to chance as much as it does to the cultural relationship between Parisians and their Japanese guests.
1. 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”. Neuvure de journal Psychiatrie, 5, 31-34
NB: I couldn’t figure out how to access the article referenced by the documentary, if anyone has access and the time and inclination to translate it from French I’d greatly appreciate it.
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