Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Paris syndrome (wikipedia.org)
74 points by ejr on July 27, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 70 comments

Seems like a variant of culture shock[1] which has similar characteristics. The difference being the degree of anxiety experienced seems to be particularly acute for a minority of Japanese tourists in Paris.

Anthropologists and ethnographers are trained in, and can experience severe culture shock since their goal is often immersion to learn more about a culture. Panic attacks in severe cases of culture shock are not uncommon, one of my professors did a stint in Spain and lost it when she saw a slaughtered pig being carried through a market place. She described being short of breath, and other classic symptoms of a panic attack.

Another instance I know of is a Japanese American female anthropologist being immersed into Japanese culture while staying as a guest at a family. She found herself panicking at the supermarket. After nearly a year there, dressed in "homewear" with a stroller and the family's children looking to buy food to make for the night's dinner, in the midst of the crushing social obligations she had such an identity crisis right then and there that she abandoned ship and moved in with a friend she knew in Tokyo. She still finished her book, which is really good.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_shock

What's the name of the book?

The name of the book is "Crafting Selves" by Dorinne Kondo


I never perceived Paris as a particularly welcoming or friendly city, and I imagine few people do. All the things you read about the Gallic Shrug and general rudeness are absolutely true there, but I found you can have amazing fun if you just choose to be entertained by it instead. In the end, it all boils down to the fact that in Paris, nobody will help you with anything. On the other hand, it's mostly a city where you don't actually need a lot of help to get by. If you can manage to blend in and not care about strangers, it's quite a fun place.

The article itself portrays very well that Paris syndrome is probably not real (in a statistical sense). There is a big number of tourists in the city at any given moment, some of them will statistically snap during their stay. I do like the theory that disillusionment and added stress contribute to the timing, though - especially if the trip was expensive.

Since the article mentions it, Jerusalem syndrome is similar but qualitatively different. Many people who go there are not just tourists. I'd wager that for over 90% of travelers there the city has some kind of religious significance. They are essentially pilgrims. And you'd have to be to want to go there: the city itself is a dirty, oppressive mess filled with scary people and shady salesmen.

Combining these factors, it wouldn't surprise me if the incidence of Jerusalem syndrome was much higher than Paris, mostly due to the clientele but also the city itself.

Now Stendhal syndrome is more interesting: it's a generalized description of these kind of psychotic breaks, though they are mostly understood to be a little bit more benign than Jerusalem syndrome. By definition, these effects are attributed to exposure of a susceptible individual to an object of great personal importance, such as a piece of art. In this context, the same pattern of breakdowns has been studied with tourists who snap while visiting Florence.

in Paris, nobody will help you with anything

This is absolutely untrue. My French is sub-intermediate, I've been perhaps five times, and I've never had a bad experience. Plenty of people have been super friendly and I've had great conversations with people just hanging around on the street waiting for a store to open or having a break from walking.

Perhaps the core of the problem here is that many people who visit Paris are not well traveled and have only limited empathy for the seen-it-all-before-99-times-a-day locals.

I mean, if I was busy and had a job to do, and by fate alone simply happened to be near some generic tourist attraction or other, and had whiney American/English/Russian/Chinese tourists come and ask me where the closest vegan restaurant or crossfit gym was ten times an hour like clockwork, I'd also get to the point of shrugging.

This is the same genre of people who, when you ask them where they are from, answer "America", because they're honestly unaware that it's blatantly obvious to everyone else and the interlocutor was curious about city or state.

We can put it down to cultural discontinuities. They are a blessing we should revel in them while we can, because it seems that all roads lead to generic globalized interactions in a minority of languages with increasingly unsophisticated speakers and reduced cultural appreciation.

> I've never had a bad experience.

Last month, I was there, I made the mistake of being there with a man of colour, he was thrust violently against the wall and frisked until a Blonde lady asked what they thought they were doing. They quickly said OK and left, no apology, no explanation.

Sure in my home town of London stop and search happens all the time, but the problem is with Paris it is romantacised to something far more than it is. This makes people all the more disappointed. In London that kind of behavior by police would be considered unacceptable. I would have demanded badge numbers and made a formal complaint.

Now this is just one anecdote, and in my many trips to Paris, that's not happened before, but Paris is marketed, idealised so heavily, you don't expect it.

To me that is the problem. Expectation management.

No, Paris is objectively bad for this - even French tourists from other regions will say so. Even Parisians will say so. That said, it is an error to attribute it to any racial characteristics, as French people outside of Paris (and to a lesser extent Marseille) are absolutely lovely and welcoming.

It's more a case of the stress of living in a big city, and in that respect mirrors the reputations that New York and London have in their own country (it always makes me chuckle to hear Americans complaining about how abrupt New Yorkers are, as a non-American I consider the baseline of friendliness of Americans to be so high that even the lower than average New Yorker still rates high on the friendliness scale in a global sense).

Many of the tourists that go to Paris are what I'd categorize as 'ugly'. To the point that by the end of my trip, I just bluntly told people I don't speak English.

If you realize that people in Paris have lives (not unlike New York), and don't accost everyone you see for directions to X before looking at a map, and you actually introduce yourself when talking to a local, you'll have a great time.

And while I speak French, I also spent a lot of time with my sister speaking English, and the language used didn't seem to matter. If you can drop the tourist mentality, just go, hang out in cafés, and actually experience the culture and Paris lifestyle, you'll find Parisians are perfectly nice people, possibly a little busy, and the attitude stems more from dealing with hordes of people that come from foreign places who apparently can't be bothered to learn manners...

And another thing I've noticed, we have some tourist spots here (Canada), namely the rocky mountains and national parks, and Japanese tourists will come in hordes, on buses, taking pictures of everything and not really interacting with anyone else. That's a recipe for disappointment...

No, Parisians suck. They will tell you that themselves if you ask. I say this as someone that has been living in Paris since 2003, so I think I have a pretty good handle in the city.

I thought I expressed this in my comment, but I'm not challenging the fact that you can have a good time in Paris. That's not the issue. The issue here is people who do have a bad experience, and if that happens in what manner the city itself may contribute to it.

Your comment contains a lot of assumptions about the people visiting Paris, and since I wrote the parent, the assumptions are presumably about me as well. You are mistaken.

People can have a bad experience anywhere. There is nothing specific to Paris.

If you showed up in NYC and started randomly accosting people in French you'd definitely have a bad experience. Yet Americans do the same in Paris and wonder why people are rude to them...

That, too, isn't the issue. But I can't answer a comment criticizing my impression of Paris without referring to Paris, can I? Also, please refer to my first comment, I was trying to make a more general case you might agree with.

4 day visit with wife in 2010. Paris for me :

Groups of women with clipboards surrounding you trying to pick pocket when you hold the clipboard.

The horrible wedding ring women and the blokes that are always nearby.

The wrist bracelet creeps. Don't let them grab your wrist, they won't let go unless you pay (saw this happen).

Tricked by "helpful" man who gave us fake tickets in exchange for real money. I know. Naive.

These sets of cunts really pissed me off. I was glad to get back to to UK I felt safer, I didn't get the impression the police in Paris were tackling the issue.

Otherwise very nice and I should go again a bit wiser (just said that for a balanced post).

Yes, these are awful (and not only in Paris)

And the police are not tackling them, but not being naive is a good advice anywhere.

Keep off the tourist path and you'll have a much greater time.

It's hard to keep off the tourist path on the first visit to Paris with an innocent child-like wife! Next time though I'll enjoy it and put more effort into finding the best places to go.

Yes, I understand. Yes, "you have to see the Eiffel tower" (I did that as well)

The police try to tackle them, but it's very difficult. A lot of pickpockets are children.

Not an easy problem to solve.

It's the same scams you can encounter in any city in Europe...

Outside of UK I've only been to Paris, never seen this kind of thing in London/Manchester but I've read about the same thing happening in Rome and Barcelona.

You're never a true tourist in any of the cities in the UK, you're still in your home country, so you're highly unlikely to be a target. These crimes almost always target foreign tourists quite specifically, they're far easier (and usually also individually more profitable) marks for a multitude of reasons.

I'v been a tourist in London several times (before moving there last year). Never had anything like this happen to me. No crazy Roma ladies trying to scam you. Worst you'll get is homeless people asking for some change.

Makes sense that

I've seen it and worse in both London and Manchester. I was attacked in Manchester several times for the heinous crime of being a student, which led to my changing Uni. Not a city I care to visit anytime soon.

I don't blame you after that, I apologise on behalf of the decent 99% of Mancunians. Maybe it's 90% +

You might be experiencing selection bias? I suspect that petty criminals tend to target perceived outsiders over locals - they are less canny and it is easier to avoid empathizing with your victim.

Also makes sense as does similar comment. Not convinced though, I should at least see it going on even if it wasn't happening to me.

Paris-fetishization isn't limited to the japanese. In other asian countries paris is also put on a pedestal as some sort of cultural and fashion peak of civilisation. Just a few weeks ago I was talking to a thai girl who excitedly told me that her lifelong dream was to go to paris - it's so built up there; marketing, films, the setting for drama, and yet some locals seem to lack the context to apply the same sort of reality checks they'd naturally apply to marketing treatment of something more familiar.

Paris is a lovely city, in parts, but the "media hologram" builds it up as more than that - it's a utopia, the birthplace of romance and art, a lifestyle. And maybe it is, but not the theme park portrayed in the media. So I found myself wondering what that girl really expects if she ever does make it there, and whether reality would match up to her dream.

Right, like the Paris replica ghost city they built in China. It captures people's imagination as the perfect cultural city:


It's not just Paris. They also built a Manhattan replica ghost city: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/world/chinas-hangover/chin...

I think many countries hold the same idealization for New York City.

That fascination sounds kinda like how many young people where I live relate to the US, though for different reasons.

Fun story : i used to live near the "moulin rouge". Every time i walked to the subway station, from which you can see the moulin rouge, i could see the face of tourists as they climbed up the stairs : first they were a bit surprised because they didn't seem to see it. Then, as they walked up a bit more i could see their face decompose as they realize that that small red stuff stuck between a giant coca cola ad and an old building was actualy the moulin rouge.

Went to Paris last month. As I left the Blanche metro station that was my reaction. Just turned back and went elsewhere.

But, still, your town is one of the most wonderful cities in the world. From the places I visited I would tie it at the top with Venice.

Yeah, I a french guy I would never send a foreigner there. It's something of the past, but in modern time it's not interesting, we're not in 1920 anymore.

But still, the show in the moulin rouge is absolutely amazing, isn't it? That's what the people are for there...

My wife and I caught the show there a few years ago. The audience was mostly Japanese businessmen.

I wonder if there is an ironic mirror syndrome, for Americans who grew up on Japanese media, working as English teachers in Tokyo. Symptoms include a sudden need to acquire custom bingo cards.

> Symptoms include a sudden need to acquire custom bingo cards.

And to make appointment reminders.

I'am french and from paris. Yes it's true that paris can have some awful side, but there is some beautiful side too. I'am fond of urbex so i've discovered some place that even parisian don't know. And i know a lot of place in paris restaurant pub. If you want to have a good travel take a guide or contact someone local who can give you some tips. I always do that when i go to foreign country. Generaly i visit the local hackerspace and i ask my contacts in other undergrounds if they know someone or some place. Or i contact some people from the undergrounds that i know for advice. Exemple : There s burner everywhere in the world.

I think burners are not likely to be averse to strange mental states and are therefore significantly less likely to collapse in a sulking heap realizing their entire life to date in <home country> with its immense <economic/social> pressure has been a <well-choreographed cubicle waltz/waste of time/linguistic desert> and they should have just left... or that they can't order food.

It's hardly fully representative, either, but for a bit of contrast, one can watch the recent series "Engrenages" (English title: "Spiral").

I've never been to Tokyo, but I've always wanted to, and I wonder if I'll experience a variant of Paris Syndrome if I do... I expect I will, the Tokyo I hope for is some sort of geek paradise, filled with surprising cultural artifacts, but modern culture is so global now I wonder how much surprise will be left.

When I went there for the first time it was a kind of opposite Paris Syndrome. "Tokyo Syndrome". I expected more of a Cyberpunk city. It still was but it was the absolutely clean and working version of it. Everything I've heard of or seen was really there also. All the small streets, those weird shops, strange food, unbelievably different people. I had the feeling that the Japanese are what people thing of Germans. Everything is working so well. The view was stunning. I went to the hotel where they filmed Lost in Translation and it was even BETTER. OK now I really sound like a guy who dresses in furry costumes...but believe me, I don't. I just loved it :)

Additionally, in my Japan experiences, if you politely ask someone for help in Japanese (no matter how terrible your pronunciation / syntax) they will go out of their way to help. I had the exact opposite experience in France.

Unfortunately this goes so far that (like in my case) you ask someone for directions, they don't know it and still show you some way ;)

Basically it's when you realize that it's just another bullshit town. (Though personally, I still love Paris.)

I kind of had the opposite reaction. ("Paris syndrome syndrome"?) I kept hearing from tourists that Paris was a shitty town, Parisians are rude, nobody in France likes Paris, etc. But after spending a few weeks there, I really grew to love the place. The parks were lovely, the food was great and inexpensive (if you went to the markets and bakeries instead of always going out), the weather was fantastic, and it was a perfect walking city. Nobody was ever rude to me, though perhaps it's because I always approached people with my broken French before requesting to switch to English (if needed).

On the other hand, I expected to love London and Barcelona, but they fell flat for me.

Same experience here in Paris - everyone was super nice. We'd occasionally talk to Americans who said everyone was rude to them, and we couldn't figure out why.

We found London to be quite nice, too, fwiw. (Both the people and the city.)

>the food was great and inexpensive

I have never been to Paris proper, but I do enjoy French cuisine, and so was hoping that you might be able to add a quantitative dimension to this comment (as in €X for Y)

Well, I didn't go to restaurants much, so it may not qualify as "French cuisine" in your eyes. But you could get a world-class baguette[1] in almost any part of town for about a Euro, same with croissants, and produce at the markets for... well, basically a negligible amount of money. I remember getting a small bag of delicious donut peaches for about €1/kilo. The same peaches were €4/kilo at the supermarket. (As an aside, pretty much all the vine tomatoes I ran into, even the ones at the supermarket, tasted amazing, as if they were just harvested from someone's garden. The only time I had that experience in the US was when we grew our own tomatoes.) Cheese shops were abundant and had fantastic selections, though I don't remember the exact prices. (They were very reasonable.) You could buy a whole rotisserie chicken for €7 or less if you knew where to look; I got these a lot and used the bones for stock. (Tragically, I think I still prefer Costco chicken!) There was a lot of canned terrine, rillettes, pate, etc. in the specialty stores (€5 or less), and a can could last you a week. You could also get them at the butcher shop, but I never found one close to me that had them. Pastries at some of the world-class bakeries were very expensive — €7 to €10 per piece — but they literally looked like jewels and it was worth it for the occasional indulgence. I had many lunch picnics at the parks and it was fantastic every time!

Oh, and obviously, there's lots of wine, but I'm not much of a wine drinker so I didn't investigate too much. Good beer was surprisingly cheap, though: I found a supermarket near me selling Chimay Blue for €2/11oz.

[1]: Literally. There's an annual contest! http://parisbymouth.com/paris-top-baguettes-for-2014/

For me the biggest shock about visiting Paris the first time was that it was a "real city", and not a boutique town where everything is perfect and manicured. Although, what was most impressive about it was the fact that a real city could be so nearly perfect and manicured (at least the rich parts).

well the center of Paris is pretty much like that, a big tourist attraction. Unfortunatly,for tourists, a lot of great places are not in the center of Paris. Paris has great parks,especially in the south east where there is a crazy place called "Parc Floral". It's unfortunate that it is not well known to tourists.

A few good places :

- le Parc Floral (in Vincennes , South East,you can spend the day there you wont regret it).

- le Parc de la Vilette

- see Paris from the sky with "les ballons de Paris"

- the garden of Versailles (dont bother visit the castle itself,it's crap,on the other hand the garden is HUGE )

- go to the Latin neighbourhood ,have a dinner there , then walk down the "quais" , a lot of people their partying. In my opinion if you want to meet new people you should go their.

There are thousands of stuffs to do in Paris in Summer,and a lot of them are free.Also each first Sunday of each month, museums are free,so you cant visit the Louvres or the Pompidou center for free,some other museums are free at night,...

Oh, I understand you haven't seen the toilets on the subway stations then.

I did say "nearly" ;-)

It's the same feeling I had while visiting New York.

Madame Tussauds and MOMA were wonderful and yes, it has some other very nice parts like Grand Central Station. I didn't feel ill enough to leave America, but I did feel let down a tad.

Having visted Paris on 10+ occasions it's fair to say it's one of my favorite cities. However I can see how this can happen. The more knowledge you have about the city the better your visit.

It's easy to book a bad hotel, it's easy to get lost amid the irregular street patterns and hard to find someone to give directions, it's easy to head into bad neighborhoods & get drawn into scams. It's also very easy to not know any French & think you'll get by.

These are all things that can be avoided by an hour of research or alternatively traveling with someone that has been before or on a tour that has a guide.

There are so many small tips & tricks that go into experiencing Paris properly. Having arranged visits for many friends & family it CAN be as magical as you'd expect it to be.

>These are all things that can be avoided by an hour of research or alternatively traveling with someone that has been before or on a tour that has a guide.

I agree! I just came back from a honeymoon in Paris and doing research ahead of time made it a fantastic trip. A couple of guide books, some offline phone apps, knowing some French, and being able to spot sketchy people and bad areas (like any other city) made things very easy. And honestly we never even experienced any stereotypical rude behavior; most locals were happy that I even attempted to speak French.

As a french entrepreneur who has hosted dozens of US friends in Paris, some of them being prominent members of the "hacker" community as we call it, I have always been struck with amazement at how little "hacking" these friends would apply to their Paris trip, easily falling for the Tour Eiffel visit, desperately wanting to see the Moulin Rouge (which is probably the worst place to visit in all Paris – and probably in all Europe), still marveling at the shitty 50m2 studio in Montmartre or Ile Saint Louis they were about to rent before I offered to host them and show them my version of the city, etc. How can it be 2014 and people still want to experience Paris by showing up on a Saturday morning at Notre Dame only to stand in line for hours amidst hundreds of Japanese people and their cameras the size of a small Segway.

I am not saying it is easy to "hack" a city you've never visited before, and for the 2 years I spent myself in San Francisco I still believe I coud have hacked my way around much better. But if I were to provide a few advices to anyone about to embark on a Paris trip, that would be:

– Buy the Paris edition of the Lonely Planet and decide to not go to all the places they mention.

– Don't come in August (most of the city is basically shut down during the holidays). May, June, July, September, October, November.

– Most of the most interesting buildings (+ the overall Haussmannian architecture of Paris) are better seen from the outside: better spend 30 great minutes on le Parvis du Trocadéro watching the Eiffel Tower, than actually waiting 3h in line to get "inside" the Eiffel Tower.

– Get in line at museums roughly 1:30 hour before they're about to close: shorter lines, people on their way out. You have less time but it's clearly optimized.

– When in doubt, rely on locals: I know many Americans actually living and enjoying their life in Paris. You're always a few friends away on Facebook from knowing someone who lives here.

– Somewhere in their inboxes Parisian people have crafted for friends and/or received from friends "lists" of insider places to go that they'll happily forward to you once you've made connexion (I made a very long and detailed one of my favorite restaurants once).

– Use local guides. If you're a foodie, following the Lefooding.com recommendations for example is always a guarantee to both eat at wonderful places and visit fun areas where these restaurants are located in. For all the things we suck at if there's one thing the Paris scene is amazingly good at is food & restaurant innovation.

– If you're part of the tech community: damn it, you just need to hit your local counterparts. At the opposite of gross taxi drivers, young french tech people are very welcoming and easy to get in touch with.

– You can definitely hit me up anytime even if we don't know each other, I'm always happy to help.

I'm probably omitting a ton here but there's an apéro down my street with friends waiting for me to show up :)

Here's a fun fact I learned while visiting Paris last month. Turns out the Eiffel Tower is open until about midnight during the summer. I recommend showing up late and taking the stairs to the second floor (if you're in good health). Not too many people, great exercise, beautiful views of Paris at night, and you get to see the tower from a really interesting and unique angle.

This whole concept of Paris Syndrome looks very suspicious to me. I'm talking from first hand experience. I was born in France and at the age of 20-something, I had to move to Paris, like millions other youngsters, just to find a job. Yes, the Jacobin model is still very much alive, HN readers might not be aware of this but in that country, Paris centralism is pushed to absurd levels, to the point that if you have a mere ambition to achieve anything academically or professionally in most sectors, you're pretty much guaranteed to end up in Paris.

I spent more than four years in that city and those years were probably the unhappiest of my life. I never felt disillusioned (in fact, you need expectations to feel so), I had no feelings of persecution, and the only hallucinations I might have had were under the influence of recreational drugs.

I don't think I suffered from Paris Syndrome at all, but from undeniable facts that the beautiful Paris postcard won't tell you about:

1) Overpopulation. The massive economic exodus to Paris has made this town the biggest urban area of Europe. The concentration of population is among the highest in the world (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_proper_by_popula...). As a consequence, you pay absurd amounts of money to live in tiny shitty HK-sized flats. Crowds are an annoyance year round, in the metro, while shopping, or even while crossing on the sidewalk.

2) Hostile inhabitants: the dwellers of Paris are incredibly unfriendly, stressed out and stressful. I think they are responsible for the reputation of arrogance that the French have in most parts of the world.

3) Venice 2.0: inner Paris nowadays has just become an open museum. Its popular neighborhoods are progressively getting drained and the city is culturally dying slowly. Tourism seems to be the new business model and it is slowly crippling the city with fake, unauthentic, cliche like kind of businesses.

4) Consumerism: just ask a Parisian what he did over the week end, he'll most likely tell you he had a drink with buddies, then dined in a restaurant, then went shopping. Other than breading and walking, there's absolutely zero to do in Paris other than spending money. If you like sports, you're screwed, there's very little options in that town. The parks all suck, and the pollution makes it even hazardous to practice sports outdoors.

5) Horrible region: most maps of France are actually quiet political in the way they position Paris in the center of the country. The truth is that Paris is very much in northern France. As a consequence, the countryside around Paris (not talking about the ghetto ring), is among the ugliest areas of this country with flat, boring and depressing landscapes everywhere in a 100km radius. Only regions like Beauce or Baie de somme rival with this land in its hideousness.

6) Terrible weather: simply put, the weather in Paris is very much like London's, with greater co2 pollution.

Here's my tip to anyone embedding on a Journey to France: avoid Paris.

I'm in Paris at the moment and I absolutely love it. I plan to stay. I was worried that this article would be about some sort of honeymoon period that I'm on - glad to see it's the opposite.

There's a lot to love, and I've very quickly found my feet here. There are lots of accessible co-working spaces, and finding accommodation has proven pretty easy so far. Compared to London, the quality of life at the same cost is far, far better. For me at least.

The biggest negative find is families of gypsies living on mattresses on the street, which I've never seen anywhere before on this scale. It's shocking to me to see toddlers playing in the gutter of an affluent western city.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture-bound_syndrome Many of these are also just as interesting

When I visited Paris I felt like crap because the pollution was horrible. It was apparently so bad that they made the subways free for several days to encourage people to avoid driving their cars.

Courtesy of our brilliant past governments heavily subsidizing diesel vehicles. The air is now filled microparticles causing asthma and general respiratory issues.

It's awful.

Not only the subway but all the commuter trains and trams as well. IIRC that was the first time they organized something like that.

l'Metro ghetto!

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact