Paris Syndrome: Is Paris worth the hype? Or should tourists lower their expectations?

Gargoyle and Parisian landscape

Notre Dame Cathedral Paris, Photo of Sunset, Urban Landscape, Eiffel Tower, City Centre Sculpture, Gargoyle, the Seine

Charlotte Deville


With a reputation as the ‘City of Love’, Paris is the home of infamous Haute Couture houses, fine dining hotspots, elegant patisseries, art, and vast Haussmanian architecture. It is therefore unsurprising that tourists develop a vision of Paris as a city with a unique offering of magic and romance.

There is a “very dirty and real side of Paris that is not included in people’s Instagram posts.”

Unfortunately, to quote an English friend currently studying abroad in Paris, there is a “very dirty and real side of Paris that is not included in people’s Instagram posts.” Thus, tourists’ preconceptions are often shattered upon arrival in this city that, like London, is also home to streams of infuriated drivers, scavenging pigeons, and streets littered with dog faeces. Consequently, ‘Paris Syndrome’ may be triggered.

First coined by Franco-Japanese psychiatrist Hiroaki Ota in 1986, the term describes a psychological disorder of extreme cultural shock provoked by intense disappointment with the underwhelming reality of Paris. Characterised by dizziness, nausea, anxiety, and delusion, the term can also be applied to other locations where similar phenomena has been reported. For example, there have been accounts of strong disenchantment with America’s ‘Theme Park Capital’ of Orlando, and many have described feeling claustrophobic in the idealised ‘Eternal City’ of Rome.

Paris Syndrome, however, is almost exclusively experienced by Japanese travellers upon arrival in Paris, with Japanese media and popular culture largely to blame for this phenomenon. The Japanese have an almost-obsessive tradition of intensely glamourising Parisian and French culture. Presented as the utmost pinnacle of art, culture, beauty, and luxury, this is unlike their more realistic treatment of other European cities. What stands as a testament to this is the fact that Tokyo even has a French quarter, ‘Kagurazaka’ or ‘Little Paris’, that is filled with Parisian-styled patisseries, fine-dining, and shopping destinations.

However, it is not only the Japanese who glorify this unrealistic, artistic depiction of Paris. US Netflix hit ‘Emily in Paris’ has received a combination of attacks and praise for its’ presentation of the city. Les Inrocks magazine criticised the series’ clichéd portrayal of Paris as the city of “the Moulin Rouge, Coco Chanel, baguettes…”. Furthermore, the creator, Darren Starr, faced backlash for his rosy presentation of Paris from the perspective of a young, American female who is experiencing the city for the first time, from an inevitably romantic and dreamy angle.

The city truly does possess a cultural richness and beauty with the power to enchant tourists.

Viewed by 58 million households within the first month of its release, ‘Emily in Paris’ is highly responsible for informing popular perceptions. However, the creator and actors defend the “not artificial but (…) dreamy way of seeing Paris” and that Emily “was really struck by the beauty that was all around her.” Thus, those directly involved in creating the series, who have personally experienced working in Paris themselves, contend that the city truly does possess a cultural richness and beauty with the power to enchant tourists.

Furthermore, although she acknowledges the “very dirty and real” side of Paris, the same English friend studying abroad in Paris commends the city as “actually quite surreal…it is very beautiful” and admits “I wander round finding it crazy to be living here”.

Finally, social media is a prime culprit for creating hype and fuelling glamourised expectations. Influencers on city breaks and couture-related press trips have popularised a host of hotspots through their posts, stories and reels. From the iconic Avenue Montaigne to trendy dining spots like Café de Flore, Carette, Bambini, and Gigi to mention a few, influencers saturate our feeds with their stylish Parisian experience, fuelling our cravings for, and expectations of, an equally perfect encounter with the city.

Paris named as the most unfriendly city in the world

Ultimately, the crucial difference here is the cultural gulf between the Japanese and French.  Online travel guide ‘Rough Guides’ named Paris as the most unfriendly city in the world, which highly contrasts the calmer and more considerate nature of the Japanese. This cultural gulf induces a feeling of being under pressure and attack, thus triggering symptoms of sickness and distress in Japanese tourists. Furthermore, that the Japanese do not experience ‘Paris Syndrome’ in other European and Western cities is explained by their obsessive glorification of Paris. This raises their expectations of the French capital far beyond those related to other destinations.

This contrasts with the Americans and English, who share their Western roots with France. Other Westerners have a greater ability than the Japanese to deal with disillusionment with Paris, given their shared experiences of a culture that values more direct communication, along with the dirtier yet realistic nature of their cities. Crucially, it is not characteristic of Western culture to romanticise Paris specifically, and the duller reality of the French capital is common knowledge.

Therefore, as evidenced by the case studies above, it becomes apparent that Westerners are more likely than the Japanese to experience enchantment when they first arrive in Paris. Most importantly, this stems from the Japanese’s obsessive romanticisation of the ‘magical’ French capital, which harmfully propels them into the delusional state associated with ‘Paris Syndrome’. So, whilst the experience of Paris is a personal matter for all individuals, moderation of expectations appears essential in order to be delighted by the city and its potential charms, as popularised by the media.

Charlotte Deville

Featured image courtesy of Pedro Lastra via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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