‘Paris Syndrome’: can the City of Love ever live up to its expectations?

Over 30 million tourists pour into Paris each year, eager to experience for themselves the magic and charm of the ‘City of Love’. The allure of its soft, poetic language coupled with its sweeping views is irresistible to many. The city exudes an atmosphere of romance, and it is therefore no wonder that it is a universal bucket list destination. However, is there a danger in associating renowned cities like Paris with expectations that are potentially unrealistic?

Undeniably, Paris is steeped in romance; it is unsurprising that people flood its streets in search of the perfect proposal, honeymoon spot or holiday romance. Although it may be a stereotype that Paris is the city of love, when you step along its stone-paved sidewalks, explore its boutique shops, and stroll along the Seine, you cannot help but feel enfolded in its fairy-tale embrace.

The architecture is utterly enchanting — each monument melting into one another as centuries collide

Indeed, Paris has long been an iconic symbol of romance. Given the popularity of this setting within romantic literature and film, it is ingrained within many of us from a young age that there is nowhere more amorous and idyllic than this French city. Many of us might fantasise of a passionate, movie style kiss under the Eiffel Tower, or taking a photo beside ‘Le Mur Des Je T’Aime’, the Wall of Love.

Each building that you walk past feels like a scene from a film, for the architecture is utterly enchanting — each monument melting into one another as centuries collide, Victorian, Art Nouveau and the Modern all stitched together into the tapestry of the city. Considered unequivocally as an art capital of the world, there are more than 130 museums comprised within Paris. As you soak up the artwork distilled with such intensity of emotion, it is impossible not to become caught up in the Parisian atmosphere.

Yet this representation and romanticisation of Paris in the media is far from the whole picture. Despite our desire to imagine that this is a city full of champagne and pretty dresses, and where the love of your life is just waiting to bump into you around the corner, Paris has its fair share of problems: dirty streets, crime, homelessness, and inequality, to name just a few. Even the public transport falls short of the quaint underground stations depicted in films, with the reality forcing travellers to be squished between sweaty tourists and screaming toddlers, all accompanied by loud accordion music.

The city is not tailor-made to fit tourist’s expectations

Of course the city is not tailor-made to fit tourist’s expectations, but our failure to acknowledge Paris’ negative aspects does not do the city any favours. While the continuous emergence of television shows, such as Emily in Paris, which depict the French capital as quite literally picture perfect may seem harmless, the persisting disparity between people’s expectations of the city and the real experience can have serious consequences.

In the 1980s, a Japanese psychiatrist working at the Sainte-Anne Hospital Centre coined the term ‘Paris Syndrome’ to refer to an extreme reaction exhibited by some individuals when visiting Paris, who feel that the city falls far short of their expectations. Such a culture shock can launch tourists into a ‘psychological tailspin’ which manifests in symptoms such as acute delusional states, hallucinations, dizziness, anxiety, sweating, and feelings of persecution. Although these symptoms go away within a few days with adequate rest, the Japanese Embassy is still persistently bombarded with visitors seeking reassurance of their safety and security in the city.

In order to prepare for a trip to Paris, perhaps tourists should remind themselves that the city isn’t like a model inside a snow globe; that despite the beauty of the sparkling lights on the Eiffel tower, it must not be forgotten that the crowds below are rife with pickpockets and pushy sellers trying to scam unsuspecting visitors out of their hard-earned money. While it is true that the city is rich with culture, history and breathtaking landmarks, it is also crowded, unclean and noisy. At the end of the day, the motto all tourists should carry with them is that it should be the experience that defines the place, rather than the place that defines the experience.

Image: Gracie Linthwaite

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.