Thinking allowed — 01 July 2011
Paris Syndrome

For some Japanese tourists their first taste of Europe has proved overwhelming.

Coming from a culture that espouses civility and respect, they had expected European capitals to have the same degree of controlled manners as that of Tokyo’s 33 million inhabitants.

For someone who drives daily on London’s roads, experiencing the rude and aggressive attitudes of my fellow road users and some of my passengers, it came as a surprise to learn that some Japanese have been hospitalised by this culture shock.

It was a Japanese psychiatrist working in France, Professor Hiroaki Ota, who first identified the syndrome some 20 years ago. Named the Paris Syndrome from where this condition first surfaced, presumably after a Japanese tourist took a ride in one of its capital’s famously grumpy cabbie’s vehicles, Japanese tourists are now being forewarned before embarking on a European tour.

Paris Syndrome affects around 20 tourists a year, mainly women in their 30s with high expectations of what may be their first trip abroad. The Japanese embassy has a 24-hour hotline for those suffering from severe culture shock, and can help find hospital treatment for anyone in need. This year alone, the Japanese embassy in Paris has had to repatriate four people with a doctor or nurse on board the plane to help them get over the shock.

It appears to spring from the shock of the disparity between the popular image of Paris – of accordions, flowers and cobbled streets seen in the film Amélie– they do not realised that within our lifetimes, those cobble stones have been prised up and thrown in anger.

Around a million Japanese travel to France every year. However, the only permanent cure is to go back to Japan – never to return to Paris – next time visit London where cabbies are courtesy personified.

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