The Paris Syndrome

Not Pictured: Weeping Photographer

Not Pictured: Weeping Photographer

“I want to see some Japanese tourists cry,” says my sister.

We’re in Paris. Now, like most grown adults, I yearn to see Japanese people weep, but this is just one of those utterances you are completely unprepared for.

What would you like for dinner? The head of a human boy stuffed in a gopher’s kidney. Will you be home tomorrow? No I’m going to the moon tomorrow. What do you want to do in Paris? I want to see some Japanese tourists cry.

We’re walking towards the Eiffel Tower along Avenue Marceau when my sister relates this goal. We have just enjoyed a baguette on a bench across from the Arc de Triomphe, which I suppose was pretty Triomphe but for the traffic, the fender bender, and subsequent shouting match in French, which is just hilarious to behold.

The baguette was stale.

In the moment before I ask what the hell she’s talking about, I recall that she also expressed an intense desire to punt a pigeon across Trafalgar Square. And the day before, she bet me how many times the American girl at the table next to us would use the word “like” as a comma.

It was 29.

I won.

So there’s a precedent for her odd choice in holiday leisure activities.

Kick a pigeon.

Wager on an American’s discourse marker ineptitude.

See Japanese tourists cry.

“OK,” I say, “Why…exactly?”

She goes on to explain that this is, like, a thing. I find some relief that she hasn’t concocted this herself. Japanese tourists are known for coming to Paris and, apparently overwhelmed by the grandeur of the city, weep. Particularly at the Eiffel Tower.

After her explanation of the city-induced psychosis, we look ahead at the tower looming out of a neighborhood ahead. There’s nothing in between us and the tower but a neighborhood of mobile phone shops and taxi stands. I won’t lie to you, we pick up the pace.

I’ve heard of this kind of syndrome before. There is the Jerusalem Syndrome, in which people are overtaken by the “religiousness grandeur” of the city and fall into a transient state of religious fervor.

Jerusalem Syndrome is characterized by a number of bizarre behaviors. There is anxiety, agitation, splitting from one’s tour group, the obsession with being clean, cutting toenails, and manipulating bed linens so that they resemble a white robe. Sufferers have been known to march a procession to a holy place and then shout psalms or give sermons when they get there.

Another such condition is known as Stendhal Syndrome. This is similar to Jerusalem Syndrome but usually takes place in Florence, and instead of religion as the focal point, sufferers undergo a fervor caused by viewing art. This is characterized by rapid heartbeat, hallucinations, dizziness, and fainting. Often at the Uffizi Gallery.

While I have been in both Jerusalem and Florence, I never experienced either of these syndromes. Aside from the dizziness caused by the heat in Florence and the rapid heartbeat brought on by the fact that my dad kept interrupting the tour guide, there was nothing like Stendhal’s.

There was definitely anxiety in Jerusalem. However, it was mostly due to the fact that everyone had assault rifles. And since we were in the Middle East in July, the heat was such that I wanted someone to use one of those rifles on me. Additionally, we found that being in a country completely void of bacon caused a bit of panic. Instead of pork, there was frog bacon.

We didn’t dress in robes or march the Via Dolorosa. If we preached any psalms it was the one where whoever proclaimed that frogs take the place of pigs was just mashugana.

But Paris?

Paris is different. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Paris is charming and beautiful. One imagines Balzac lounging his chubby butt in the Place de la Sorbonne, Toulouse-Lautrec courting a hooker near the Moulin Rouge. Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin tramping the back street cafes and brasseries. The lost generation drinking on a sidewalk café. The boulevards are epic sprawls. The river and its bridges, Notre Dame, all quintessential Paris.

But the rest of it is quite ordinary.

Sure the boulevards and back streets are quaint, but you come across a lot of normal streets and dingy little back alleys as you would in Prague or Philadelphia. Trash is on the ground, McDonald’s bags, windows are smashed in. Detour signs in Paris aren’t lined with diamonds or gold, they are shitty detour signs like everywhere else.

While I have enjoyed the food, I haven’t had the transcendent experience one expects to have in Paris. My salmon and spinach didn’t lift my soul in rapturous ecstasy. It was very good, but no better than what I have had in Pittsburgh or Langhorne. Maybe not as good. All in all, I made myself enjoy it more because that’s what it was supposed to be. It’s French, I thought. It’s so…delicious! That said, I would nude wrestle a pissed-off cobra to have French coffee and pastries every day.

French People? Nice. Fine. OK. Normal. But they aren’t exactly who you would subconsciously expect to be Parisians. If movies, books, and magazines have taught me anything it’s that Parisians have way more class, culture, and style than me. But the suits, dresses, and elegance of haute couture aren’t represented as much as sweatpants, busy T-shirts, and sideways ball caps. The women aren’t all effortlessly classy goddesses, the men aren’t all Jean Dujardin, and the famous kiss by the Hotel de Ville isn’t happening on every corner.

Paris is kind of normal.

So why are these Japanese tourists so overwhelmed?

I chalk it up to Manga.

We arrive at the Eiffel Tower and its thronging masses. People are simply everywhere. I am annoyed. I am sweaty. I and feeling a bit tired and lightheaded. We sit on a bench and watch people take selfies. No crying Japanese yet. My sister hands me her phone. “Here,” she says. “It’s the Wiki page on the Paris Syndrome.”

The Paris Syndrome is a  is a transient psychological disorder exhibited by some individuals when visiting or vacationing to Paris, as a result of extreme shock resulting from their finding out that Paris is not what they had expected it to be.

Uh oh. I read on.

It can stem from one’s inability to reconcile the disparity between the popular image of Paris and the reality of Paris. Symptoms include sweating, anger or annoyance, lightheadedness, exhaustion, and crying. Japanese tourists are particularly susceptible.

I look up at the Eiffel and a pigeon steals a kid’s ice cream cone. He starts to cry. My sister renews her ambition to punt the rat of the wind across the park. A cab driver picks his nose and ogles it. I frown, feel a welling inside, my sister is about to get part of her wish.

Now could someone tell me how to get rid of this fakakta syndrome?  

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