Paris Syndrome

The attitude of Americans towards French culture has not always been so hostile or derogatory. After the French’s invaluable help during the war of Independence there was a general sense of gratitude towards the French by the American public. So much so that during the French Revolution public outcry at President John Adams policy of neutrality threatened to bring down Adam’s government and bring to power Thomas Jefferson who was a supporter of French ideals and wanted America to declare war on the United Kingdom. Relations between the two in the following years were shaky with low points of minor skirmishes on one end and events like the French giving America the Statue of Liberty on the other.

It wasn’t until World War II and the surrender of France to Hitler that modern views of the French really crystallized. The American public regarded the French as snail eating snobs and in American culture the French were viewed as weak and quick to surrender. This of course peaked during the infamous Freedom Fries episode when France refused to back Bush’s plans to invade Iraq. This anti-French attitude has filtered into Canada too where anti-French feeling already existed with the distrust of the French in Quebec.
Lolita girls
Therefore it is quite a culture shock to enter Japan and see France and French culture basically idolized by the Japanese. Of course there are the obvious influences of French fashion but the Japanese have taken it further than any country I know of. They have even created a whole fashion niche of Lolita girls who dress in a style based on the Imperial French court of Marie Antoinette. Even outside of the fashion realm there are thousands of French restaurants, and French language placement on products rivals the English language. Kids watch French cartoons and one of Tokyo’s most famous landmarks, Tokyo Tower, is an ugly version of the Parisian Eiffel Tower. Indeed Paris is seen in as sort of an idolized city. This idolization of French culture and the reality of modern day Paris create problems with some Japanese in the form of Paris Syndrome.

Paris Syndrome is when the culture shock of a Japanese person visiting Paris causes a mental breakdown. Japanese embassy officials state that they deal with about 20 Japanese tourists a year who are affected by the syndrome first reported by Professor Hiroaki Ota over 20 years ago. Many others are able to evacuate France before a complete mental break down occurs. Sufferers report initial mild anxiety, hallucinations, depression that increase into extreme paranoia and finally a mental break. Treatment is returning to Japan where with familiar surroundings the Syndrome’s symptoms disappear.

Japanese media’s portrayal of Paris is mostly to blame as the idolized city nihongin see on TV is a far cry from reality of feces covered streets with rude Parisians at best and at worst gangs of youths mugging tourists left and right.

However, definitely one of the main contributions to Japanese unease, in foreign countries in general but especially Paris, is customer service. In Japan there is a saying, ‘Okyaku-sama wa kami desu’, ‘The customer is God’, where as in France the customer is looked as a hindrance. Expat guides to living in France (Yes they have books on how to survive French culture) talk of how you have to get any service you have to order as soon as you make eye contact. If you halter or wait patiently for service the French will purposely avoid you. This is contrast to Japan where as soon as you enter a store you get a ‘Irrashaimase’, or ‘Welcome’, by every staff member. And if you so much as look like you might need assistance, the staff will jump to be of service. Then when you leave the store you’re given a send off with the staff shouting, “Arigato gozaimashita, mata okoshi kudasai”, or ‘Thank you very much, please come again’.

I personally feel uncomfortable with the Japanese over service but when I go back to North America and shop at department stores it’s annoying when you have questions and you don’t see a staff member within 100 meters. But as they say in Japan “Sho ga nai”, or in French “C’est la vie”.

For other living with the Japanese posts, try these:

Big In Japan Japanese Bicycles Health Care In Japan Making friends in Japan hostess in Japan
How to become big in Japan How to cycle in Japan Getting the around the Japanese health care system Making Friends in Japan How not to be a hostess
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