Up to a 100 people every year suffer from Paris Syndrome, a sense of extreme disappointment exhibited by some tourists while visiting Paris. But what does this psychological disorder really entail, and is it getting worse?
Story by Sarah Stallinger
Paris: the city of lovers, light, and romantic walks along the Seine. In the background the illuminated Eiffel Tower and the soft sound of a French chanson.
At least that is the picture that has been shaped by the film and advertising industries for decades, and has become firmly established in the minds of expectant travellers.
Many people are drawn to Paris because of its impressive image, but the gritty reality is not something out of a romantic comedy. There are issues that every densely populated city faces, such as vermin (not the kind from Ratatouille), trash, graffiti, pickpockets, and a variety of offensive odours. The newest piece of media, ignoring the reality and powering this twisted image of France’s capital city, is the Netflix show “Emily in Paris“, which gets credited for triggering new waves of the disorder.
Many tourists, and people moving to the city, experience extreme culture shock while visiting Paris for the first time. Severe cases can lead to the psycholigical condition “Paris Syndrome.” Psychiatrist Hiroaki Ota invented the term in the late 1980s. Although the syndrome is rare and not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), Paris Syndrome is recognised by many experts as a real phenomenon. On average 10 to 20 tourists, mostly Japanese visitors, are affected by the Paris Syndrome each year. The symptoms cover a whole range of mental shock states, including delusions, hallucinations, dizziness, sweating, and paranoia.
This phenomenon has been extensively studied by multiple psychologists and scientists. Lindsey Tramuta, an American cultural science researcher and writer who has lived in Paris for 15 years, explains: “When Paris is constantly portrayed that [as a perfect city] way for generations, it adds to a problematic long-term view of the city itself.” According to Tramuta, the romanticised portrayal “is an example of how Paris is exploited by luxury brands, authors, and film studios.” It gives the impression that the city is an “Instagram-filtered playground”. This doesn’t mean the city isn’t full of beautiful architecture, wonderful culture, and a delightful mixture of people; the image Paris often radiates in the media isn‘t completely made up. The sometimes harsh descriptions of the environment are more than needed to clear up any utopian images tourists may have.
The newest media addition to fuel a utopian image is the Netflix show Emily in Paris. It follows a young American woman, named Emily and takes place in a parallel “Paris”, that is an idealised replica of the actual city. Emily is a marketing consultant who gets thrown beret-first into a stereotypical portrayal of life in Frances‘ capital. She manages to become an influencer, despite posting almost exclusively images of cheeseburgers and croissants, and spending most of her time looking for new French men to innocently seduce. Lea Vorhauser, a 21-year-old Italian-Austrian girl, moved to Paris a year ago to study. “My image of the city was quite influenced by Emily in Paris. Of course, you get this beautiful view of the city, but I knew that a lot of it was staged. It had a greater impact on my perception of dating, and how exciting and fun it would be. That’s not the reality; it’s still just normal, sometimes awful, dating.”
The majority of Paris seen in the show was made up of tourist attractions (the Sacré-Coeur, Café de Flore, and the Eiffel Tower), absurdly big residences, and suspiciously tidy streets, with Parisian characters who significantly leaned toward patronising tropes. It wasn’t exactly a thoughtful picture of the city’s inhabitants. Picture obnoxious waiters, lazy, unkind employees, and unfaithful men. A lot of people took offence at the show. “It was worse than cliché; it felt like Americans mocking French people,” says Parisian Julie Michel, 27. “I don’t understand the producers vision of Paris.” The streets of the real Paris are always filled with people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Over the past few decades, homelessness has significantly increased in Paris, as it has in other major cities in Europe. The city’s ring road and underpasses, as well as entire neighborhoods, have been turned into impromptu camps for refugees. Along with garbage cans, police sirens, and the construction sites that perpetually appear to be springing up throughout the city, these hard social and economic realities are airbrushed out of Emily’s Paris.
Additionally, Emily’s time in Paris has further fueled the pack-up-everything-and-travel-to-Paris syndrome. According to a 2021 study conducted by the French Center for Film and Moving Image (CNF), 74 percent of tourists who had seen a movie or TV show set in France said, that it had made them want to travel to the country. The French capital is now full of tourists snapping selfies in front of spots from the series. And Paris has embraced this surge of tourism, offering everything from merchandise and menu items to specially curated walking tours. “Tourism was definitely influenced by Emily in Paris, especially the cafés that are shown on the show. They’re flooded with tourists and avoided by locals,” explains Lea.
Tramuta predicts that a whole new generation of American girls will be affected by the Paris Syndrome. “I only hope Netflix covers their therapy bills.” Lea has a similar opinion: “I’ve noticed a lot of international students had quite a misconstrued image of the city, which was fueled by shows like Emily in Paris.Their cliché view of the city got humbled quite quickly.”
France welcomes the new waves of tourists visiting for the show, which has not been proven to trigger the infamous Paris Syndrome. Still, the fashionable, charming, and perfect image the show cultivates is a stark contrast to the often gray, crammed, and loud city. This image the show portrays of the city is purposefully blown out of proportion, with the characters often acknowledging themselves that “they’re living in a dream.” The viewer should be aware that the world just doesn’t work like that. There won’t be handsome French men behind every corner, waiting to fall in love with you, or having a new designer bag for every outfit. Still, Paris is a city of rich and deep culture, waiting to be discovered by charmed American women in all its complex glory.