It appears that Chinese tourists are now walking down the path already trodden by the Japanese, who were already a familiar sight around the palaces, gardens, and boutiques of Europe – while China was still too poverty-ridden for many of its citizens to go on foreign jaunts. Now, however, Chinese travelers are increasingly to be found in such glamorous and glitzy locales as Dubai, Tuscany, and, of course, Paris.
The City of Love is often represented in China (as it often is all over the world) as a place dripping with beauty, culture and romance. It seems that you can’t heave a brick without hitting a grand old monument, an impossibly chic Parisian or a Vespa-riding Gregory Peck (wrong city, but you get the idea). That, at least, is what we are told in books, movies and advertising hoardings, and that is therefore what many of us (in China, at least) have come to believe.
Having only been to Paris when I was quite wee, I don’t have many impressions of the city, and so I admit that I too am guilty of romanticizing it to a certain extent, such that perhaps the most predominant influences on how I imagine the city are those old, old impressionist paintings produced more than a century ago. This is, of course, far from ideal.
Now admittedly it would be a little frivolous of me to suggest that most Chinese people share my delusional fantasies of Paris as a city of gaslights, hansom cabs and people gliding about in top hats and voluminous gowns, but it does go to show how the places we get our information with regard to the ‘City of Light‘ are, shall we say, less than perfect when it comes to gleaning a realistic impression of modern Paris and its people. And the disparity between the reality and the expectation can often be jarring.
Many Japanese have experienced this, very much to their detriment. Having never encountered a sufferer of the now-famed ‘Paris syndrome’, I can’t speak with authority on this, but supposedly the condition consists of what the BBC terms a ‘psychiatric breakdown’ when faced with the stress of disillusionment and disappointed expectation. Having been fed the image of the city as a supremely beautiful, supremely cultured metropolis, encounters with a rude local or a rubbish-strewn street corner have the potential shock factor to trigger fairly serious symptoms, and the Japanese embassy in Paris supposedly has a 24 hour hotline dedicated to sufferers of “Paris syndrome”. Thankfully, there is only an average occurrence rate of 12 cases per annum, but that is still fairly remarkable when you consider that the sole cause seems to be dashed expectation.
Many Chinese tourists, now, seem to be following suit. According to China Ready News:
“Chinese people romanticize France, they know about French literature and French love stories,” said Jean-Francois Zhou, president of the Chinese association of travel agencies in France. “But some of them end up in tears, swearing they’ll never come back.”
Now you might find this somewhat surprising, because, in a sense, the ‘shock’ factor might intuitively seem to be greater for the Japanese, who, with their immaculate public spaces, manners and often formalized social interaction, might well find some of Paris’ squalor, bustle and the occasional bout of discourtesy especially disconcerting. For the Chinese, however, who hail from a nation where squalor, bustle and discourtesy are the bread and butter of civic life, it might be thought that such behaviour would be less shocking. Well maybe so, but the indisputable fact is that certain Chinese are falling prey to the same syndrome. It’s worth mentioning too that crime against Chinese tourists has been on the rise. On the surface, therefore, the syndrome might seem somewhat strange or even ridiculous, but to go to a city touted as an almost heavenly apex of Western civilization only to be knocked out in an alley somewhere and robbed blind would, I think, be something of a shock to anyone.
It’s not just Paris, either; or, at least, the “Paris syndrome” doesn’t limit itself to that particular city, as it is applied to similar destinations all across Europe, or maybe even to Europe as a whole itself. It’s not known, however, whether cases of Chinese people suffering Paris syndrome with regard to other destinations have occurred, but with the volume of people who are now beginning to visit that part of the world, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Master Image courtesy of Flickr user: Moyan Brenn. Used and edited under a Creative Commons license