Intercultural meets can have their aftershocks. The Japanese living in Paris are increasingly suffering from the infamous Paris syndrome — that new-age shock condition identified by Dr Hiroyki Ota in 2004 as the ‘cultural alienation’ disease. Those ‘struck’ by the sydrome, mainly young women, suffer from feelings of persecution and suicidal tendencies. One doesn’t need insight into Japanese culture to understand that the Parisian’s impatient and scruff ways can create ripples of shock among the gentle-mannered Japanese. Psychiatrists treating the affected pinpoint the shattering of Japanese illusions about France’s Beautiful People as the trigger for this depression.
Pursuing ‘Paris dreams’ — which essentially translate to mean a life of classic civilisation, elegance and dignity — have inspired many young Japanese to head to la ville-lumière (city of lights), only to find that they are up against a wall of aloofness and boorishness. In a stark reverse to expectations, the French apparently make fun of the Japanese and ridicule their attempts to speak French. The rough and tumble of ‘city’ life, where residents are governed by the me-first ethic, is difficult for the young Japanese to accept, brought up as they are on notions of collectivism — putting the group before the individual.
But the French have their own take on these cultural aliens. They insist that things are much better now than 20 years ago, when the French thought that “even the Japanese were Chinese”. Now, that can hurt.