Reflections on My Previous Self-Diagnosis of Paris Syndrome

Emma Shaughnessy
September 4, 2016

           Hi! My name is Emma Shaughnessy, and I’m from Washington, DC. I’m a junior at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, where I’m a psychology and French double major. In my free time, I love to sing, play guitar and piano, and write songs. I am also passionate about writing and photography. As of now, my future career goals are to go to graduate school, eventually get a doctoral degree in a relevant area of psychology, and become a therapist.

           This fall semester, for about four months, I am going to be staying with a French host family, taking all of my classes in French, and exploring the beautiful city of Paris. If that isn’t a dream come true (as well as a bit scary), then I honestly don’t know what is! I’ve been taking French since 7th grade, and I have always loved the language and French culture. I have pretty much been a Francophile since I was about 9 years old. Ever since I first found out what studying abroad even was, and that it was something I could do, I knew that I was going to Paris.

            I have been to Paris once before, for about a week with my family in the summer of 2013, and I absolutely loved it! However, my first impressions of the City of Light were quite the opposite of what I expected them to be. For some reason, most likely the portrayal of Paris in the media and popular culture, I mistakenly thought that Paris was a small, quiet city, and that’s what makes it so romantic. While Paris is definitely romantic, the fact that Paris is a big, bustling city had completely escaped me, which is kind of funny when you think about it. According to Wikipedia, Paris has almost 3.5 times more people than DC and about half the area, making Paris a city with one of the greatest population densities in the world!

            For the first few days that I spent in the city that I had dreamt of visiting for so long, I felt disillusioned and disappointed. I know that sounds crazy, and I thought that too. Most of all, I felt guilty. I was in Paris! I should have been thrilled to have the opportunity to travel there! However, the phenomenon of tourists visiting Paris and feeling disappointed because it doesn’t initially meet their expectations actually has a name: Paris syndrome.

            As described by the Wikipedia article on it, Paris syndrome is “a transient psychological disorder exhibited by some individuals when visiting Paris, as a result of extreme shock resulting from their finding out that Paris is not what they had expected it to be”. Some of its symptoms include “acute delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution, derealization, depersonalization, anxiety, and psychosomatic manifestations. The condition is commonly viewed as a severe form of culture shock. It is particularly noted among Japanese travelers. A Japanese psychiatrist working in France is credited as the first person to diagnose the condition”. The language barrier, cultural differences, an idealized image of Paris, and exhaustion are cited as factors contributing to the development of Paris syndrome among Japanese tourists (Wikipedia).

            While I only experienced one or two of the symptoms (neither one extreme) during my time in Paris, and Paris syndrome is described as “a transient psychological disorder,” I am hesitant to say that I had it. (Of course I half-jokingly diagnosed myself with it anyway… I’m a psych major and aspiring psychologist; it’s one of my favorite things to do.) However, when my family and I talk about our trip to Paris, we say that it’s likely that I had a little bit of Paris syndrome. I didn’t feel like doing anything, and I felt very unenthusiastic. I was also exhausted. My family and I had been traveling elsewhere for a week before arriving in Paris. When you’re in a new place, you’re always on the go, trying to see as many sites as humanly possible. By the time we got to Paris, I had been forcing myself to be energetic and enthusiastic about traveling for some time.

            But this is the most important thing I will ever say about going to Paris: I absolutely loved it. After feeling disappointed for the first few days, which was unfortunate, I learned to let go of my faulty expectations and experience the beautiful city for what it is. I knew that there had to be a reason why everyone seems to want to go to Paris, talks about it, and loves it so much, and why it’s portrayed in the media as such a magical place. In fact, I discovered many reasons.

            I am so glad that I had the chance to go to Paris before, because I now have a good sense of what the city is like, and what I gained from my experience will help me immensely to benefit from studying abroad there. I feel so fortunate and so excited to embark on what I know will be a personal metamorphosis. As I’m editing this blog post and writing these last few sentences, I am sitting at my gate at the airport waiting to board my plane. I have awaited this moment for so long, and now that it’s finally here, I almost can’t believe it. I’m so happy to officially begin this adventure!

Emma Shaughnessy

<p>My name is Emma, and I am very excited to be studying abroad in Paris this fall! I am from Washington, DC and a student at Gettysburg College, where I am a psychology and French double major. I love to sing, play guitar and piano, and write songs. I am also passionate about writing and photography.</p>

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