Eiffel Tower

Photo by wlappe

Ah, Paris. It’s the city of love, lights, croissants and berets. Throw in some celebrated art, high fashion, an iconic tower, quaint cobblestones and a plethora of sidewalk cafés, and you can quickly understand why Paris is one of the world’s most popular destinations.

I mean, really, what’s not to love?

Plenty, according to the Japanese.

You see, when some place is as popular as Paris, it’s fair to say we’ve probably idealized it and romanticized it to the point that it may not live up to our expectations.

Most of us are somewhat aware of this. We get that no place is postcard-picture perfect. So when we arrive in Paris to find ourselves being abused by a rude taxi driver or brushed off for our lack of French, we’re only mildly disconcerted by the experience.

Japanese tourists, however, are left traumatized by these kinds of incidents. Having perhaps watched Amelie a few too many times, many Japanese visitors to Paris are so shocked by the reality of the French capital that they suffer nervous breakdowns.

No joke.

It’s what’s known as Paris Syndrome, and each year, at least a dozen Japanese tourists are so stricken by this psychiatric condition that they have to be repatriated back to their country, accompanied by a nurse.

Crazy as it sounds, the syndrome is apparently common enough that the Japanese embassy in Paris has even set up a 24-hour hotline, so anyone who has been sent teetering on an emotional brink after being accosted by a baguette-wielding Frenchman can seek treatment or hospitalization.

Young women seem to be the worst affected, but anyone from Japan is vulnerable to the condition. Why? For one thing, people there are unfailingly polite and respectful, so even a minor brush-off while abroad can be interpreted as a major snub. But a large part of their susceptibility seems to be a matter of expectations – exceedingly high expectations to be precise.

It’s no secret the Japanese have a bit of a love affair with France – The fashion! The glamour! The culture! And considering the Japanese are living in a country of extraordinary fashion, glamour and culture all of its own, you can only imagine how high their expectations of Paris must be.

No wonder they’re so let down.

But really, this is a mistake any of us can make. When we spend all our lives reading about or hearing about some exotic locale on the other side of the world where the women are all draped in silk, the men are all amorous and the birds are all flying over rainbows, it seems natural to go there expecting it all to be true.

But I think learning to adjust expectations is an important skill to develop if you want to get the most out of a travel experience. It doesn’t matter how perfect a place may be – when you travel, things are bound to go wrong at least some of the time. This is especially true in developing countries where the payoffs are high but so are the stressors. Taking the glass half full approach could really make a difference to how much you enjoy your vacation.

It could also be the difference between coming home with rose-colored glasses, or a straightjacket.