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Illustration: Futaro Mitsuki. Sharaku and the «Girl with an Earring» in Japanese


Beauty — is a truly terrifying force. Its impact on people’s lives and the human psyche cannot be overestimated. Sometimes, the shock of encounters with other cultures, especially for the impressionable and well-educated, is not so harmless…




Officially, there is no such disease as Paris syndrome, although the phenomenon itself is quite common. The term was proposed in 1970 by psychiatrist Hiroaki Ota, who described cases of mental disorders in Japanese tourists during their visits to Paris, followed by headaches, depression, and hallucinations. Sometimes, even aggression towards the French and suicide attempts.

Scientists see the reason for this in the discrepancy between the realities of the French capital that Japanese people encounter and the «glamorous» view of Paris that exists in Japanese culture. Thus, Japanese women who «come to the city of love» expect to meet the perfection of refinement in French men, expect tenderness and champagne in bed.

The first boorish waiter, inattentive man, or annoying passerby — all this can cause psychological shock in extremely polite and accustomed to respectful treatment of the Japanese. Besides, the French are quite expressive, while the Japanese have been cultivating emotional restraint since childhood. They are not accustomed to expressing their opinions out loud on any occasion, as the French do.

If you add to that dirt on the streets, constant strikes, delayed cabs, breakdowns in the subway — everything, it’s time to do harakiri; the Japanese psyche can’t stand it. A perfect city turns out to be not perfect at all. However, it is almost exclusively Japanese people who are sensitive to this dissonance. Every year, about 20 citizens of the Land of the Rising Sun fall into acute delirium and various kinds of mental disorders.




The Chinese, for example, are more thick-skinned and do not suffer from Paris syndrome. They don’t faint from a subway breakdown or a rude waiter. Perhaps this is because the Chinese in France, you might say, are their own. In the 13th arrondissement of Paris is the largest Chinatown in Europe. Italian historian Angelo Paratico even put forward a version that the portrait of the Mona Lisa was written from a maid of Chinese origin.

Moreover, he claims that she could have been Leonardo da Vinci’s mother. Even if it was just a clever marketing tactic, it had an effect. Before the coronavirus, Paris was visited by about 1.7 million residents of the Middle Kingdom, who spent an average of 11,000 euros per trip. The world’s biggest connoisseurs and consumers of «French beauty» are the Chinese.

They make 40% of luxury goods purchases in France. If someone considers the Mona Lisa and Da Vinci to be Chinese, then from here, it is one step to «Chinese Paris». And in the most direct, not marketing sense. In 2007, an exact replica of the historical Paris was built in Tianducheng, a suburb of Hangzhou. At the cost of 474 million euros, the Chinese recreated one-to-one not only the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe but entire houses, intersections, and neighborhoods of the French capital.

These neighborhoods are inhabited. Thirty thousand Chinese «Parisians» live and work in them on a permanent basis. Since the Chinese cultural consciousness still has a hard time getting used to distinguishing the copy from the original, Tianducheng Paris is almost as popular among the Chinese as the real one if the photo of newlyweds near the real Eiffel Tower and its absolute copy has no difference, why pay more?

However, this kind of Chinese craving to live in copies of European capitals has recently been recognized by the Chinese authorities as unpatriotic and not in accordance with the spirit of socialist construction. Therefore, we are now unlikely to see a Chinese Florence, Rome, or Vienna. However, perhaps it is for the best…




However, it is not only Asian people who go crazy when exposed to European culture. There are also reverse examples. Myths about the «perfect Paris» can be matched by myths «about the ideals of Eastern spirituality». In particular, we are talking about the so-called Indian syndrome, to which many Americans and Europeans who visit spiritual centers in Delhi, Rishikesh, Nepal, etc., are exposed.

In his book «Obsessed with India» psychiatrist Régis Hérault gives many examples of when representatives of «white culture» in the process of spiritual practices begin to imagine themselves as bodhisattvas — enlightened beings endowed with superpowers.

For example, levitation or psychic abilities. As a result, some of them not only end up in mental institutions but also commit suicide or are reported missing.

There are up to 100 cases of Indian syndrome a year. And most of its victims’ mental health was usually quite healthy at first. There are two explanations for these tragedies: traditional Christian denominations claim that Hinduism is a demonic religion and its practices lead Christians straight into the arms of demons who destroy their bodies and souls. Social psychology experts talk about a conflict of cultures that not every psyche can handle.


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However, a good Christian is not immune from psychosis, which often occurs in tourists in the capital of Israel. The name «Jerusalem Syndrome» was given by the head doctor of the psychiatric hospital Kfar Shaul in the late 1990s — early 2000s. During these years, he recorded an upsurge in the disease, first described back in the Middle Ages by German monk Felix Faber.

People with Jerusalem Syndrome become obsessed with constant ablutions, wrapping themselves in makeshift togas, such as those made from hotel sheets, and giving street sermons. These people think they are John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, Paul, or other apostles.

A case is described in which an American athlete identified himself with the biblical hero Samson and tried to move the stones in the Western Wall. For reasons unknown to science, most of these disorders happen to guests of the historic «Petra» hotel in the Old City.




Florence Syndrome is the most «cinematic» and «literary» of all mental disorders caused by encountering another culture. For the first time, the audience was told about the detective drama «The Night of the Generals» (1967), where the main role was played by the legendary Peter O’Toole. Then there was a detective thriller, «The Stendhal Syndrome», filmed in 1996 on the novel by Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini.

The most recent film to show one manifestation of this syndrome is Paolo Sorrentino’s 2013 Oscar-winning «The Great Beauty». The picture begins with a tourist falling unconscious after seeing the Aqua Paola fountain on Janiculum Hill. The Magherini mentioned above, who headed the psychiatry department at the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence in 1979, described more than 100 cases of psychiatric disorder caused by culture shock in her book «The Stendhal Syndrome».

After visiting Florentine cathedrals and galleries, tourists suffered heart rhythm disturbances, loss of consciousness, hallucinations, depersonalization, changes in the perception of sounds and colors, and feelings of persecution or guilt. Most often, the syndrome overwhelmed tourists who visited the Uffizi Gallery, so it also received a second name — «Florence Syndrome», although something similar is observed in other Italian cities.

For example, in Ravenna. However, the first description of the phenomenon really belongs to the French writer Stendhal, who, in 1817, left the Florentine Basilica di Santa Croce and experienced all the symptoms of the syndrome. Stendhal may have been the first, but not the only great literary figure to suffer from hyperculturemia.

In 2005, neurosurgeon Edson Amancio published an article proving that Fyodor Dostoevsky suffered from Stendhal Syndrome when viewing Hans Holbein’s masterpiece «The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb» during his visit to the museum in Basel. His impressions of this painting are described in detail in his novel «The Idiot».

Italian authorities are now studying this syndrome very seriously, especially after «intoxication» with the beauty concentrate led to acts of vandalism. It has been found that single men and women between 26 and 40 years old with a good humanitarian education are at high risk.

However, there are no Italians among them — they are used to living for centuries surrounded by «eternal beauty», and they have developed immunity. It does not work on Americans and Asians either — they simply do not recognize its cultural context.


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