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THE MAD BEAUTY: Paris, India, Jerusalem and Florence Syndromes

THE MAD BEAUTY: Paris, India, Jerusalem and Florence Syndromes
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Illustration: Futaro Mitsuki, Sharaku and the Girl with the Earring in Japanese


Beauty is indeed a frightening force. Its impact on people’s lives and the human psyche is difficult to overestimate. Sometimes the shock of encountering other cultures, especially for impressionable and well-educated people, is not so harmless…




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

Scientists see the reason in the discrepancy between the realities of the French capital, which the Japanese face, and the “glamorous” idea of Paris that exists in Japanese culture. Thus, Japanese women who “come to the city of love” expect to find in French men the ideal of refinement, tenderness and champagne in bed.

The first sassy waiter, inattentive man or intrusive passerby can cause a psychological shock to the extremely polite and accustomed to respect Japanese. Besides, the French are rather 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 this the dirt on the streets, the constant strikes, the late cabs, the breakdowns in the subway – everything, it’s time to commit harakiri, the Japanese psyche can’t stand it. The ideal city turns out to be less than ideal. But only the Japanese 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 the Paris syndrome. And they don’t faint when the subway breaks down or the waiter is rude. Perhaps this is because the Chinese in France are, you could say, their own. The 13th arrondissement of Paris is home to Europe’s largest Chinatown. And Italian historian Angelo Paratico has even put forward the version that the portrait of Mona Lisa was painted from a maid of Chinese origin.

Moreover, he claims that she could have been the mother of Leonardo da Vinci. Even if it was just a clever marketing ploy, it worked. Before the coronavirus, as many as 1.7 million Chinese visited Paris, spending an average of 11,000 euros per trip. The biggest connoisseurs and consumers of “French beauty” in the world are the Chinese.

They account for 40% of luxury purchases in France. If the Mona Lisa and Da Vinci can be considered Chinese, then from here it’s one step to “Chinese Paris”. And in the truest sense, not in the marketing one. In 2007, an exact replica of the historic Paris was built in Tanducheng, a suburb of Guangzhou. For 474 million euros, the Chinese have recreated not only the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe in one piece, but entire houses, intersections and neighborhoods of the French capital.

These neighborhoods are residential. Thirty thousand Chinese “Parisians” live and work in them on a permanent basis. Since the Chinese cultural consciousness still has great difficulty in distinguishing a copy from the original, the Tandu Cheng Paris is almost as popular with the Chinese as the real Paris, if the photo of newlyweds near the real Eiffel Tower and its absolute copy do not differ in any way, why pay more?

However, this kind of craving of the Chinese to live in copies of European capitals the authorities of China have recently recognized as unpatriotic and not corresponding to the spirit of socialist construction. So now we are unlikely to see a Chinese Florence, Rome or Vienna. Although, perhaps, this is for the best…




However, Asian people are not the only ones who go crazy when they come into contact with European culture. There are counter-examples. Myths about the “ideal Paris” are quite in line with 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 the spiritual centers of Delhi, Rishikesh, Nepal, etc. are subjected.

In his book “Crazy in India”, psychiatrist Régis Hérault gives numerous examples of white culture representatives imagining themselves as bodhisattvas, enlightened beings with superpowers, during their spiritual practices.

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

Up to 100 cases of “Indian syndrome” are reported each year. And most of its victims, as a rule, were originally quite healthy. 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. Specialists in social psychology speak of a conflict of cultures that not every psyche can handle.




However, the good Christian is not immune to psychosis, which often occurs among tourists in the capital of Israel. The name “Jerusalem Syndrome” in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. it was given by the head doctor of the mental hospital Kfar Shaul. During these years, he recorded a flare-up of the disease first described back in the Middle Ages by the German monk Felix Faber.   

People with Jerusalem syndrome become obsessed with a passion for constant ablutions, wrapping themselves in improvised togas, such as those made from hotel sheets, and reciting street sermons. These people think of themselves as John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, Paul, or other apostles.

There was a case described of an American track and field athlete who identified himself with the biblical hero Samson and tried to move the stones in the Wailing Wall. For reasons incomprehensible to science, most such disorders occur to the guests of the historic Petra Hotel in the Old City.




The Florence syndrome is the most “cinematic” and “literary” of all mental disorders caused by an encounter with another culture. For the first time viewers were told about it by the detective drama “Night of the Generals” in 1967, where the main role was played by the legendary Peter O’Toole. Then there was the detective thriller “Stendhal Syndrome”, filmed in 1996, based on the novel by Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini.

The latest 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 Janicul Hill. The aforementioned Magherini, who was head of the psychiatry department at the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence in 1979, described more than 100 cases of mental illness caused by culture shock in her book Stendhal Syndrome.

After visiting Florentine cathedrals and galleries, tourists suffered heart disturbances, loss of consciousness, hallucinations, depersonalization, altered perception of sounds and colors, feelings of persecution or guilt. Most often the syndrome affected tourists who visited the Uffizi Gallery, so it is also called “Florence syndrome”, although something similar is observed in other Italian cities.

For example, in Ravenna. But the first description of the phenomenon really belongs to the French writer Stendhal, who in 1817, coming out of Florence’s Basilica of Santa Croce, felt all the signs of the syndrome on himself. Perhaps Stendhal was the first, but not the only, great literary figure to suffer from hyperculturalism.

In 2005, neurosurgeon Edson Amancio published an article proving that Fyodor Dostoyevsky suffered from Stendhal syndrome while viewing Hans Holbein’s masterpiece, The Dead Christ in the Coffin, during his visit to the museum in Basel. His impressions of this painting are described in detail in his novel “The Idiot”.

The Italian authorities are now taking the study of the syndrome very seriously, especially after the “intoxication” with concentrated beauty has led to acts of vandalism. It has been found that single men and women between the ages of 26 and 40 with a good humanities education are at high risk.

But there are no Italians among them – they got used to live surrounded by “eternal beauty” for centuries and they have developed immunity. Nor does it work on Americans and Asians – they simply do not read its cultural context.

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