I read an article not too long ago about a disorder called the Paris Syndrome. Those diagnosed experience a series of physical and psychological symptoms that range from anxiety, to delusion, to “dizziness, sweating, and feelings of persecution,” according to The Atlantic. The condition is apparently born from an overwhelming feeling of disappointment after visitors spend a few days in Paris and realize its not as idyllic and romantic as they assumed it would be. While the article is fascinating, I found the condition a bit odd.
I mean, what place is ever exactly how anyone expects, really? Take Hollywood, for instance. I can’t imagine that the thousands of people who come every year are in as much awe when they leave, as they were when booking their plane tickets. The film industry has set a precedent for each city’s symbolic grandeur, or lack thereof, and most people automatically assume these places, such as Paris or Hollywood, are exactly as they seem in the movies. Aside from perhaps “The Player” and “Adaptation” (and I’ll throw in “The Hills” for kicks), such portrayals of Hollywood in films and television are the near antithesis of what life is actually like in the entertainment capital.
And, what about Hawaii? Until the recent Oscar-nominated film “The Descendants” came out, people had a hard time believing that life in paradise could be anything less than perfect — and it’s quite possible that’s still the case for most.
But I get it, there is a certain aura about Paris that people want to uphold, and I’m no newbie to this group — I’ve seen Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” so I do get the myth. But I’m also not one to visit a new country or city completely blind. I do my homework, so-to-speak. After all, we are living in the technology age where travel guides, blogs and a whole slew of information are routinely a few clicks away.
Maybe this is just me and the fact that I’m a bit OCD when it comes to planning, but when I travel anywhere I do my research first. I not only browse the internet for information about a place, but I also do my best to read books about the place I’m headed — novels, memoirs and city guides of places I’ve visited can all be found on my bookshelves at home (although, I am a collector of books).
I’ve also had the chance of visiting Paris before, so from experience I can say that it’s even more enlightening than I’d ever imagined, but I liked that about the city. The truth is, it’s not perfect. Not every street smells of lilac. And, of course, not every Parisian is as lovely as Juliette Binoche. The majority of people I met in Paris, however, were actually very friendly and helpful. But most of all, I love the unprocessed reality of the city.
And since I’d like to avoid the Paris Syndrome, the first thing I’m going to do when I settle my luggage in to the place I’ll be staying is walk to the nearest family owned café and sit down at a small table on the patio. I’ll watch Parisians walk swiftly past as they try to escape the rain, and breathe in the aroma of native flowers and patisseries (pastry shops) in the neighborhood, or whatever other scents cross my path. I’ll get a feel for the city I’m in, try to understand the vibe and pace of my surroundings, and when the waiter approaches, I’ll give my liveliest “bonjour,” just as I would to greet my own local barista. Then I’ll kindly ask for a coffee and croissant, “un café s’il vous plait et un croissant.”
The basic idea is this, while it may not be that every aspect of every trip is exactly the way we’d expect — or hope, for that matter — traveling outside of our familiar elements takes some getting used to, and that doesn’t happen immediately. Sometimes it’s best to sit back a while and observe the new environment, take it in, inhale the uniqueness of your new surroundings before setting off to conquer its tourist traps.
The next time you take a trip to Paris — or Hollywood, or Hawaii — try this and see how well your experience becomes.