PARIS SYNDROME

BBC recently reported on “Paris Syndrome” the phenomenon of Japanese tourists suffering a mental breakdown when they arrive in Paris and discover that Parisians can be rude or the city does not meet their expectations. The article says that many Japanese have a deeply romantic vision of Paris, but the reality of rude waiters and taxi drivers can be too much of a shock. On average, up to 12 Japanese tourists a year fall victim to it, mainly women in their 30’s with high expectations of what may be their first trip overseas.

It sounds strange, even laughable. But don’t we all experience a little “Paris syndrome” when our expectations of how things should be differ from how things actually are. It’s not just when we travel, it can be pervasive throughout our regular lives. Maybe not triggering a breakdown, but definitely giving us a sense of unease and discontentment.

I remember for my first big overseas trip, when I was 17 and had finished school I went to the Greek Islands. I had fantasied about the Greek Islands being some sort of picture-perfect paradise. I did see postcard-worthy images, but broaden the frame and I saw rubbish and other disagreeable things that didn’t fit into the image of what I thought it should be like. I remember feeling disgruntled and deflated. I spent a bit of time and energy chasing what I felt were “authentic experiences” which in fact weren’t authentic but just fitted in better with my own expectations and imaginings. I gradually began to realize that just because something doesn’t match your idea of how it should be, doesn’t mean it isn’t authentic. It is authentic because you are experiencing it. Whether you choose to enjoy it or not is up to you.

When it comes to travel, it sound obvious, but you just never know until you go (think that was an old advertising line?). We don’t travel with guidebooks to avoid being too dependent on other people’s opinions. Of course a certain amount of reading is required to make informed decisions. But I always find that no matter how much I read or plan it never really prepares me for the actually experience.

When we arrived in Turkey, we had a few days in a hostel in Istanbul where I got my hands on a guidebook and went into a bit of a planning frenzy. I didn’t realize there was so much to see in Turkey, so many things that I was interested in from the nature, the history, the food, the religion, how to do it all?! Much to Roberto’s dismay, I proudly presented to him my suggested itinerary for the next three weeks, beautiful typed in a word document (My father, a master of travel itineraries, would be proud).

It was an ambitiously tight schedule, with not much room for deviance. It probably could have been followed and we would have seen many of the wondrous things that Turkey has to offer. Instead we have decided to jump off the circuit and spend our last two weeks in a sleepy little village by the Mediterranean. As I took a stroll yesterday, through orange and pomegranate trees, stopping occasionally to smell the jasmine and pat a cat, I pondered – in trying to see everything, do you end up seeing anything?

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