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Paris, Florence, Jerusalem: When Traveler Syndrome Strikes

There are millions of people who travel every year. But for some, exotic cultural exploration can lead to psychological trouble.

Towering problems
Towering problems
Elodie Cerqueira

PARIS — For many travelers, going abroad means taking a break, going on an adventure. But sometimes, the adventure take a disastrous turn and leisurely exploration becomes a true clash of cultures. This phenomenon has a name: "the traveler syndrome," and can range from feeling merely off to severe bouts of delirium. Tourists in India, Jerusalem or Florence suffer from it. In Paris, Japanese people have been found to be the most likely to experience psychological trouble after exploring the city.

In the collective psyche, Paris is a symbol of romance, luxury, elegance and fashion. This is especially true in Japan where the media continuously conveys fantasized images of France, and especially its capital.

Olivier Bouchaud, head of the travel medicine unit of Bobigny Hospital, in a northeastern suburb of Paris, explains that he's faced cases of Japanese tourists coming to Paris "with a ‘romanticized" image of it" who had to face the reality of the city and its chaotic traffic, "people in a rush, pushing each other." Bouchaud adds: "Some were brought down to earth with a bang so badly they suffered from bouts of delirium or from a severe depressive syndrome caused from disappointment."

Overwhelming Florence — Photo: Heidi Kaden

France is the top touri​st destination in Europe for Japanese — with nearly 500,000 visits in 2018. Olivia Goto-Gréget, a clinical psychologist in Paris, says she regularly treats Japanese patients suffering from psychological disorder, at different levels, related to their adjustment problems — regardless of the length of their stay. "Being fascinated by France is one thing, living here is another," she says. "Imagination can be blinding."

If some of these situations may seem harmless at first, they can cause real psychological consequences. "In France, we kiss each other on the cheek, we ask intimate questions. In Japan, when you first meet someone, you keep your distance, you don't talk politics. It's considered rude and it makes them feel uncomfortable," says Goto-Gréget. The psychologist says these cultural differences can be difficult to face for Japanese people whose social conventions are at opposite ends of the French. "They fear judgment, other people's opinions, the idea they could lose face."

Imagination can be blinding.

Still, says Bouchaud, "these are extreme and rare situations". Experts have observed that patients suffering with "traveler syndrome" of such a scale usually have a natural predisposition towards mental health issues, and the travel itself only acts as the trigger. For Goto-Gréget, some may have "dormant conditions' they would not have "developed in Japan because they feel safe there."

The "Jerusalem syndrome"— Photo: Tim Mossholder

Although this syndrome remains present, the ever-growing flow of information across the Internet and social networks makes it less common. To date, no study has been able to measure the number of people affected by it — particularly given that the syndrome is not recognized within the scientific community. "I would be exaggerating if I said this was a fully recognized scientific concept. Every situation is different, quantifying the phenomenon is impossible," says Bouchaud.

Tourists in Florence were overwhelmed with extreme emotions before the beauty of the city.

Paris is not the only city challenging the mental health of its guests. Other emblematic destinations have their own syndromes. In the early 1980s, psychiatrist Graziella Magherini counted some 100 tourists in Florence who were overwhelmed with extreme emotions before the beauty of the city's works of art and monuments. It was called "Florence syndrome" or "Stendhal syndrome" (for the French writer had described a state of euphoria in recounting his travels of Rome, Naples and Florence). Bouchaud says such "euphoric outbursts can go as far as bouts of delirium. Out of the blue, someone becomes completely exuberant and manic."

Then there is the "Jerusalem syndrome," which has been qualified as a "mystical delirium." People think they are a prophet, or Jesus, or they believe they have a mission," says Goto-Gréget. The "India syndrome," on the other hand, affects mainly Westerners. Psychiatrist Régis Airault, who worked for several years in the consular office in Mumbai, described several interesting cases in his book "Crazy about India" (Fous de l'Inde, 2000).

Expats can also suffer when they go back home. The readjustment period can take some time and be demanding, depending on the duration of the stay abroad and the cultural differences between the countries. This also has a name: the "return syndrome" or "expat syndrome."

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

What Are Iran's Real Intentions? Watch What The Houthis Do Next

Three commercial ships traveling through the Red Sea were attacked by missiles launched by Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, while the U.S. Navy shot down three drones. Tensions that are linked to the ongoing war in Gaza conflict and that may serve as an indication as to Iran's wider intentions.

photo of Raisi of iran speaking in parliament

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Iranian parliament in Tehran.

Icana News Agency via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — It’s a parallel war that has so far claimed fewer victims and attracted less public attention than the one in Gaza. Yet it increasingly poses a serious threat of escalating at any time.

This conflict playing out in the international waters of the Red Sea, a strategic maritime route, features the U.S. Navy pitted against Yemen's Houthi rebels. But the stakes go beyond the Yemeni militants — with the latter being supported by Iran, which has a hand in virtually every hotspot in the region.

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Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the Houthis have been making headlines, despite Yemen’s distance from the Gaza front. Starting with missiles launched directed toward southern Israel, which were intercepted by U.S. forces. Then came attacks on ships belonging, or suspected of belonging, to Israeli interests.

On Sunday, no fewer than three commercial ships were targeted by ballistic missiles in the Red Sea. The missiles caused minor damage and no casualties. Meanwhile, three drones were intercepted and destroyed by the U.S. Navy, currently deployed in full force in the region.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for these attacks, stating their intention to block Israeli ships' passage for as long as there was war in Gaza. The ships targeted on Sunday were registered in Panama, but at least one of them was Israeli. In the days before, several other ships were attacked and an Israeli cargo ship carrying cars was seized, and is still being held in the Yemeni port of Hodeida.

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