Friday, January 19, 2007

The Paris Syndrome

An item on this week's Talk of the Town tells of the Paris Syndrome, an illness that affects young Japanese tourists upon hitting the City of Light.

Each year, according to Dr. Hiroaki Ota, about a dozen vacationers suffer from “irritability, a feeling of fear, obsession, depressed mood, insomnia, and an impression of persecution by the French”; their mental breakdowns, as the BBC reported last month, are brought on by a buildup of excitement, followed by such Gallic letdowns as insufficiently picturesque sights and rude waiters.
Well, I ain't Japanese and the same exact thing happens to me when I'm in Paris. Except that Paris is never insufficiently picturesque to me, except when a McDonald's or a Haagen Dazs spring into view (more often than you'd like).

1. Irritability:
a. Not only do you have to brave a minefield of poop de chien every step you take, you go into a restaurant and voilá, the chiens are allowed to eat at the tables with their masters or, in the case of a funky gay place called the Mauvais Garcons, the owner's dog, a bulldog called Indira, slobbers all over your feet as she waits for a scrap of your blanquette de veau. Indira, I admit, is quite adorable, but I do not wish to have my shoes and ankles covered in dog saliva while I eat.
b. The metro. Why does everybody look utterly morose and sullen and miserable? They live in the most beautiful city in the world. Lighten up! It's quite irritating.
2. A feeling of fear:
In line to buy ice cream at the justly renowned Berthillon store at the very picturesque Ile St Louis, the woman who sells the ice cream is like a combination Cruella de Vil and the gatekeeper to Hell. She is, improbably, for an ice cream vendor, tall, statuesque, and as elegant as Isabelle Huppert, with a sneer of snobbery etched permanently on her face. She stares down the silent line of mostly tourists with heavily advertised, as opposed to thinly veiled, contempt. It seems to me that you have to know what flavors you want, you have to be able to articulate them in a French fit for Voltaire and you have to pick the correct flavors or else you will be banished to the 10th circle of hell, which for her, must be drowning on a lake of molten Dairy Queen sundae for eternity. I approach the counter with trepidation, and I humbly mumble my flavor combination: poire et chocolat, si vous plait. Her minutely raised eyebrow indicates that I have made the correct choice, not strawberry and vanilla, or some such pedestrian inanity, but a brash and bracing melange. Needless to say, after the ordeal, it's the best freaking ice cream cone I've ever had.
3. Obsession:
a. I do not speak French, but I speak Menu. I know a crevette from a quenelle and a riz de veau from just plain riz and when in Paris all I think about is food. Food. food. FOOD. Food. Food.
After having the best croissant known to man almost bring tears to my eyes so buttery and light and magnificent, I think about lunch next, and the ordeal of ordering at lunch and the pain when the gratin dauphinois that you have been dreaming of every minute of your waking day is not quite what you imagined, nor is the wine that great, etc. You eat enormous quantities of animal fat in many clever guises and vegetables that have been nuked to death and then you think about dinner.
b. French women know how to tie a scarf around their necks or wear their tousled hair with a studied nonchalance that kills me.
4. Depressed mood:
The French eat fat and they don't get fat. They are a pain, but they look great. It's enough to depress anyone.
5. Insomnia:
See: enormous quantities of animal fat in many clever guises. Multiply by three times a day for five days. Also known as crise de foie.
6. An impression of persecution by the French:
See: waiters, pretty much anyone behind a desk, sullen people at the metro, newsstand owners, French people who speak perfect English but pretend not to understand when you address them, people who correct you when you speak, the impenetrability of French conjugations, the gleeful sadism of French pronunciation. Voilá.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe it's the yen to euro exchange rate that pushes them over the edge.