Of the Paris and Trump Syndromes

15 June 2017

(Reprinted from The Edge – Options pullout, 12 June 2017 issue)

Dear Kam,
Despite the exchange rate, I am planning a holiday to Paris. But I have heard that there is a thing called the Paris Syndrome. Do I need to be inoculated?
En route to Paree

It is hard to believe it is true but apparently, the Paris Syndrome is a very real thing. I had heard about it before but I had thought that it was a myth until The Guardian wrote about it recently (so it must be true).

The Paris Syndrome mostly afflicts Japanese tourists who flock to Paris. It is a favourite destination and they are very excited when they first arrive. But many of them become so overwhelmed by actually being in Paris that they can undergo, as The Guardian puts it, “some sort of mental collapse, experiencing raised anxiety, delusions, irrational feelings of persecution and hostility, even hallucinations, or vomiting”. I have also heard that the Japanese embassy in Paris even has a Department of Disappointment to help deal with people who need to be repatriated.

The cause for the unusual phenomena seems to be that the Japanese have developed an overly romanticised impression of Paris as a beautiful city where they imagine that Parisians spend their time being in love and cycling around with baguettes. Unfortunately, it becomes a dramatic shock to the system when they come face-to-face with the reality of a working city where people need to get to places but Japanese tourists are in the way. I really love Paris. It is one of the most stunningly gorgeous places on earth, but Parisians are a problem.

I don’t like to generalise but let’s be honest: Parisians are rude and surly. And yet, whenever I visit Paris, I have always forgiven them because they are the custodians of a city that is a glorious gift to the planet. For them, Paris is their home and their workplace and who am I to object to how they wish to conduct themselves. And yet, when I first visited Paris back in the 1980s, I was shocked to see a lot of public urination and a super-abundance of dog poo on the pavements, and I had come from London where such things were quite common. I had expected it in London but not in Paris. Parisian habits have improved a lot since then and Paris is now much cleaner, but for Japanese tourists coming from the safest and cleanest country I have ever seen, such things must come as a shock. And so, they suffer the Paris Syndrome.

I always thought that people who live in the midst of such beauty had the right to begrudge the noisome tourists who get in their way. It is not the Parisians’ fault that tourists flock to their city and they still need to get to where they are going. But then I visited Venice recently. Venice is absolutely gorgeous and its tight alleyways can be jam-packed with tourists. I had expected the Venetians to be as rude as the Parisians but they were not. Whenever I was dawdling and blocking an alleyway, Venetians behind me would give a small whistle and then a smile as they passed. I would not have begrudged them if they had been annoyed with all the tourists and yet they were supremely polite and gracious. If there is a Venice Syndrome, then it is tourists being overwhelmed by politeness.

The moral of the Paris Syndrome is that you should be careful about what you hope for. If you imagine that something will be an earthly paradise, then you might be shocked to discover that the reality is quite different. For example, if, let’s say, there were hypothetical people who would wish to persuade Chinese Malaysians to leave constantly and daily heaping abuse upon them. If such hypothetical people existed, and obviously they don’t, then they might eventually find themselves deeply shocked by what they have created, and there wouldn’t be a Department of Disappointment to help clean up the mess. Fortunately, in Malaysia, we have always followed the Venetian model of behaviour.

I need help. I have become obsessed with Donald Trump and the stupid things he says. It is taking over my life. I need help.
Taken over by Trump

I am going to coin a phrase: “The Trump Syndrome”; and it is taking over the world. US President Donald Trump does have his fans but the majority of people around the world think that he is an awful, strangely orange and distinctly dim blowhard. And people around the world have become obsessed with finding out and then being appalled by his latest crazy utterance. The Trump Syndrome is an extreme obsession with Trump’s craziness and the belief that it is the only important thing in the world. I am a willing victim of the Trump Syndrome. I am willing because the Trump Syndrome has its benefits.

Trump is so transparently ghoulish and stupid that it constantly confounds the mind into trying to understand why anybody believes in him at all. But obsessing over Trump has allowed me to have a holiday from thinking about the very real travails that beset my own life and my own country. Although I find myself being appalled that Trump wants to deny affordable healthcare to millions of Americans, it does not actually make any difference to me. It is a safe form of indignation. But his behaviour is so clownishly captivating that it becomes easier to obsess over his corruption, cronyism and nepotism than to think about the same abuses of power that might lurk nearer to home (if they did, which they don’t).

So far, the Trump Syndrome has been the gift that keeps giving. Every day he says something stupid and I eagerly await the satirists’ hilarious responses (Stephen Colbert uploads at 4.30pm). But eventually, Trump’s antics will become dull and tiresome and then I will have no choice but to face the news from home. And sadly, that is never so funny. So for now, I’ll carry on enjoying the Trump Syndrome.

Reprinted with the kind permission of