When holidaying goes very wrong: Paris, Jerusalem and Florence Syndromes

More dangerous than it looks. Maybe. Image: Pedro Kummel/Creative Commons.

An important part of any holiday is immersing yourself in a new culture. Ideally, this should involve being swept up by the place you’re visiting – its people, food, art, languages, and more – but for a few unsuspecting tourists this can go too far – with disastrous consequences.

It sounds too bizarre to be true, but there are certain places – namely Jerusalem, Paris, and Florence – that have been known to evoke in tourists such strong mental and psychological reactions that area-specific syndromes have been identified.

Jerusalem Syndrome

Since the 1930s psychiatrists have reported a strange phenomenon among visitors to Jerusalem: occasionally, a tourist will, upon arriving in the city, become possessed by religious-based psychosis.

The syndrome appears in three forms, the most common of which affects a person who has displayed no previous mental instability, but who, upon arrival, parts from the group they travelled with, becomes obsessed with cleanliness and bathing or showering, fashions themselves a toga out of bed linen, and begins preaching religious doctrine from the city’s streets or holy places.

Although the syndrome does not affect any one religion – with the ancient city holding high importance in Judaism, Islam and Christianity – Christians do seem to be more frequently affected.

Perhaps the most famous sufferer of Jerusalem Syndrome is Denis Michael Rohan, an Australian sheepshearer from a town 370km west of Sydney, who, it’s worth noting, had previously been hospitalised with mental health issues. In 1969, Rohan arrived in Jerusalem, where he became convinced that his mission in life was to establish a new Jewish temple on the embers of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the principal place of worship for the city’s Muslim residents and the third holiest site of Islam.

A fire started by Denis caused causing extensive damage to the Mosque. His actions triggered riots across the Muslim world as far flung as Kashmir, warranted a complaint to the UN Security Council signed by 25 Muslim countries and exacerbated the already volatile Arab-Israeli conflict. A major diplomatic incident all from a little-known psychological disorder. Boy, did that escalate fast.

Florence Syndrome

Now this city-specific syndrome is slightly more benevolent. Also known as Stendhal Syndrome or hyperkulturemia (which offers a clue as to the key trigger to this particular mental disorder), sufferers report a racing heartbeat, dizziness, fast breathing and, in the most extreme cases, even paranoid psychosis.

But this raft of symptoms occurs only after seeing the beautiful art and buildings of Florence.

The affliction is named after the 19th century French author, Marie-Henri Beyle, who wrote under the pseudonym Stendhal. He described his experience:

“I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen [Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Galileo are all buried there]. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty ... I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations ... Everything spoke so vividly to my soul... I had palpitations of the heart... Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling”

Paris Syndrome

Paris was the third most visited city in the world last year, welcoming 17.4 million international visitors. Enticed by the idealised view of Paris seen in films such as Amelie, Ratatouille and Moulin Rouge, people travel from across the planet to see the City of Love and Lights.

But where they expect to visit a romantic, quaint city of cobbled streets and well-dressed locals, some tourists instead find a sprawling metropolis covered in murderous multi-lane roads and angry Parisians; a city that, in many ways, is just as terrible as the place they came on holiday to escape. And they can’t handle it.

Symptoms include hallucinations, paranoia of persecution and anxiety, alongside physical responses such as dizziness and vomiting. Not exactly what you want from your mini-break in Paris.

Curiously, Paris Syndrome is particularly noted among Japanese tourists, likely due to the Japanese media’s particularly romantic representation of the city. The Japanese Embassy in Paris has even set up a 24-hour helpline for sufferers.

All of which got me thinking about what symptoms or syndrome London might induce in hapless tourists. Possibly a bad crick in the neck after a walk through the City, trying to have a good look at the buildings towering over narrow streets. Or anxiety brought on by trying to do battle with Oxford Street. Or, thanks to the pollution, being forced to blow black gunk out of your nose for 12 hours after visiting. See, London isn’t all fun and games either.


Does it matter that TfL are renaming White Hart Lane station Tottenham Hotspur?

New White Hart Lane. Image: Getty.

Pretend for a moment that you’re travelling in the London of 1932. You’re taking the Piccadilly Line northbound and alight at Gillespie Road station. The name should be obvious: it’s inscribed in bespoke brown tiling on the platform.

But that 31 October, following an intense campaign by the eponymous football club, the London County Council changed the station’s name to Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The area’s growing association with the name “Arsenal” ended in a lengthy negotiation that changed maps, signs and train tickets alike. Football had acquired so much power that it changed the name of not just a Tube station but an entire suburb, even before the era of Wenger or the Emirates.

Now the spectre of name changes is on the horizon once again. As Tottenham Hotspur FC inches closer to completing its new stadium, the club is clamouring for a renamed Overground station. Despite the fact the new stadium is located on almost exactly the same site as the old just off White Hart Lane, and fans have long been calling the scaffolding-laden mess “New White Hart Lane”, the club’s executive director is adamant that the station’s existing name cannot stand. White Hart Lane station, on the Overground line leaving Liverpool Street, is set to be renamed “Tottenham Hotspur”, at a cost to the club of £14.7m.

Little has been made of the fact that this peculiar PR kerfuffle is tied to Spurs’ failure to convince Nike to sponsor the venue. Some sources have even claimed that the sponsorship is yet to be finalised because it is somehow contingent on the renaming of the Overground station; beyond the ridiculous Johnson-era vanity project that was the Emirates Air Line, it seems improbable that TfL will allow any more corporate-flavoured information pollution. There will be no “Nike Stadium” station on the way to Enfield, much as there is no “Emirates” on the way to Cockfosters, especially if public consultation gets a look in.

The scene of the crime. Image: TfL.

But there’s a problem with the new name, all the same. “White Hart Lane” already means “football stadium”, in the same way Loftus Road or Stamford Bridge do. Changing it to “Tottenham Hotspur” risks opening the floodgates to an “O2 North Greenwich” or a “Virgin Euston” at some point in future, names as banal as there are dystopian. The Greater London Authority has promised to spend the £14.7m fee on community programmes in the local area – but that’s not much money to set the precedent that a private company can mess about with the Tube map.

What’s more, as CityMetric has often observed, there are plenty of station names across London that could do with a tidy up. Picking one that’s perfect already and asking for £14.7m to change it is adding insult to injury. How much would it cost a community group if they asked to change the name of Goodge Street to Fitzrovia? Why does a vast corporate entity backed by international sponsors and thousands of season ticket holders get to set the standard?

Back in Arsenal’s day, changing names on the Tube must have been easy; changes could be accommodated gradually without bothering the every day traveller. But in our world of online information, maps and apps, name changes are rather more complicated.

The question is – if TfL can bring itself to balefully accept this particular proposition, why can’t it accept ours? Why sort out a single non-issue on the Tube Map when you can catch lots of real ones in one go? A day’s pandemonium might just be a price worth paying to fix the Bethnal Greens problem once and for all.