Some Chinese are targeted and attackedby thieves. Others encounter indifference or rudeness, and some vow not toreturn.
By DAN BILEFSKY Originallypublished September 22, 2014 at 11:00 AM | Page modified September 23, 2014 at1:04 PM The New York Times。
Tourists read maps on thePont des Arts in Paris, the No. 1 destination in Europe for China's middleclass and legion of millionaires, who may have unrealistic expectations of thecity.
PARIS— Before arriving in the French capital, WuShuyun, a 56-year-old Chinese housewife, imagined Paris to be like a pristinefilm set for a romantic love story, picturing herself as a glamorous princesssurrounded by elegant Parisians, decked out, perhaps, in Chanel.
Instead,Wu from Kunming in southwest China, said she was shocked by the cigarette buttsand dog manure, the rude insouciance of the locals and the gratuitous publicdisplays of affection. Though friends had warned her about thievestargeting Chinese people, she said she was nevertheless surprised when a memberof her tour group was mugged on a packed Metro car, as other riders watched.
“For the Chinese, France has always been romantic, mysterious anddesirable. We have been told that ‘God lives in France,’” she said recently after a two-week tour that included stops at theEiffel Tower and Galeries Lafayette, an imposing, upscaledepartment store with stained-glass domes where tour buses stop hourly todeposit tourists for marathon shopping sessions.
“Once I realized that the Parisians wereindifferent, I made the decision: Try to make the most of this trip, but nevercome back to Paris again.”
Agrowing number of Chinese tourists in Paris — armed withwads of cash, typically unable to speak French and still somewhat naive aboutthe ways of the West after decades of China’s relativeisolation — are falling victim to their unrealisticexpectations of the city, while also being victimized by brazen thieves whotarget them because they are easily identifiable as Asian, Chinese tourismindustry officials here say.Alarmthat Chinese tourists are at risk from bandits is so acute that the Chinesegovernment recently considered sending police officers to Paris to help protectthem.
Paris tourism officials said the proposal was shelved amid concerns overhow they would operate.TheFrench capital — celebrated for its beauty, culture and savoirfaire — still retains huge allure, making it the No. 1destination in Europe for China’s burgeoning middleclass and growing legion of millionaires, according to the European Federationof Chinese Tourism.
Nearly 1 million Chinese tourists came to Paris last year,according to the Paris Tourism Office, spending more than 1 billion euros oneverything from Cartier watches to Michelin-starred restaurants, andoutspending both Japanese and Americans on shopping.
Now, however, Paris’ glittering image in China is losing its luster amid reports ofrobberies of Chinese tourists, according to Chinese newspapers and socialmedia.Agroup of 75 French luxury brands, including Louis Vuitton, Chaneland Hermès, warned last year that high-spending Chinesetourists fearful for their safety could choose to go to Italy or Britaininstead. Concerns about the consequences for the country’s vaunted tourism industryhave intensified as the French economy has stagnated.
Accordingto the Paris-based European Federation of Chinese Tourism, which represents 30travel agencies catering to Chinese tourists, the number of group tours comingto the French capital has fallen 20 percent so far this year compared with2013. The Paris Tourism Office said that a 21 percent jumpin the number of Chinese tourists last year had nearly halved in 2014.
Chinesenerves were already frayed after a group of 23 Chinese tourists on a tour ofEurope were attacked in March of last year in the gritty northern suburbs ofParis just hours after they landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport. The groupleader was injured, and the thieves fled with 7,500 euros — about $9,600 — passports and plane tickets.Aftersix Chinese students studying winemaking were mugged in Bordeaux threemonths later, Beijing demanded that the French government takeaction.
Pierre Shi, secretary general of theEuropean Federation of Chinese Tourism, said Chinese visitors were being preyedupon because they were known to carry large amounts of cash to avoid payingmultiple currency exchange fees. Bargain-seeking Chinese tour operators werealso booking hotels in Paris’ northern suburbs.
“Chinese tourists are attracted to Paris by the glamour, by thedesire to buy designer brands, by an image of France as acountry of philosophers and revolution,” said Shi,who runs his own travel agency, ID Travel Pro. “Butnow, they are afraid to come. Before, they wouldn’tthink twice.”
“中国游客选择来巴黎旅游，是为了体验其独特魅力、购买名家设计产品，了解这个因哲学家和大革命而著名的国家”，“ID Travel Pro”旅行社老板说道。“以前，人们总是毫不犹豫选择来这里，可现在，他们都不敢来了。”
Psychologistswarned that Chinese tourists shaken by thieves and dashed expectations were atrisk for Paris Syndrome, a condition during which foreigners suffer depression,anxiety, feelings of persecution and even hallucinations when their rosy imagesof Champagne, majestic architecture and Monet are upended by the stresses of acity whose natives are also known for being among the unhappiest people on theplanet.
Theexpression was first coined 30 years ago by a Paris-based Japanese psychiatrist, Hiroaki Ota,after several Japanese visitors to Paris fell ill when their culture ofpoliteness and reserve rubbed up against Gallic haughtiness.Otasaid in an interview in his office that because China had been closed off tothe West for so long, some Chinese travelers could be at risk for culture shockand depression when faced with the harsher realities of a city they hadover-idealized.
But he noted that the Chinese were less susceptible to ParisSyndrome than the Japanese, since they were fortified by a directness and anoutsized sense of self that was similar to the French.“Whereas Japanese are reserved, polite and formal, the Chinese have astrong sense of national pride like the French, and they are not shy,” he said.
ThomasDeschamps, the head of research at the Paris Tourism Office, said culture shockwas particularly prevalent among travelers from Asia, who sometimes wronglyperceived the French capital as a museum.“They watch movies like ‘Amélie Poulain’; they think allParisians carry Louis Vuitton purses and smell like Dior,” he said.
“They don’t know about the working-class suburbs, the overworked waiters, the grittierparts of the city. Paris is not a museum. People are busy, they are stressed, theyare living their lives.”Tohelp protect and reassure Chinese tourists, Deschamps said, the city has beefedup security at popular sites like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, whileinstituting warnings in Mandarin to be vigilant against pickpockets on theParis Metro.TheParis police have also introduced complaint forms in Chinese.Meanwhile,the tourism industry has redoubled its efforts to be more culturally sensitive.
An online guide for hotels and businesses produced by the Chamber of Commercefor Tourism in Paris notes that for visiting Chinese, a “simple smile and hello in their language will plainly please them.”Whilethieves and Gallic aloofness could be a hazard, some Chinese in Paris said theydeserved some of the blame for the French reactions theysometimes provoked.
“The Chinese are used to spitting. We are used to snapping ourfingers to get attention, or even yelling,” said Shi,the Chinese travel agency federation chief. “But if youdo that with a French waiter, they will ignore you even more.”