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This Netflix series follows Emily, an ambitious young American woman from Chicago with a questionable sense of fashion, as she moves to Paris thanks to an unexpected job opportunity. It’s her first time in Europe, and I couldn’t help but feel excited for her wide-eyed initial encounter with the City of Light. Later on, as an American living in Paris myself, I couldn’t help but feel irritated by her overall ignorance and naïveté.
A Love-Hate Relationship With Emily
There were a lot of cute little details that I appreciated and could relate to: fumbling around for the light switch upon entry to an apartment building, stepping in dog crap, climbing up several flights of stairs, and I seriously LOL’d at the “c’est pas possible” bit with the plumber. The authenticity of those scenes had me laughing and empathizing with the poor girl.
However, for several reasons, I didn’t want to relate to Emily. The portrait of the stereotypical American, who can’t speak a second language and who expects everything to be done with the attitude of “the client is always right,” has gotten old and tiresome. Maybe French people weren’t rude to her because they are French, but because her behavior was disrespectful and demanding.
Ugh, French People
Can we agree that the portrayal of French people in this series was incredibly unflattering? Jonathan, having already read a review or two, refused to watch the series with me for this exact reason. However, I did manage to trick him into watching one episode by serving dinner and turning it on anyways. As a hardworking entrepreneur, he was particularly bothered by the less than complimentary stereotypes surrounding the French work ethic. There was no getting him to stick around for a second episode.
Let’s talk about her innumerable suitors! It seemed as though every French man in the series made some kind of move on Emily upon meeting her. Honestly, this fetish of the oversexualized French man came off as creepy and uncomfortable. A few examples: Emily received lingerie from a professional client, the professor didn’t shower after sleeping with her, and all of the men cheated on their significant others. Oh wait—that last one is actually acceptable, because everyone in France is involved in an affair, but everyone knows about it and approves. What?
French women were largely depicted as hateful hags who are mean to your face. Her landlord yells at her for no reason, and her boss gets the whole office to call her an insulting name. Sure, French people can be direct, as I’ve seen with my own husband. But blatantly rude to your face? Non. Or at least, no more than you’d find elsewhere.
The exception to this cliché was Emily’s friend Camille. In a delightfully backhanded compliment, Emily said, “You’re nice and French, and you speak English?” We also saw the usual stereotypes of lazy French people who show up late to work and drink bottles of wine every day during their long lunch breaks. (As a little aside, I feel like it’s important to let you know that I once drank some champagne during lunch to celebrate a colleague’s birthday in the teacher lunchroom at the elementary school I was working at in France. Interpret that as you will.)
Typical, Predictable, and Uninteresting
Most surprising to me, or perhaps not, was who was left out of the narrative. Paris is a diverse and multicultural city. I felt that this series and the chosen cast perpetuated a misguided and inaccurate representation of what a French person is supposed to look like. To be clear, I’m saying that Emily lived in a limited, nearly completely white bubble, which does not represent the beautiful diversity of the population of Paris and France at large.
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The Paris that I know is not monotone. Why are we only shown Haussmanian architecture while keeping to the most central arrondissements? Don’t get me wrong—the settings were charming and it’s been wonderful hearing everyone’s comments about the beauty of the city. It reminds me to not take any of it for granted. But there is so much more to see (like the vibrant street art in La Butte aux Cailles!). Everything was just so—expected, and therefore, erring on the side of dull.
I get that this series was playing up the romantic side of Paris, full of adventure and allure, but there was a lot that didn’t make the cut. Why is that?
Luck and Effort Combined
‘Emily in Paris’ sets us up with expectations of an unrealistic fantasy. There are pros and cons wherever you live. Paris is no exception. I get told pretty often how lucky I am to be living in Paris. While I recognize what a great privilege it is to have been able to make this move to France, I feel as though the word “lucky” doesn’t take into account the intentional effort and planning that I put into make this scenario work, not to mention the fact that I don’t spend my days sipping coffee and eating croissants on a café terrace.
I guess I’m a bit salty that this series perpetuates the idea that my life is easy, and I live in a permanent state of vacation. Sure, I eat my fair share of croissants (have I already mentioned the croissants?), but I also stand in line at the post office, then at the bank, then at the préfecture, then at… you get the point. Emily didn’t even bother attempting to learn the language and everything from getting an awesome apartment to finding a cute Frenchman just fell into place. (Ok, so when I met my Frenchman, he was living just down the street, but that’s beside the point!) She didn’t have to live through any of the challenges that so many of us expats face.
I Didn’t Hate It
I know for some people, this show was a much-needed escape from the crazy world we currently live in. We craved something predictable, and that’s why this series succeeded. And yes, it was undoubtedly a success, whether you liked it or not. We binge-watched it, we’re talking about it, and I wrote a whole blog post about it.
Did I hate it? No. But I am disappointed, because this storyline had so much potential. Instead of putting out a mediocre series, they could have taken a little more time to develop the plot, the characters, and well, everything. It could have been just as funny. Maybe next season will yield more depth.
So, what did you think? Tell me in the comments below!