After nearly three months of living and studying in the French capital, I have begun to feel at home here, and just at this time, the new series Emily in Paris is released on Netflix. Before I had even seen it, French papers and entertainment websites were busy publishing their thoughts on it, and many did not hold back when expressing their disdain over the portrayal of their city and country. Intrigued, I finally started watching it out of curiosity one evening with my flatmate – who is very Parisian – and it was an interesting experience to say the least. There is, without doubt, an abundance of clichés in this series that will need to be dissected, and I shall try my best to adhere to my limited number of words and some crucial examples in the new Netflix hit. A final warning: spoilers might be ahead.
First up is what annoyed me the most when watching the series: the continuous Americanisation and the imposition of an Americanised point of view, which is championed as more modern and/or successful. Emily, without speaking a word of French and knowing little about the country she is sent to, attempts from day one to change structure, culture and everything else at her new workplace.
Going abroad is about being confronted with something new, not imposing your own habits
Of course, everything turns out well in the end, and while her efforts are laudable, from my perspective as a modern languages student and non-UK national I can’t help but think that going abroad is sometimes also precisely about being confronted with something new, instead of imposing your own values and habits. However, we of course have to recognise Emily ́s behaviour as a crucial aspect of advancing the plot, for, without her insistence on change, some of the certainly hilarious scenes would have never taken place.
Another aspect of the show that was remarked as completely inaccurate by Parisians is, as ridiculous as it sounds, the sparkling clean image of their city. Whe Emily is filmed strolling along the Seine, on nightly adventures in Montmartre or traversing the city at her arrival in a taxi, we see a Paris that doesn’t exist. Paris, it has to be acknowledged, is not a clean city. Like in every metropole, there are bins in the street, graffiti on walls and buildings, and cigarette leftovers on the pavements (this is one of the clichés that might be a little bit true: French people do smoke a lot, at least as far as I can tell from personal comparison with other countries).
The city is not always as pleasant for the eye and as photogenic as it is around the main attractions, especially in the 18th and 19th arrondissements in the north, although it can also be incredibly beautiful in other places (I have still not stopped being in awe of it). Yet again, the series lacks realism in this domain, even if we made the starry-eyed point of view of a new arrival like Emily responsible for this choice of portrayal.
Cliché number three: the men.
From the handsome love interest and chef Gabriel to Emily’s male clients to even her housing agent, they all act extremely flirtatiously with the young American as if they had a duty to do so on grounds of their nationality. Yet just as not all Russians are alcoholics, or all Germans are punctual and efficient, not all French (men) are constantly trying to hit on you. Just as with any nationality, it depends on the individual, and when it comes to romance, you will find a spectrum just as broad as anywhere else in Paris, even if it is some- times referred to as the “City of Love”.
So, would I recommend Emily in Paris? If you are looking for a light and easy to follow show for an evening Netflix session after an exhausting day, of course. While the inaccuracies concerning the setting are annoying, they don ́t need to keep you from watching it. It is without doubt that Emily in Paris will still provide entertainment, whether that is being amused precisely because of the caricature, or the lighthearted story full of comedic potential.
Illustration: Anna Kuptsova