Smoking and cheating: Welcome to Emily’s Paris

In 2020, Netflix released a new show, Emily in Paris, relating the adventures of an American woman who comes to work in the city of lights. After the first season, waves of mockery, parody, and indignation have crashed the Internet. Paris and its inhabitants are shown from a US perspective, full of cheating, smoking, drinking wine and eating baguette. But is it full of clichés? Is Emily really in Paris? Or is she in the projection of an Americanized Paris?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Paris is the most beautiful city in the world… At least that’s what the series “Emily in Paris” tells us. In almost every scene of the show, you see the most wonderful monuments of the city. Micaela Ossanna, an American English teacher in La Sorbonne, says “Emily’s Paris is exactly as American imagine it. As a child, I read books and watched TV, showing me Paris as a museum city. Before coming here, that’s really what I expected.” However, it is a reason why the French people made fun of the series on social media. What is not shown, is Paris’s dirty streets, poor neighbourhoods or the misery in certain places. Also, when Emily discovers her “Chambre de bonne”, it’s a large flat with a view on a fancy neighbourhood. Rose You, a Parisian student in architecture, says: “I wish my chambre de bonne, which is as small as a closet, would look like Emily’s. The reality is that housing is very expensive and a chambre de bonne never looks like that, it’s rather small, and sometimes you share the toilets with all the residents of the floor.”

Another aspect the series shows, is French fashion. You can see Emily wearing a beret while eating her croissant, behind her, only bystanders artificially and colourfully well-dressed. As France is the country of fashion, Americans believe the streets of Paris is a fashion show. Even if the way French people are dressed is exaggerated in the series, to Micaela “French people look elegant effortlessly, it’s a weird French thing, I don’t know how you guys do it.” She says. Even though the Parisians in the series look artificial, it illustrates something that really exists. “I would say that when we go out, we always want to look our best, maybe because we prefer elegance to comfort. And I also think that Paris fashion is eclectic, you can see urban style, or more chic outfits that all look well put together. But to be honest, Parisians don’t wear a lot of colours. Our dressings are full of black clothes.” Says Rose

The lack of diversity in the show has been criticized a lot by the French people. Indeed, you are introduced to a very Caucasian Paris. However, more than 200 nationalities are living together in Paris. Also, 20% of Paris population comes from a foreign country, a fact that is totally absent from the series. “When you are in Paris for the first time, it’s the diversity of the population that is the most striking” says Micaela.

The show depicts Parisians as snobbish and mean to Emily. Everybody is smoking everywhere, in the office, on the terrace… Paris is a cloud of nicotine: that is one of the most obvious clichés of the show. As illustrated by one of the main characters, Sylvie, when asked if she would like to have lunch, answers: “I’ll have a cigarette”. “I have never seen anyone smoking in an office. I think it’s been a few years since this is forbidden. The cigarette thing for example could be quite true because of course on the terrace of cafés people are smoking, but I don’t think it’s just a French thing. In every country I’ve been to, people were smoking as much as the French I’d say” says Rose.

Another disturbing cliché is that almost every French man is a womanizer. Every male Emily encounters is either flirting with her or will be seen as a possible lover. She is reminded that it is in the French culture to have other partners while already being in a relationship. In the series, it feels as if cheating is a national sport. “It is a cliché that American have that French people keep cheating on each other. But since I have arrived in France, I haven’t had this feeling. It is just that in America it’s taboo to speak about that, and in France it hasn’t got this moral aspect. Still, it is true that often French men are charming, relationship between men and women are more easy-going, and it might be difficult for an American to make the difference,” says the English teacher.

The show has been badly received after its first season by the French, on the social media. Lots of parodies were made about the poster of the show. You can see Emily taking a picture during a “yellow vest” protest instead of the Eiffel Tower. French people resent the fact that the series carries stereotypes and clichés that have no relation to the reality that French people live. “It is unfair that the Parisians are shown as mean and incompetent, and that they need the advice of an American to succeed. I think that Emily has got a lot to learn” says Micaela.

Maybe Emily needs to respect the French more, but then, maybe the French need to show more tolerance towards a young American who doesn’t know better.