I’m French and I Watched "Emily in Paris." Here’s Why I Hated It.

About a week ago, Netflix came out with a 10-episode series by the producer of Sex and the City. And boy, has it rocked the Internet. 

For those of you who missed the social media earthquake that the response to the show caused, Emily is a young woman from Chicago who works at a marketing firm. After the firm acquires an agency in Paris called Savoir, she moves there—ironically, without knowing the language or the culture. 

My first reaction when I read the French critics was, “It can’t possibly be that bad.” So, I got ready to binge-watch the show about my beloved city. As you can imagine from the title of this review, I was pretty offended, and maybe even insulted by the short series.

I want to preface this by emphasizing that I know very well that I, as an upper-middle-class, straight-passing white woman studying abroad, am not oppressed. And I recognize that France has been a colonizer for centuries, so the American approach to other cultures is, well, not so foreign to France. This isn’t an apology for all that my government has done and continues to do, but rather my personal experience both as a French woman and student in the U.S.

Now that we’re clear on that, let’s dive right in. Emily in Paris, c’est de la merde. Hey, that’s French for “it’s sh*t”!

To put it bluntly, Emily acts in an entitled, almost imperialist way the second she walks into the office of the agency Savoir. But somehow, the show portrays her as a victim of arrogant, rude, and judgy Parisians opposed to any meaningful professional change. 

She also treats the city as an amusement park to elevate her brand and get influencer opportunities, without learning anything about the culture. 

And I’m not even going to mention all the clichés about French people being unfaithful and inappropriately flirtatious because that would just make my blood pressure rise a little too much. 

Emily has this irritating assumption that the French don’t know how to innovate and are stuck in the past. But here’s the thing—tradition has its benefits and does not hinder progress. We pride ourselves on our ability to honor literary icons from hundreds of years ago while adopting progressive policies that other countries don’t even dream of suggesting. Paid paternity leave, anyone? 

Emily wants to implement the American workplace culture without anyone asking her for feedback in the first place! And she fails to realize that her workplace culture may not only make people uncomfortable but go against their values. She sends her colleagues the ten commandments of her Chicago firm, one of which asks employees to “criticize in private, encourage in public.” A tad audacious considering that a staple of French culture is authenticity and heated political debates with anyone and everyone over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In France, tradition is in charge—hierarchy exists but can take a backseat in favor of genuine relationships and conversations. We don’t network or collaborate the American way, and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

The reason that Emily is singled out both by her colleagues and by many Parisians is that she does not value the French point of view. She comes to the city to tell locals how to run their business before she even asks what has been working for them before! 

So, here’s my hot take! Maybe if Emily respected tradition, which is undoubtedly a core French value, and put a twist on it rather than mocked it, she would earn the praise that she desperately seeks. ariel view of Paris, France at sunset Photo by Pedro Lastra from Unsplash The show hit another nerve in light of my personal experience. In my last two years as an international student in the U.S., I’ve been acting like a guest in this country. I’ve had to adapt to norms that I don’t appreciate, one of them being disingenuity in the workplace. Politeness—and a fake-nice approach at times—is often encouraged here, whereas brutal honesty is valued where I come from. I was also surprised by how people dress in the United States, as I’ve been taught that wearing sweatpants outside is a sign of disrespect to those around you. And, like Emily Cooper, I’ve felt isolated abroad, because of both cultural and linguistic differences. But unlike her, I didn't blame it on Americans. I kept trying, and over time, I was able to somewhat be integrated. I made it work. 

Finally, I take issue with the way that the show portrays Paris. The producers make it seem like my city is only made of luxurious buildings and fancy restaurants. Emily lives and works in the richest, oldest districts downtown. Just like Carrie and her friends from Sex and the City don’t go far beyond Manhattan, Emily doesn’t venture to neighborhoods where low and middle-income people reside. This TikTok perfectly sums up how I feel about Emily's Instagrammable walks in the city.

I hate to break it to y’all, but Paris is not all romance and nice cafés. It’s the capital of France, where class struggle becomes visible during protests that draw hundreds of thousands of French people from cities around the country. It gets quite dirty—there may or may not be a delicate smell of piss in certain subway stations—and the traffic is awful. Our wonderful mayor is working to make the city greener and more equitable by limiting gentrification and overtourism. All that is to say that there is so much more to us than the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower—good and bad. The producers ought to look at “average” Parisians scraping by to live there.

I’m clearly not the only one who hated the show. According to The New York Times, many French viewers found the show ridiculious. The Hollywood reporter says French critics found the show embarrassing. French radio RTL made a list of 31 scenes that Parisians found completely misleading and cliché. And French newspaper Le Monde criticizes the contrast made by the producers between American virtue and French debauchery. I'm glad that some of my American peers recognize that the show is flawed.

I was willing to imagine that the actress may not have planned for this and that she would take French commentary into account for the future. But so far, Lily Collins has deflected criticism by calling critics “crazy.” She even made a paid ad for Lancôme to talk about her secrets to get the “French girl look,” which, by the way, does not fit any French makeup routine I’ve seen of my friends so far.  

Perhaps I’m just nauseated with all the “oui oui baguette” people have said to my face and the constant mix of fetishization and criticism of my culture that I’ve noticed in my time in the United States. Perhaps this is why the show’s creative decisions hit me so hard. But, I do think it’s worth listening when so many French locals feel humiliated and insulted by the show.

It seems that season two will feature Emily as more of a resident than a tourist, so there is an opportunity to transform the vibe of the show and keep its fun, lighthearted, emotional rollercoaster while honoring French culture. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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