At first, I went into watching Emily in Paris with a bit of a French attitude. My French husband had read in the French media that it's just all the stereotypes and all the French people are always smoking. The smoking part really bothers my husband since he's not a smoker. I guess it would be like if French people made a series and all the Americans were always eating hamburgers. Anyhow, I love Lily Collins and it looked like the kind of bright and fun Darren Starr series that I love watching, but I'm so over all the unrealistic romanticizations of France and especially Paris. I even wrote a sitcom about how unromantic and obnoxious it is being married to a Frenchman. Still, I decided to watch the series, because it's also in the space and genre I love writing in...so, let's call it homework. What I found is that it's the usual fashionable and super posh side of Paris that most of us can only dream of, and the show hits all the stereotypes. That being said, I found watching the show was unexpectedly therapeutic for me, because it confirmed for me that you can take the boy out of France, but you can't take the France out of the boy (even if the boy says he's not the most intolerable French person). Thanks to my husband, I now have a love/hate relationship with France and everything French, but in the end I enjoyed the series. What can I say, I'm just a bright-eyed, colorful, optimistic, loud American girl who loves a good romance and happy endings. So, let me break down some of the comically true stereotypes and cultural differences.
"Chinese people are mean behind your back. French people are mean to your face."
In the series, Emily meets Mindy, who becomes her Asian BFF and is a Chinese zipper heiress living in Paris as an au pair, but she speaks with an American accent because she spent some of her formative years in Indiana. When they meet, Emily is feeling defeated in her new office surrounded by French people that aren't exactly dazzled by her upbeat American attitude, and Mindy makes this statement that perfectly sums up my Chinese-Franco-American household. Well, sort of. But she hits the nail on the head with this statement. It was this moment that made me warm up to the show, because I finally felt understood.
"You live to work. We work to live."
I can't even tell you how many times I've heard my husband say this exact thing. It was a little weird. I thought, did they just take my life and write it into this fancy Netflix show? But let's be clear, because he'll be mad if I mislead anyone into thinking he's a typical Frenchman. My husband doesn't say this directed at me, he says it when we're generally talking about the differences. As he always says, "[he's] ambitious. [He was] made for America!"
"Sexy or sexist?"
This speaks to the patriarchal culture we are all breaking out of (because we are), so it's not just a French culture thing, but in the context of the show I find it is very true of Latin cultures. This statement comes about after Emily comments on the commercial ad for one of their clients as being sexist; whereas, the client thinks it's sexy and celebrating a woman's power. I've thought a lot about this when it comes to the Latin Music scene. What is sexy and what is sexist and the result of a patriarchal culture? It was an interesting point to make and I think significant. Americans are comparatively prude when it comes to sex, but in Emily's defense, the ad was totally sexist and conceptualized by a man.
I don't know why, but if all we knew about Frenchmen was through American movies and TV shows, we would think that all Frenchmen are uber romantics and this series definitely plays into that notion. Every Frenchman that comes into Emily's life woos her in some overtly romantic way. I'm sorry to slash the fantasy, but I just don't find this to be true. My husband is not the overtly romantic type at all. And he doesn't make me crepes like people weirdly assumed he would. Just because the French are known for their cuisine doesn't mean every French person knows how to cook. That being said, I talked to my husband about how every man Emily meets hits on her. Besides the fact that Lilly is gorgeous, this is just a Hollywood thing right? Well, he said in French culture, when opportunity presents itself, men act on it and it works like 1 in 100 times; however they're usually much more subtle than our movies lead us to believe. He said, none of the guys in this series are subtle, and that's the Hollywood part.
Happy Endings vs. French Endings
Speaking of romcoms, one stereotype brought up is that Americans love happy endings. We want to see the hero win. We want our big happy Hollywood ending that leaves us feeling warm and fuzzy on the inside and wearing a ridiculously large toothy smile. That's totally me and I totally own it. In the series, Luc, one of Emily's colleagues, who eventually became one of my favorite characters, is the one that makes this statement while making fun of our romcoms. He says something along the lines of, "I want a French ending. I want tragedy!" This raises the cultural difference of Americans (in general) being very optimistic, "si se puede," stars in our eyes. French people are, as they call themselves "realists." Whenever I tell my husband to stop being a Debbie Downer, he responds with "I'm not, I'm a realist." Also, whereas we Americans might say something is really good, French people don't do that. If something is good, they just say "ca va." It's fine. It annoys the crap out of me, but I've learned to accept it...most of the time..
"The Customer is NEVER right."
Customer service does not exist in France. In the second episode, Emily tries to send a steak back to the kitchen for being under-cooked, which is a big no no. In France, you don't send food back, you don't ask for substitutes, you just don't. I never noticed this resistance to catering to others' requests before I met my husband, but the week of our Parisian wedding (we had more than one wedding), it became abundantly clear how true this statement was. French people love to say "non" and it's a pain in the ass to ask anything of anyone. Funny thing is, as much as my husband complains about this, I've noticed recently that it is a real pain in the ass asking him to do anything. And now in the States, when he gets subpar customer service, he is the first to complain about it. He always says, "We're in the U.S., this is unacceptable!" What I will say though, is that I find people from and places outside of Paris to be warmer and friendlier. Of course, it would be unfair to generalize ALL Parisians as rude and a pain in the ass, but...I'm just going to say these are my husband's words.
"Why are you shouting?"
In Emily's first meeting, she's excited, enthusiastic, and loud. I've definitely been asked this question on more than one occasion. I can't help it. I'm Chinese-American. So, not only am I annoyingly optimistic and enthusiastic, but Chinese people are like the Italians of Asia. Unless it's just my family, but either way, loud is in my DNA. I never really noticed how "not" loud the French are because my husband has volume control issues, too, until I had French clients last year and the president was how we might imagine a stereotypical, posh, French woman--effortlessly elegant, tres cool but not loud about it. Let's just say I was very conscious about my volume every time we spoke.
"Your language is seriously effed up."
I think we all know how intolerant the French are of people who can't speak French perfectly. There's no "'A' for effort" in France. I mean, the French even make fun of Belgians and Canadians for their accent and especially Canadians for their weirdly mutated French. The only person who is patient with my French is my husband's aunt, not even my husband (meri, Tata Domi!). I speak four languages and am generally good at picking them up, so you'd think my French would be much better than it is, but not even my husband has the patience for me. I've mastered Russian (though I'm rusty now), and French is still harder. Those damn "r's" and missing consonants.
Americans, the World Police.
Weirdly, at times as I watched this series, I felt a little awkward and uncomfortable. Why do many Americans feel going to another country and imposing their ways is something that should be naturally accepted. That's what colonialism was. We may think the French are arrogant, but we also have our own brand of arrogance. This is the part of Emily's character that makes her come off at times as the idiot (and arrogant) American, because while it's her job to bring the American perspective, in order to do so we have to understand the other culture's perspective, too. I think this is true even if you are the "host country" in any situation. You can't force people to adapt your culture and ways, if you don't first understand their's. It takes two to rendezvous.
I'm not sure this is Darren Starr's best work, but it's perfectly enjoyable and was a great brain break for me. Also, like every Darren Starr series, the wardrobe is fabulously delectable. If I haven't already mentioned it, I love romcoms, and this is basically an extended romcom. Watching Emily in Paris has inspired me to write "Justine in Saint-Ouen," where an American girl lands in Paris and gets the real Parisian experience. While I love the couture, and beautiful historic establishments, one problem with movies and television shows we oft make about Paris is that we tend to just show the glamorous side of Paris. You can tell by the staircase in her apartment building that Emily lives in a wealthy arrondissement. She lives in the 5th arrondissement to be exact, which doesn't make sense since her studly neighbor is supposed to be a not so wealthy up and coming chef. It's the same misconception people have of California. People think beaches, palm trees, Rodeo Drive, and the Hollywood sign. What they don't realize is that we also have mountains, beautiful deserts, and lots of farm land.
Have you watched Emily in Paris? What are your thoughts? We can totally chat over a pain au chocolate ;).