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We Need to Talk about Emily… In Paris!

By Amy Hernandez

The Darren Star comedy-drama "Emily in Paris" arrived on Netflix on October 2nd and has had people talking since its release. Many people have attacked the show saying it is filled with cliche after cliche of Paris and Parisians. I remember seeing a lot of criticism online the first few days after it was out and not understanding all the hate the show was receiving. I enjoyed the show so much I finished it on the first day it was available and have rewatched the show multiple times since. With a show like "Emily in Paris," I don't think we can say it's exactly great or terrible because yes, it is unrealistic, but what's wrong with trying to escape life once in a while? Ironically, the show had commentary on this subject, but before going any farther, be aware of the SPOILERS ahead.

Culture or Cliche?

Were there one too many croissants, baguettes, and berets in the show? Sure. I won't argue that "Emily in Paris" paints Paris and Parisians in very stereotypical ways, especially when multiple Parisians or people who have lived in Paris say that life in Paris isn't as glamorous as the show depicts. While I understand the frustration of seeing one's city reduced to stereotypes, Paris is not the only place that has been stereotyped in shows and movies. Take Chicago, for example. At the beginning of the show, we get to see Emily (played by the amazing Lily Collins) in the windy city, and of course, she works and lives downtown since she's seen running around the lakefront. It's not surprising that this is where they shot the Chicago scenes since it is the most aesthetic and recognizable part of the city. Being a Chicago native myself, I couldn't help but laugh when watching the deep-dish pizza scene in Paris because sometimes it feels like pizza is all Chicago is known for. Also, what's up with every movie and show choosing to have their Chicagoan characters be Cubs fans? A lot of us are White Sox fans! Nonetheless, I think these depictions of cities and cultures should not stop us from enjoying the show because it is still nice to see the "magical" sites. Unfortunately, a lot of us have never been to Paris and will probably not go anytime soon, so seeing the Parisian sites in the show is the closest we will get to experiencing and knowing Paris.

One moment I found super relatable was when Emily shows her boyfriend a beautiful view of Paris while facetime and says, "[i]t's amazing, isn't it? The entire city looks like Ratatouille." I had to chuckle at that scene because I think many of us can relate to Emily since our knowledge of Paris mainly comes from a Disney movie. This makes me even more grateful for the show since now we can add another show to reference when thinking about Paris.

American Vs. French

Why else do I think the show is fun and interesting? It portrays the differences between American and French culture in a rather relatable way. One of the first things Emily gets called out for is for not speaking French. Language barriers exist in any country, but let's be honest. Americans still expect that others will adapt to their needs and speak English to them. I think the show brings awareness to our perception of language since English-speaking Americans need to recognize that people from other countries and cultures aren't required to speak English to us; it is a favor.

What about work? Well, as the show presents, Americans and the French have different work cultures. In her first team meeting, Emily is asked by her coworker Luc why she is shouting. This scene made me laugh because I thought back to all the times I found myself in class, being asked to raise my voice. I always felt like I was yelling. I don't know if Emily's loud voice was due to her bubbly personality or a product of American culture that requires people to speak authoritatively with a loud voice. (Maybe I would do better in French society). However, the scene does a great job of building the work tensions that arise due to cultural differences.

Emily also showed her American customs when she arrived early to work. As I've learned in my communication course, different countries don't abide by the same strict time rules we do in the United States. After a quick Google search, I actually found out that France is indeed more polychronic– meaning a French person may turn up late to a meeting and think nothing of it (something that would obviously upset many Americans.) In some cultures, arriving early or on time might actually be seen as rude, so dear readers, if you ever find yourself working in another country, be aware of how the people of that country view time and adapt accordingly.

"You live to work. We work to live." You'll probably remember that the carefree Luc said these lines to Emily in the first episode. Let's face it. Many of us Americans are workaholics because our culture has made us accustomed to working all the time. When I watched this scene, I wondered if Americans actually work significantly more than the French, so I turned to Google. It turns out we do. Based on past research, Americans work approximately 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers. Although Emily justifies her enthusiasm for work, I was left wondering if the French way is better. There's nothing wrong with loving your work, but should we really be working that many hours? And what happens when your work doesn't take you to Paris or can't afford you all the Chanel Emily has? I also found out that Americans are less likely to take vacations or family leave because these aren't benefits that are guaranteed to be paid. All in all, it seems like Luc is right about Americans having the wrong balance. We might work more and make more money (sometimes for our employers and not ourselves), but are we truly happy?

Another key moment in the show occurred when Antoine, Emily, and Sylvie debate whether the new De L'Heure commercial is sexist or feminine. Emily's argument was in line with our American views on feminism and our current political climate. However, Antoine and Sylvie essentially argue that French people don't have such a simplistic view of men and women. Sylvie even tells Emily, "Chérie, I'm a woman. Not a feminist." I think this is another moment when we learn about our cultural differences, which is a good thing because we learn how people from other cultures view the same topics. Sylvie's views don't represent all French women's views, the same way that Emily's views don't represent the views of all American women. Since I know very little about French history and the female experience in France, I can't speak on Sylvie's perspective of women and men. Instead, I'll say that Emily did a good job of presenting the American perspective to her French superiors because she's right. A commercial where a woman walks naked down a bridge where men stare at her would not resonate well in the U.S. Nudity is a subject that Americans have been particularly conservative about in their films and commercials, and given our political climate, Emily was right to insist that the commercial would not be taken well. Working with people from different cultures is bound to bring tension and disagreement, but the more we know about our differences, the better off we'll be.

Finally, I want to bring up the "French Ending" episode where we learn about the cinematic differences between French and American cinema. I didn't know this, but Americans are apparently in love with happy endings. We like to escape life and feel like movies give us the chance to do so. On the other hand, French people prefer more tragic endings that they believe are more realistic to life. As Luc says, "you can never escape life. Never." Learning about this was super exciting for me since I love movies and never realized how different American cinema is from French cinema. I'm afraid I have to disagree with Luc's take on cinema being unable to help us escape life because I feel like I escape life all the time through shows, movies, and books. I'll agree that most of our American cinema is rather optimistic, but is that a bad thing? Surrounding ourselves with the tragedy of life all the time(as real as it may be) seems too depressing to me. Ironically, I think the issue is relevant to the criticism "Emily in Paris" has received. Many viewers have expressed their discontent with the show's unrealistic portrayal of life and think things are too good to be true. I agree, but what's wrong with watching an improbable story that is still fun and easy to watch? Isn't it nice to escape the confinements of reality? I can't bash "Emily in Paris" for being unrealistic and too good to be true because, in these times of unrest, I don’t mind la vie en rose.

Amy Hernandez is an editorial intern dedicated to researching and writing about all things skincare, film, and fashion.

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