‘Vile snobs’: What did the French think of Emily in Paris?

Season 2 of the hit Netflix show Emily in Paris has just landed, but the first series did not go down well with many inhabitants of the French capital - here's what they said about it.

'Vile snobs': What did the French think of Emily in Paris?
Gritty realism plays no part in the highly romaticised Emily in Paris. Photo: AFP

The show, season 1 of which came out in October 2020, follows Chicago native Emily who moves to Paris on a one-year placement with a French firm as a last-minute replacement after her boss falls pregnant.

She is there to advise them on their social media strategy because, as she sweetly explains to her new colleagues, “Americans invented social media” but finds that they are not receptive to her input, which is often delivered through a translation app because Emily does not speak French.

Although Emily loves the beauty of the city and highly appreciates French patisserie, she is left shocked that the locals are frequently cold and unfriendly to her.

Set almost entirely in the central arrondissements, Paris looks stunning in the beautifully-shot show, but nonetheless French critics have been left unimpressed with its depiction of life in the capital.

“Berets. Croissants. The grumpy waiters. The irascible concierges. The incorrigible flirts. Lovers and mistresses. Quote a cliché about France and the French and you’ll find it in Emily in Paris,” summarises the critic in 20 minutes.

Here’s why some aspects seem to have really grated in France.

Her apartment

Emily’s apartment is described as a chambre de bonne – one of the smallest apartment types in Paris these nestle on the top floor of apartment blocks and were traditionally the maid’s quarters but these days are let out as studio apartments.

Emily’s seems to be pretty untypical though – she has a separate bedroom and living space and there are none of the more ‘quirky’ features often seen in chambres de bonnes, such as a shower in the kitchen space.

The French daily Le Parisien huffed that her apartment is “clearly at least 20 square metres”. While this may not sound like much it’s actually pretty big by Paris standards where apartments of 10 to 15 square metres are regularly advertised.

It’s illegal in Paris to rent out a space that has less than 9 square metres of habitable space, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen

READ ALSO 9 things to expect when renting an apartment in France 

Rude French people

“It reduces the capital’s inhabitants to vile snobs” complained MadmoiZelle magazine, while Le Parisien adds: “The French don’t really have the best role: unpleasant, saying no to everything.”

So is this true? Well Parisians do have a bit of a reputation for being rude – not just internationally but with their fellow French citizens, who frequently complain that the inhabitants of the capital are rude and arrogant. There’s even a phrase – Parigot tête de veau – that roughly translates as ‘asshole Parisians’.

But are the Parisians really that mean to Emily? Her handsome neighbour is endlessly patient with her apparent inability to remember that a fourth floor apartment involves four flights of stairs, the lady in the boulangerie was probably just trying to help when she pointed out that it is un pain au chocolat and une baguette and as for her ‘mean’ boss – is it so unreasonable to expect an employee to speak the language of the country they are working in?

Yes, there are rude people in Paris but learning French manners – particularly the all-important bonjour – will go a long way towards ensuring a polite reception.

READ ALSO The French are not really rude, it’s all a misunderstanding


Prèmiere’s critic Charles Martin writes: “We learn that the French are ‘all bad’, that they are lazy and never arrive at the office before the end of the morning, that they are incorrigible flirts not really attached to the concept of fidelity, that they are sexist and retrograde, and of course, that they have a dubious relationship with their shower. Yes, no cliché is spared, not even the most banal.” 

Perky Emily shows up bright and early at her office, only to find it locked and her colleagues straggling in to work several hours later with the boss finally showing up after 11am before disappearing for a long lunch with at least one bottle of wine.

It’s true that the French have shorter working hours than in the USA and that there are plenty of public holidays and vacation time to lighten the load, but French workers regularly top league tables for productivity.

Proper lunch breaks are the norm in France and bolting a sandwich at your desk is generally regarded as a terrible Anglo-Saxon habit, but while a glass of wine with lunch is acceptable long, raucous boozy lunches in the middle of a working day are – sadly – not standard.

It is true that, as one of Emily’s colleagues explains to her, the philosophy in France tends to be ‘work to live, rather than live to work’ though, and that’s one of the big reasons that Anglophones move here.

La bise

Always a tricky one for non-French people, but Emily is shocked when she shows up at her new office to be greeted by the company director with a double cheek kiss.

Rest assured, this would be unlikely in a professional setting with someone that you have just met, la bise is for friends, family members or colleagues that you know reasonably well.

The government’s Covid-19 rules currently ask us not to do it anyway, so you can get away with an elbow bump instead.

READ ALSO La bise – when to kiss, how many times and on which cheek


Ironically, one of the major complaints of Parisians is that the show is too flattering towards their city.

It’s largely set in the highly photogenic fifth arrondissement but the graffiti, litter and rats that are features of all parts of the city are conspicuous by their absence, and even the ubiquitous dog mess only makes a fleeting appearance.

“With its immaculate streets, Parisians will find it hard to recognise their daily lives in this show,” said radio station RTL.

Great lovers 

A cliché that you might think (male) French writers would be happy to perpetuate is the age-old stereotype of all Frenchmen as great lovers.

But in fact, Le Parisien complains: “Men are also portrayed as incredible and insatiable lovers in bed. Moreover, all the male characters encountered by the heroine – apart from her colleagues – make some attempt to seduce her. A chain of embarrassing and downright annoying clichés, even when you have a lot of self-mockery.”

We’ve not done enough research to have a statistically valid sample on this topic, but a book advising French men on how to become better in bed sold out almost immediately last year and had to be reprinted, so maybe they’re not as confident as they seem.

READ ALSO Frenchmen aren’t that great in bed  – five French dating myths busted

We should point out, however, that most French people have been amused rather than angry about the show and fully acknowledge that their city gives rise to romanticising.
Series 1 was one of the most-watched shows on French Netflix, so clearly some people enjoyed it, or at least loved to hate it, and series 2 – available from Wednesday, December 22nd – is already providing plenty of buzz. 

Nevertheless, if you want viewing that gives a more realistic depiction of France, here are our recommendations.

And if you want a thorough and hilarious evisceration of Emily in Paris, we recommend the Twitter feed of UK-dwelling Parisian academic Arthur Asseraf @ArthurAsseraf. 

Member comments

  1. There certainly IS a lot of smoking in Paris and France in general. I’ve given up on eating outside. Heck, even eating inside near the folding doors you’re not safe from the smoke–or even at the back of the place with the front doors are wide open. I guess if you’re trying to enjoy some outdoor music, it is OK to stand in the crowd and start smoking. OK too to stand right in an open doorway and smoke. Raining day downtown, get a break under an awning–but no, people come out and smoke under the awning. People can barely make it out of the Metro without lighting up. Can’t breathe in a passage gallery in the 9th.

  2. I’ve just watched the series, and frequently laughed out loud. I have to say, whilst it paints an impossibly romantic and cleaned-up version of Paris, I have personally experienced almost every one of the putdowns by snotty French – especially in business – that Emily endures, and I hardly ever go to Paris…..However, fifteen years living in a more rural setting I find that the ability to laugh at themselves is far more prevalent among French people than most anglos can imagine.

  3. What an excellent way of getting free publicity for a mediocre tv show. “Interview” some of the few Parisians that have seen the show, then inform news outlets that Paris is furious about how it’s been portrayed. Priceless.

  4. I have visited alost every year for a while, alas this year is a no go. I visit in September for Patrimony wekend. I feel outstandingly lucky to be allowed into places thst few people ever will get inside, including french people. On my first visites I too was struck in this romantic americanized view. But I stay for 5 weeks each year and you quickly learn what is real and what is not. I do take day trips outside of paris, my favorites being Chateau de Fountainbleau and Vaux Le Vicomte and Chantilly. I was lucky to spend a weekend in Lyon and eat very well. I speak only passable french, I stand out like a fox in a chicken coop. I have learned how to take any and all trains and the Metro. Paris is a huge very multi-cultural city and I love it. Now I stay away from the touristy areas and stay with a friend in the 8th. I have also stayed in Montparnasse which is a really nice family area. Few tourists. What I see is that the tourists are awed by Paris, they only see the toursit things. I will include the asians here also, awed. It is like any other huge city, but you are lucky you get to live there. We do not, we only see the picture postcard touristy stuff. I do understand that this frustrates you, you know more than I ever will about Paris. A corollary is what peoople expect to see in New York city and find that it is dark and very dirty, full of street people and now with covid-19 a nasty place. New Yorkers do not see that, tourists do. And New Yorkers like Parisians see their city differently from everyone else. But people have this “view” of New York that does not exist. My favorite museums are the ones tourists seldom visit, Musee Nissan de Camondo and Musee Carnavalet. And if it is not open next year I will commit suicide right on the Rue Francs Bourgeous. In early summer I love a walk in the Parc de Bagetelle the roses are outstanding. I still have this romanticized view of Paris even after all these years. But I do understand it as a modern city.

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Can France’s Constitution be changed to add the right to abortion?

In the wake of the American Supreme Court's decision to end abortion rights for women in the US, French politicians from the centre and the left say they will move to have the right to terminate pregnancy enshrined in France's Constitution - so how easy is it to amend the Constitution in France?

Can France's Constitution be changed to add the right to abortion?

France’s first Constitution came into force in 1791, written by the French Revolutionaries and promising liberté, egalité and fraternité.

Those values are still very much in evidence in France today (in fact they’re carved into every public building) but in 1791 medicine involved bleeding, social networks meant gossiping with your neighbours over the wall and wigs made out of horsehair were very fashionable – in short, things change.

And the French constitution changes with them.

In fact, even talking about ‘the’ constitution is a little misleading, since France has had 15 different constitutions between the French Revolution of 1789 and the adoption of the current constitution in 1958 – the birth of the Fifth Republic.

Since 1958, there have also been 24 revisions to the constitution. Introducing it, then-President Charles du Gaulle said “the rest is a matter for men,” (we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant people, since women did have the vote by then) in other words, he envisaged that it would be revised when necessary.

So the short answer is that constitutional change in France is possible – and there is significant precedent for it – but there are several steps involved. 

What does it take to change the Constitution?

Changing the constitution in France requires Presidential approval, plus the approval of both houses of parliament (the Assemblée nationale and the Senate) and then the approval of the final text by a three-fifths majority of two parliaments.

The other option is a referendum, but only after the two assemblies have voted in favour.

In short, it needs to be an issue that has wide and cross-party support.

Articles 11 and 89 of the French constitution cover changes.

Article 11 allows for a constitutional referendum, which is a tool that is intended to give the people decisive power in legislative matters. A high-profile example of this is when former French President Charles de Gaulle employed Article 11 to to introduce the appointment of the president by direct universal suffrage in 1962, which modified then-Article 6 of the constitution. However, this method of changing the constitution is controversial, and can technically only be done for specific themes: the organisation of public authorities, economic and social reforms, or to ratify international treaties. Technically it does not require the referendum to first pass through parliament.

What did previous reforms cover?

Looking at the reforms in the last 60 years, the scope has been pretty wide.

The French Constitution was substantially amended to “take account of these new developments, needs, ideas, and values.” The goal of these amendments was to better “define and control the power of the executive, to increase the powers of Parliament, and to better assure the protection of fundamental rights.”

About 47 articles were amended or drafted, and some new provisions came into force immediately, such as the limitation to two consecutive presidential terms. 

Examples range from the 2000 Constitutional referendum where French people voted to shorten the presidential term from seven years to five years; the 2007 constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty, and several amendments to adapt the French constitution to make it compatible with EU treaties such as the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties. 

Is a constitutional change more powerful than a law?

The most recent call for change – sparked by events in America – is to add the right to abortion into the constitution.

The right to abortion in France is protected by the “Veil law,” which was passed in 1975, so is there a benefit to adding it to the constitution as well?

Simply being a law does not give a definitive and irrevocable right to abortion in France and the law can be changed – parliament recently elongated the legal time limit for performing an abortion up to 14 weeks, which shows that under different circumstances lawmakers would be free to remove these provisions and chip away at the “Veil law.”

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is the law on abortion in France?

If a majority of deputés agreed on a text banning abortion it could become law (although there are other procedural steps to pass through and such a decision would be challenged in the courts). Whereas, as outlined above, changing a constitutional right requires a much broader consensus from across the political spectrum.

In short, enshrining the right in the constitution would provide further protection for the right in the event of a future government that is anti-abortion – Marine Le Pen, who came second in the recent residential election has always been very vague on whether she supports the right to abortion, while many in her party are openly anti-abortion.

Why has France had so many constitutions?

The simple answer is that France’s many constitutions have reflected the shift between authoritarianism and republicanism throughout French history.

France is currently on its Fifth Republic, and its history since the French Revolution has also involved several periods of restoration of the monarchy and a brief period under an Emperor – all of these different regimes have required their own constitution.

READ MORE: Explained: What is the French Fifth Republic?

During the tumultuous revolutionary period, France had several constitutions, culminating in “Constitution of the Year XII,” which established the First French Empire. When the monarchy was restored, a new constitution codified the attempt to establish a constitutional monarchy.

France’s current constitution ushered in the Fifth Republic, largely at the behest of General Charles de Gaulle who was called to power during the May 1958 political crisis. One of the defining characteristics of the Fifth Republic is that it is a democracy, though the executive (the president) holds a significant amount of power.

So far, the Fifth Republic’s constitution has lasted 64 years, and should the Fifth Republic last until 2028, it will be the longest Republic – even longer than the Third Republic which endured from 1870 to 1940.

Could France have a new constitution in the future?

It is very possible. Former left-wing presidential candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has proposed a Sixth Republic, which, according to France 24, would involve “proportional representation to make parliament more representative; giving citizens the power to initiate legislation and referendums, and to revoke their representatives; and scrapping special powers that currently give France’s executive right to pass legislation without parliamentary approval.” 

Mélenchon failed in his 2022 presidential bid however, so the Fifth Republic is still – for the moment – on course to beat that longevity record.