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.
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.
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?
— The Local France (@TheLocalFrance) October 5, 2020
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Ten great things to do with kids in Paris. Number 1. Play spot the rats in a local park. (There was about 20 of them) But is a rat infestation actually bad? Is there a health risk? Or are they harmless furry friends? pic.twitter.com/XOguWwXGBG
— Ben McPartland (@McPBen) September 29, 2019
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.
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.