Cultural ignorance stars in America’s Netflix favorite, “Emily in Paris”
I’ve been an American in Paris, and the City of Lights seems pretty dark in Netflix’s new romantic comedy series, “Emily in Paris.” The show offers as much realism as Pixar’s 2007 film “Ratatouille,” about a Parisian rat who chases his dreams of becoming a chef. The show’s entertainment value isn’t up for debate, but it’s entirely unoriginal and, frankly, moronic to trivialize a foreign culture already so subject to parody.
The show follows Emily (Lily Collins), a 20-something public relations executive from Chicago, as she moves to Paris to help a French luxury marketing firm with social media. The series chronicles her challenges adjusting to a new life while juggling a new job, new friendships, and new relationships.
It’s sad that so many Americans are raving about the show, especially when it has been blasted by French critics for its unrealistic portrayal of France's capital and the people who live there. Aside from the beautiful Parisian streets, I had a hard time recognizing the city myself.
I was excited, however, to learn that “Emily in Paris” was created by Darren Star, the man responsible for one of my favorite shows –– “Sex and the City”. For me, “Sex and the City” was magical because it depicted single life in New York City as something fabulous and female-centric, not burdensome and male-obsessed.
In some ways, “Emily in Paris” has this feel too.
One of the rare funny lines could have come straight from the mouth of Samantha Jones: “Oh my God, I’m petit-mortified,” says Emily about a loud orgasm heard by her entire building.
But these quippy lines don’t save the show.
In the first episode, Emily moves into an absolutely ginormous chambre de bonne –– typically a single room (often without a kitchen). While one of the most affordable places to live in Paris, chambre de bonnes typically come at great cost to traditional American comfort; however, Emily seems thrilled with the apartment and its convenient location just one floor above her heartthrob neighbor, Gabriel (Lucas Bravo).
What does she do next, you ask? She heads to the neighborhood pâtisserie and takes a selfie, of course, with the oh-so-French pastry, pain au chocolat.
The ten-episode series left me wondering what the French could have possibly done to deserve “Emily in Paris.” One scene in episode two was particularly hard to watch. Emily and her friend Mindy (Ashley Park) are getting lunch at a brasserie and Emily orders a bloody steak. When the steak arrives bloody she dares to send it back, claiming that there was a mistake. The server tells Emily that her food is correct, the situation escalates quickly and soon the chef is brought out to speak to the table. Of course, the chef is revealed to be her gorgeous neighbor and all tension subsides as her American arrogance is replaced with flirtatious eyes. Gabriel explains that she ordered un steak saignant or A BLOODY STEAK. Emily smiles and tries it. It’s delicious.
The show doesn’t hit you over the head with clichés, it clobbers you to death with them. The French are rude. The French are snobs. The French are romantic. If it hadn’t been recommended to me by every one of my friends saying, “OMG, MAIA! This is YOU!” then I probably wouldn’t have watched it.
I prefer genuine French productions to whatever this is but, funnily enough, I was living in Paris and working for a communications agency myself when the show was filmed. But, after watching, I hope that’s the only similarity that Emily and I share.
In a word, Emily is entitled. She doesn’t speak French. She doesn’t know the customs. She doesn’t show any inclination to learn, aside from the Rosetta Stone audiotape she listened to on the plane. As someone who has lived the experience that the show portrays, I can confidently say that very few French stereotypes are accurate and the ones that exist are in response to people exactly like Emily. Her willful, even proud, cultural ignorance is shameful. The most excitement I got from watching this show were goosebumps of secondhand embarrassment as Emily committed every faux pas imaginable. Thanks for nothing, “Emily in Paris.” Can I have my time back?