“Emily in Paris” angers real Parisians

Cheating, croissants, sewing – while “Emily in Paris” has transfixed young American female viewers, she is reviled by many of the city’s real-life residents whom she treats as laughing.

In Netflix’s most popular comedy series of 2020, viewers were transported away from the grim reality of the coronavirus pandemic to a shiny, sleek, and frankly unrealistic version of the City of Light. The second season of Darren Star’s hit series, which was behind “Sex in the City,” also plays on perceived tensions between American and French lifestyles, and quickly became a top 10 hit on the streaming service after its fall in December.

The fantastic depiction of Paris and those who live, work and love there is in line with “Sex In the City” celebrating New York, presenting the French capital as a dreamscape with characters wearing exaggerated outfits, handsome men Gauls and a luxury sleeper train to Saint-Tropez.

In one scene, a character jokes that Americans live to work and the French work to live. Carole Bethuel / Netflix

It is this unrealistic portrayal of their city and the stereotypical, and sometimes unflattering, portrayal of the French that so irritates some young Parisian women and those living in the surrounding suburbs, many of whom have railed against the spectacle. The series follows Emily Cooper (Lily Collins), a twenty-something marketing executive from Chicago as she navigates the French capital.

“It was worse than a cliché, it looked like it was the Americans making fun of the French,” said Julie Seguin, 27, who did not finish the first season and said she did not. didn’t intend to watch the second. “I don’t understand their vision of Paris.

As the new season reaches the Netflix Top 10 even in France — Seguin is not alone.

The young women who spoke to NBC News said they didn’t recognize their town or their lives on the show, where the characters are wealthy, many barely work, the men are obsessed with sex and people have affairs. passionate but tense – caricatures that do not correspond to reality for most Parisians, they said.

The lack of diversity and limited exploration of the different Parisian neighborhoods featured in the series also upset viewers.

“Paris is not just the Louvre, Saint-Germain and the Tuileries Gardens,” said 32-year-old Parisian Alexandra Milhat. listing the world famous museum, one of the most ornate parks in Paris and a wealthy left bank district of Paris that feature in the exhibition. “Paris has very diverse neighborhoods with different cultures.”

An irritant raised by viewers is that Emily is portrayed as a know-it-all who teaches French.Stephanie Branchu / Netflix

The vast majority of people depicted on the show were white, she said, except for a few “token” characters. In the series, Emily’s best friend in town is Asian and her co-worker is black. In the second season, the creators chose Lucien Laviscount, a British actor of color, as a love interest.

“Even when she’s walking down the street, there’s not a single Arab, black, or Asian person in the background, it’s just white people,” Milhat said. “For me, it’s not Paris.

Paris is indeed a multicultural city, but the extent of its diversity is difficult to quantify exactly because France largely prohibits the government from counting people by race or ethnicity.

Many of the more than a dozen young women who spoke about “Emily in Paris” felt the show should have moved away from dated French stereotypes. Stop with the representations of shy French people at work, many said.

Americans are also a target on the show. A character accuses Emily of arrogance by coming to work in Paris when she does not speak French. Carole Bethuel / Netflix

In an episode of the first series, Emily shows up for work at 8:30 a.m. to find that her office opens at 10:30 a.m. His colleagues are often shown taking quiet breaks accompanied by wine.

Milhat said that while the French may not work the same hours as Americans and have longer vacations and paid leave, the French work long hours.

“I never started work at 11 a.m., unless it was a late shift ending at 11 p.m.,” she says.

Another irritant: Emily as a know-it-all who studies French.

“She is always presented as the messiah. It’s very stereotypical American saviorism,” said Julia Perraud, 27, who grew up in the suburbs of Paris and now works in communications.

Netflix declined to comment on the story.

The series also angered some viewers for its portrayal of a Ukrainian character, Petra, in the second series. Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko described the portrayal of the character, who is seen shoplifting in the series, as “offensive”.

But the Americans are also a target. In one scene, Emily’s colleague Luc accuses her of arrogance by coming to Paris for work when she does not speak French.

“More ignorant than arrogant,” she says.

“Well, let’s call it the arrogance of ignorance,” he replies.

Not everyone liked the show.

Fiona Schmidt, feminist journalist and author, said she didn’t expect ‘Emily in Paris’ to be anything other than what it was: “Lightweight entertainment that has no pretense but to be entertaining and light”.

Although the show did not reflect the Paris she knew, Schmidt added that it was fictional and not a documentary. Plus, she said, the fantasy was likely part of the reason for the show’s success.

“The vision of Paris is totally unrealistic, but the real Paris is not very entertaining right now and we have a great desire for entertainment right now,” she said.

Beyond the coronavirus pandemic, Paris has been marred by terrorist attacks and has been the scene of mass protests against taxation, racism and police brutality in recent years. In some areas of the city, asylum seekers and migrants sleep rough in makeshift camps.

The show shows none of that and is instead filled with stunning, quintessentially Parisian vistas, cloudless days, glitzy evenings, and boat rides along the Seine.

“You don’t watch these TV shows to see a report,” said Fanny Garcia, 29, a social worker in Paris who also liked the show. “You watch this to escape, it’s positive, you laugh, you see the beautiful side of Paris.”

But Paloma Clément Picos, a freelance journalist who writes about film and television, said she felt sorry for anyone visiting Paris for the first time after watching “Emily in Paris”.

“Darren Star has created a Paris that does not exist and it is us Parisians who will be blamed for not meeting expectations.”

The show offers breathtaking and typically Parisian views. Stephanie Branchu / Netflix

For Jennifer Padjemi, a socio-cultural journalist and French author, erasing Paris’ diversity is something American television and film often do because they tend to portray a “fantastic” version of the city – the Paris of Haussmann buildings and boutiques. dear.

“It’s a form of reality that is real for the American community, which is very present in the capital, but which is very closed, they stay together,” she said.

From Ernest Hemingway to Woody Allen, Paris has long held an intoxicating place in the American imagination and “Emily in Paris” is just the latest attempt to capture its spirit. The series plays on the perceived tensions between American and French lifestyles, with Luc in a scene joking that Americans live to work and the French work to live.

Padjemi said the show was perhaps best understood as a depiction of the life of an expat navigating a different city, rather than a show about the daily lives of Parisians.

“Why expect a television program led by an American completely disconnected from the capital and having an idealized vision to represent Paris?” she asked.

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