“Emily in Paris” is this Netflix show making the top 3 of most seen series in many countries, including Norway and … France!
I saw the title many times and felt bored before I even clicked on play. What is the point, I thought, for a French like me to watch the fabulous life of an all-too-skinny American who wears bérets and learns to say “C’est formidable!” without an accent. I was born in Paris and lived there many years. Watching the show seemed absurd.
But seeing so many viewers and so many critiques made me want to watch it, especially from The Guardian. Oh well, what are 5 hours of my time worth when there is a pandemic out there and when the Scandinavian winter is coming? Not so much.
I was ready to be blown away by clichés, and the show delivers on that level. But I did not expect to laugh so much.
Stereotypes are funny when they are at least a bit true. And there are buckets of stereotypes about French people out there. People believe we don’t shave, that we don’t shower that often either (this comes from the Versailles court where no toilets were designed in the castle (!) and people smelled notoriously bad due to lack of bathing. Although those two are pretty far from reality as per today, others are more true, such as being known for striking all the time and being very good lovers (of course, cannot deny this last one). I won’t give away too much of the funny bits to avoid spoilers, but for example seeing this American wash her long shiny hair in a bidet made me laugh out loud. The grumpy French vs the happy and all-too-loud American is also quite “jouissif”. Why do those Americans always need to be in a good mood and scream when they talk?
Would you rather watch clichés or reality about France right now?
Dozens of articles have burned the show to the ground for being filled with clichés. Sure, nobody goes around Paris with a béret, and who on Earth has enough money to wear different fashion clothes every day? Also, nobody plays the accordéon in the streets of Paris, except those super touristy areas around the Eiffel Tower and in the metro, so that Americans will give some cash. And for heaven’s sake, stop putting Edith Piaf’s song “La vie en rose” in every show about France. We don’t listen to that music, unless we really want to feel more depressed (which is rarely the case these days).
So we’ve established the show is filled with clichés. But would you rather see reality? Have you seen the news? A teacher has just been beheaded for showing caricatures in his classroom. An old lady was murdered in a Church. Macron just announced a curfew in major French cities to stop the pandemic and people aren’t allowed to go further than 1km from their home for one hour per day, the economy is a disaster, and people are so angry sometimes I wonder how far we are from a revolution. So if I have to watch a girl with a pink bucket hat eating a regular croissant as if she was having an orgasm, so be it.
#Metoo with a French twist
I was pleasantly surprised to see the show covers the topic of #metoo seen with a French perspective. All too often non-French people (for example the Norwegians) believe the French are very advanced in terms of equality and women’s voices. That is sadly rarely the case, especially when compared to equality champions from Scandinavia.
Emily works in a Parisian PR and marketing agency and is confronted with men and women making creative decisions with an obvious gender bias. The storyline shows not only men but also women in power, such as Emily’s boss, saying how #metoo is just another puritan wave from across the Atlantic. In real life, French society is even harsher, with for example the famous actress Catherine Deneuve and 100 of famous women who published a column condemning the #metoo movement. According to them the right of these women to come out against their rapists and harassers went against the French culture and French men’s right to flirt with women in an “insisting way”, for ex. in the street – and when not invited to. What the rest of the world calls sexual harassment these days, is still called by many French “galanterie”.
The French hate to admit they have something to learn from the Americans
In France, any American can be seen as slightly irritating. But a young female American asking lots of questions and having good ideas is unbearable. In France, 23 year old women with a Masters in marketing getting hired in a PR company will be asked to do photocopies, maybe prepare some files so that more senior people can explain their brilliant ideas about life and everything else. What the French can learn from the Americans, and also from the Norwegians, is that young workers fresh from university or with little experience are full of energy and fresh ideas. They need to be integrated in the work force as soon as possible and their point of view needs to be heard, rather than denigrated as French workplaces like to do.
Waiting for a show called “Sue Ellen in Lofoten”
Norway, where I live, is getting more and more international attention. Happiest people on Earth, best tool to face the pandemic (something called Friluftsliv, the life of the outdoors, on which I made a TEDx talk 2 years ago and which the Guardian talks about here). The North of Norway has never had so many tourists visiting for the Northern Lights, and the country’s stable economy is making many want to look to Norway.
I am therefore waiting for a new feel-good show about cultural stereotypes, this time of an American moving to the Lofoten islands in Northern Norway. Sue Ellen would live in a little red fishermen cabin (called rorbu), she would watch the Northern lights from her balcony and whales passing by in the fjord. We would follow her love life with the neighbour, a quiet fisherman who would learn to say “pain au chocolat” with a French accent, while waiting for the endless Norwegian to end.
I recommend watching Emily in Paris, because right now, all we need is a little fantasy, not the grim reality.
This article was published in Norwegian on the newspaper VG on the 24th of October under the title “Franske Lorelou: «Emily in Paris» anbefales på det varmeste!”