Ça Suffit! (Enough!) With All The Criticism Surrounding "Emily in Paris"

I'm largely annoyed by the so-called criticism surrounding "Emily in Paris." If you've watched the series on Netflix, whose first season aired in the thick of the pandemic in 2020, you discovered how the show immerses its viewers in the magic and charm of Paris where the entire show is filmed. Emily, played by actress Lily Collins, is a marketing executive who has been sent by her Chicago-based company for a year of international experience at its subsidiary in the French capital. There she strives to fit in with her colleagues and newfound friends, all while grappling with a new language and culture she knows relatively nothing about.

In the media, there is an onslaught of negative feedback by Parisian viewers who claim the culture captured on the show is not rooted in reality. The over-the-top fashion Emily sports, the unrealistic spaciousness of Emily's apartment, the minimal hours employees keep at work, the great divide in what is uttered and what is meant. Apparently the French are not merely disgruntled: they're downright furious at how distorted the reality is on "Emily in Paris."

I’ve gotta say, as someone who spent one full year during the prime of her life in Paris -- at the age of 23, juggling both an MBA and a junior consulting gig at a real firm in the city -- I did not feel like the portrayal of Paris or its denizens is wholly inaccurate. Let’s break it down.

1. Emily’s attire is over the top. I agree! It sure is. In fact, it rivals the impressive attire the Gossip Girl characters donned. Emily dresses as though she’s attending Paris Fashion Week. But that’s not the point. How she dresses is not indicative of stereotypical Parisian wear. The French characters on the show all exhibit understated elegance in their apparel. Sylvie, Camille, Gabriel – there is nothing showy or ostentatious about their dress. So let’s not get those two very disparate categories muddled. Emily is Emily. And her outfits are easy on the eyes! If she blended in with the Parisians, we wouldn’t have an enticing show, now, would we? N'est-ce pas?

Lily Collins stars as Emily Cooper on "Emily In Paris" (photo credit: Carole Bethuel/Netflix and Stephanie Branchu/Netflix)

   2. The French have very relaxed work schedules. I’ll confess: when I was working as a junior consultant at the state-owned nuclear power company AREVA, my boss didn’t care what hours I kept, and he made that clear on day one. As long as I made a regular appearance at the office, and as long as my performance was excellent, I could strut into the office at noon, for all he cared. It was my understanding that there was no official starting hour for the permanent staff surrounding me, but to be frank, most of them arrived by 9 AM and left around 5 PM. Nobody worked on weekends – that’s correct, as the show illuminates. And yes, there are labor laws to protect employees. Now is that such a bad thing? 

   3. Emily’s apartment is ridiculously large. It’s true that most aspiring 20-something-year-olds in Paris can’t afford more than a tiny room or a shared cramped flat at best. Take me for example. I dwelled in a chambre de bonne, or a nanny’s room in the eaves of the highest floor of a posh building near Musée d’Orsay in the 7ème arrondissement. It was no larger than ten square meters, and the roof was slanted. But I was in the heart of the city, and the farther out you venture toward the périphérique, space becomes considerably more affordable. My peers who resided at the Cité Universitaire had sizeable dorm rooms with private bathrooms to boot. And my Parisian comrades shacked up with flatmates in 50-60 square meter apartments in more affordable neighborhoods in the 13ème, 14ème, and 15ème. So for Emily to call home a two-bedroom crash pad is not uncommon or mind-blowing. Besides, we know nothing about her housing allowance. Maybe she’s getting paid handsomely!

   4. French dialogue is opaque. In other words, the French are portrayed as lacking transparency and meaning something altogether different than what actually passes their lips. That’s not far-fetched! The French will actually own up to this, as they take pride in their cloaked speech. In fact, they’re often contrasting themselves with their German neighbors to the east, who are no-nonsense, punctual, and say exactly what they mean sans frills or airs. The French happily proclaim they are everything to the contrary.


Beyond this, I argue that the producer Darren Star, who also created the TV series “Sex and the City,” does a fantastic job jabbing at Americans, which goes to show he can take himself and the culture from which he emanates rather lightly. Americans on “Emily in Paris,” notably Emily herself and her boss Madeline, are straightforward, ambitious, and engrossed in their work. Even when they’re out of the office, they’re always straddling pleasure with potential business opportunities. That’s very American! From a young age, the philosophy of living and breathing your work is drummed inside American youngsters. Taking a sick day is frowned upon, as though there is no room for recuperation or leisure. These very American notions are on display in the show. Americans are also portrayed as making little to no effort to learn or speak French, as we can clearly deduce from Emily’s poor pronunciation of the language. That’s also fair, believe me! I'm American -- I'd know.

Finally, for those who are up in arms and incensed that the show casts a negative light on their beloved city and residents, consider the converse: the show actually lures viewers to Paris, with all its quaint charm, forward fashion, supreme gastronomy, enviable work/life balance, and historic facades. If anything, the show mobilizes tourism for Paris. 

Ah bon, it's no wonder the Parisians have taken so much offense to "Emily in Paris": they are notoriously averse to foreign footfall, cringing whenever their city is overtaken by loud, frivolous, camera-wielding tourists. Can't say I blame them though. Once you live in Paris long enough to blend in with the landscape, you roll your eyes in disdain at over-enthusiastic tourists. Mais oui, c'est vrai!

Photo credit: Stephanie Branchu/Netflix

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