Emily in Paris

Lost in Translation

October 14, 2020By Heidi EllisonFilm
Emily (Lily Collins) in her red beret with her bitchy boss Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, who is objecting to Emily’s constant smile.
Emily (Lily Collins) in her red beret with her bitchy boss, Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), who is objecting to Emily’s constant smile.

It’s a classic yet ever-popular tale: a young American realizes her dream of moving to Paris. It’s also a natural for a Netflix series, especially when created by the man who brought us “Sex and the City,” the producer Darren Star. The result is the shiny-bright “Emily in Paris,” which has been raising hackles in France.

A quick plot summary for those who haven’t seen it: Skinny, pretty, perky Emily Cooper (Lily Collins) is sent to Paris by her Chicago marketing firm to be its American representative at the French company it has just acquired. Emily is thrilled.

When she arrives in Paris, however, this optimistic young woman who believes with all her heart in the powers of social media finds herself scorned, despised and even ridiculed by her new boss and fellow employees. Her colleagues eventually come around, but her female boss is intractable in her hatred of Emily and all those American ideas she stands for. It doesn’t help that Emily speaks no French.

Here’s a rundown on some of the factual errors spotted in the series:

  • The sun does NOT shine every day in Paris.
  • Every young Parisian man is NOT gorgeous and hot (and in love with Emily).
  • Every French married man and woman does NOT automatically have a lover.
  • Every young American woman in Paris does NOT dress in a different quirky and totally cool outfit every day (the clothes in the show are by Patricia Field, who was also costume designer for “Sex and the City”).
  • A chic Paris luxury marketing firm would NOT house a foreign employee in a fifth-floor walkup (described as a chambre de bonne, or maid’s room, which it isn’t) in a dilapidated building.
  • A big bouquet of beautiful roses would NOT cost €5.60 – more like €30.

Clichés about Paris are rampant. Although it’s true that Parisians can often be rude according to American standards, they are not rude in the way that this series shows them: just plain nasty. One example: Emily’s colleagues refer to her as “la plouc” (the hick) to her face. First of all, the word is masculine, so they would actually call her “le plouc,” but beyond that, they would be more likely to use sarcasm or be nice to her face while calling her names behind her back. In another language boo-boo, ringard (another sobriquet applied to Emily by her colleagues) is defined as “basic” when it really means “dated” or “uncool.” It just doesn’t make sense in the context.

You’d think there wasn’t a single nice person in Paris. All French female service people (her concierge, the flower vendor, etc.) are incredibly and arbitrarily nasty to her – she’s usually rescued by a fellow American or a handsome French guy who then comes onto her.

More clichés: Stylish Emily makes the classic newbie mistake of wearing a beret, which always cracks up the French and leads to teasing, but in this case, no one seems to notice. And men are always kissing Emily’s hand, something I haven’t seen in years – now that’s ringard! – while accordion music plays everywhere she goes.

There is, of course, the obligatory stepping-in-dog-shit scene, but this cliché, once a fact of life here, has not been true for some time – most Parisians actually started cleaning up after Fifi once the city got serious about fining them for canine littering.

Owners of Champagne estates seem to have nothing else to do but sun themselves in the buff.
Owners of Champagne estates seem to have nothing better to do than sun themselves in the buff.

Some things are absolutely ridiculous. When Emily goes to Champagne country, the owner of an estate receives her while sunning himself naked in a lawn chair with a bottle of bubbly in an ice bucket next to him. He is totally unembarrassed and unaware that it might make her uncomfortable. Those crazy French people!

What’s good about “Emily in Paris”? Well, it’s always fun to see Paris onscreen, although this is a bright, sanitized version of the city that shows only its posh and picturesque sides. But this a fantasy, after all, so why not?

And, as the 10-episode series continues, it becomes a little more realistic and entertaining.

All through this Parisian version of “Sex and the City,” I was longing for the snappy dialogue and snarky humor of the NYC original, or that of the savvy and very funny French Netflix series “10 Pourcent” (“Call My Agent”), which is set in a similar Parisian world. I guess the humor got lost in translation.

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