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.



    • Films are filled with cliches. Not everyone from Chicago is a mobster. Not everyone from California is a movie star. Not every American with a Southern accent is dumb. But over-dramatizing these cliches sometimes makes them funny. No, the sun does not shine every day in Paris. But if you are from the states on vacation there, every day is sunny to you.

    • I just finished watching the series. I have visited Paris many, many times and of course, immediately saw the clichés & stereotypes. I have seen raging debates all over the internet about this show and wonder why people are taking *such* offense to it not being *realistic*. It’s not supposed to be. It’s light fare, modern chick lit, escapism with lovely scenery. Frankly, after this year (especially in the states) I am happy to sink into the distraction of this cliché-filled confection.

    • As an American who has been visiting France, and especially Paris, since 1982, I have definitely seen a welcome change in the mood of the French in general and Parisians specifically (Covid notwithstanding). Today’s younger generations are more outgoing, friendly and good-natured than the older post-war ones. And even the “older generations” seem to have come around to being more amiable, not that I found them offensive back in the ’80s. Like most large, business-oriented cities, a bit of brusqueness is inevitable but this no longer seems to apply to Parisians or the French in general today.

    • I lived in and attended university in France so I speak well. 1. if you do speak the langue de Baudelaire, there is only the usual icy politeness, not nastiness. 2. living in NYC I can say New Yorkers are far colder, deliberately guarded and impolite. I have lived in the same building for 7 years and barely know my neighbors. No one ever says good morning or rarely “thank you” if you hold the elevator or front door. 3. all of France is not Paris. there are areas of France where an American ex-pat who respects France and the French and who does not automatically parrot “America is better. America saved France in WW II. where is the ketchup?” is accepted.

    • Spot on description and review of Emily in Paris. For those of us who cannot enter the country of France (even if you own property) the filming of Paris has been sensational. Café life, architecture and walking the arrondisements of Paris has helped the separation from a city I love. For those reasons I’ll watch another season of shows!

    • I agree that this series is something of an exaggerated fairy tale. But, what the heck, I watched it in just four days because I enjoyed the scenery and wanted to see if Emily ever catches Gabriel! It somehow reminded me of ‘A Very Secret Service,’ another Netflix series which was a lot of fun to watch. I wonder if there will be a Season 2 for Emily?

    • I could not agree more with your observations. As an American who has visited Paris many times, I’m cringing at the cliches and outright errors in the show. But I’m watching anyway, as a substitute for actually being in Paris. Until you start letting Americans into France again, this show will sate my travel lust…

    • I completely agree with you. I myself have been living in Tokyo for five years and have numerous times come across TV shows or documentaries or simply interviews with people that portray Tokyo as this super crazy, anime-filled neon paradise with people who only dress in quirky fashion. Which, of course, is completely not true and naturally they never touch upon the bad aspects of the city or society.
      I haven’t lived in Paris, have only been there twice, but since I am learning French language and have deep interest for the culture, I was truly appalled by the stereotypes and clichés in “Emily in Paris”. Although I do understand that it is fantasy, not reality, sometimes the clichés were so ridiculous that it did not make any sense, no matter what fantasy it is.

      Having said that, I do admit though that I watched the whole series and it made me want to go back to Paris so bad. 😀

    • Being from French Canada I don’t agree about all the French in Paris being nasty, but in my case they do sometimes have this little smile and tend to repeat what I say like it’s different from how they say it but it is not because I have the same accent they have and … that can be annoying. Americans on the other hand have a cute accent that they seem to love.
      10 Pour Cent (Call My Agent) was quite funny. I’m sorry about Emily not being so much.

    What do you think? Send a comment:

    Your comment is subject to editing. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Subscribe for free!

    The Paris Update newsletter will arrive in your inbox every Wednesday, full of the latest Paris news, reviews and insider tips.