The Netflix series, Emily in Paris, has been thought to be slightly controversial portraying the French and the Americans in a stereotypical fashion but in a funny kind of way. The tongue-in-cheek comments are certainly entertaining to watch. However there are often lessons to be learnt. The British can most likely relate to both cultures in different ways, although are slightly more like Americans than French.
In this article, we explore some of the differences between the two cultures and things that can be learnt from Emily in Paris where Emily played by Lily Collins is an American who finds herself in Paris for work to bring an American perspective to the marketing firm she works for.
Before we begin, I do have to say I have French friends who are friendly and nice individuals and equally American friends who are too. I am also of the millennial generation and see the world as equal, it doesn’t matter to me if you are French, Italian, American it’s the personality that matters the most which may or may not be shaped by those around you including your culture. The series is intended to be a comedy and the characters do not necessarily represent every single American and French out there, so let's take the stereotypes with a pinch of salt.
1. Americans love their jobs, the French prefer to leave work conversations at the office
The fun and bubbly Emily who loves to talk about work regardless of whether she is at a party or not is always on the hunt for new opportunities and new clients. Socialising is a form of networking and building connections which is a very American approach to working. According to the series this is also very much frowned upon in the the French culture according to the series. For the French it is very much a case of “you work to live” while the American “live to work.”
Lesson: Keep work conversation at work
There is a lesson to be learnt here and neither approach is wrong. I love my job as do most Brits I know and we work because we genuinely want to. The French do make a valid point in that work discussions should be left to work and not at a party.
2. Americans assume everyone knows English, the French expect some effort to learn a language if you live in the country
English is an international language and becoming the global standard, a lot of countries that didn’t speak English in the past are learning this as a second language. Yet English speaking countries have an expectation that they can travel anywhere in the world and others will understand.
In the series, even though the French know perfect English, if the first question you ask them is in English they will pretend not to understand. Fair play to them, even though you are in a different country some effort can be made.
Although in the series when Emily is at a party and two French people join her, they decide to start holding a conversation in French fully knowing she does not understand it leaving her to be the outsider. This is of course a step too far, being inclusive is important.
Lesson: Respect other cultures for differences in language but be inclusive if at a party and there is someone stood in your circle who only understands English which everyone else can speak
It is nice to be inclusive in conversation and not just ignore a third person. Americans and British will often try to bring the person into the conversation rather than leave them out.
3. Everything is positive for the Americans, the French are more realistic
In one of the episodes Emily gets the dates mixed up between the American way of writing dates and the French when wanting to make a last minute reservation at a restaurant.
The Americans write month/day/year for example 08/10/20 is August 10th 2020. The French like the British read this as 8th August 2020, hence the confusion in the episode. In the scene Emily then solves the problem by asking her friend to cook instead at another restaurant.
Upon walking out of the restaurant instead of delivering bad news and good news, her response is very much a ‘I have good news and great news’. Her good news is that she managed to find a restaurant which is up and coming and great news is that they will come back at a later date to celebrate. The French person would have most likely admitted to having messed up and just delivered the bad news, most likely like the British.
Lesson: Be positive but be realistic
Both parties teach a lesson here, a positive outlook is of course important, however so is being realist.
4. If the French have no plan, they tell you, whereas the Americans will say they have a plan and then figure out the solution
The ‘false’ re-assurance to Emily's client is given when there is no catwalk for Pierre Cadeau’s fashion show. She tells him she has a plan while everyone else has admitted to not having one. She later admits she has no plan when her boss asks what it is. It's a series so of course she did miraculously come up with one and saved the day.
Lesson: Managing expectations is important
We have to say there is such a thing as managing expectations, sure Emily had no plan and she happened to have found one but it would have been better for Emily to have actually managed Pierre Cadeau’s expectations in case in real life that wasn't the case.
5. French have a more casual outlook on love, the Americans are rules driven
Relationships and love in the series are explored in several different ways. Being married and having an affair is portrayed to be acceptable by the French. If your boyfriend is not with you then you are very much single in the eyes of the French men according to the series. Although in fairness not all French men are the same and her love interest, Gabriel does attempt to remain faithful to his girlfriend and Emily is the one who instigates the kiss in the two occasions he does ‘cheat’ on his girlfriend. Although in an attempt to stay away she sets rules when she is at his girlfriend's family's house.
Then there is the Sylvie (Emily's boss) and Antoine dynamics, Sylvie is a mistress to Antoine her client. This is openly talked about and completely acceptable by the French whereas Emily is shocked by the discovery. She very much has the rule of not sleeping with your client .
Lesson: Rules and boundaries are good in relationships, just acting on your feelings isn't the right approach
We have to say respecting boundaries is important and acting on feelings is not something the British are comfortable with. The series demonstrates that marriage is taken a bit more seriously by the Americans which may also explain why there is greater divorce rates. Still one person at a time is better than multiple partners.
6. What is viewed to be celebrating a woman by the French can be viewed to be sexist by Americans
In an ad promotion a decision is made to use a naked model to promote perfume. The woman walks across the bridge, surrounded by men in suits, who appraise her adoringly or lustfully or whatever. “She’s not naked,” Antoine clarifies. “She’s wearing the perfume.”
Emily sees this as very much sexist while Antoine’s view is there is no bigger compliment than to be admired.
Lesson: Being admired is a compliment, however you don't have to be naked to be admired, accomplishments matter too
Both parties express their views in their own way, a woman doesn’t have to be naked to be admired. Admiration can be a result of many things including a dress that is worn which would be a compliment to a woman's good fashion sense, or her accomplishments which can come in many forms.
The series is definitely an eye opener and worth watching, some humour is quite subtle so if you know a French person and an American person you are more likely pick up on it. Regardless of how you viewed the themes they explored it is nice to look into another culture and open the minds to other perspectives.
For those that do not like to watch series because of the temptation to binge watch which only results in time wasted, the good news is that it is only 10 episodes long for season 1.