French Culture Awareness #9: Emily in Paris !
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Soooo ... everyone's talking about it. And, before I write anything else, let me just start with:
OH MY GOD JUST CHILL IT'S A FICTION.
There. I said it.
I personally really enjoyed this show. Of course everything is over the top and it's full of clichés and stereotypes but is it really worth all the backlash it's received recently? A lot of the mentioned clichés come from a certain truth, so let's check the 10 main clichés in Emily in Paris and how true they actually are:
Cliché numéro 1: Everyone flirts in Paris.
Well... French people do like to flirt but we don't really do it as much as they do in the series and not with everyone in sight. And note how "la bise" can sometimes be an opportunity to flirt too - but don't do it if you're not used to la bise as it can quickly turn from flirty to creepy ! What they don't mention is men not flirting but actually catcalling women which happens SO MUCH in France. Between men asking for your number on the street, staring at you / your body on the tube, following you to your house / place of work, speaking to you even though you don't want to and all of this being in public places with other people just ignoring what is happening. That's definitely not a cliché but not really sexy for this kind of TV show. The scene with the French guy at the party was quite interesting too... French people are straightforward but not that straightforward and Emily's reaction would be the same as probably everyone!
Cliché /10 : 5/10
Cliché numéro 2: French people correcting your French.
I really loved the woman in the bakery correcting Emily's grammar because that would totally happen in real life! As a teacher, I am used to students using the wrong gender but if I am in France and someone starts using the wrong genre I would correct them on the spot - and not because I am a French teacher but because this is what everyone does. We also like to talk about the French language and compare expressions and differences between regions but that last bit might only be because I am a teacher and so are some of my friends ! French people are proud of their language, and rightfully so, dare I say, and we are always happy in helping you improve. It might not sound nice when we do it but it's actually really to help you and avoid further faux-pas. Just like in that scene when Emily uses the word "excitée" which doesn't mean "excited" but means ... "horny" ... You can use excité for children when they have lots of energy because there's obviously nothing sexual in that context but for adults, the meaning completely changes so just remember this! Also, don't try to understand genders: unless it's about a person, it's more or less random. Just accept the fact that things have genders in French, learn and memorise them and you'll be fine!
Cliché /10 : 1/10
Cliché numéro 3:French people are mean to your face.
This is one of Mindy's first exchange with Emily "Chinese people are mean behind you back, French people, mean to your face". I just burst out laughing when she said it because I think that, although exaggerated, it is very true. I don't really agree with the "mean" part but I get what she means: if we have something to say, we will definitely say it whether you like it or not. It's really not about being mean but more being honest with people. Sometimes, it can be mean of course but most of the times it's just saying when something is not right and, if you want things to improve, you have to say it. Why do you think French people are on strikes half of the year (ok now, here's a cliché!)? I've had so many problems with this in the UK: British people are lovely but they don't really say things, do they? They'd rather stare at you until you realise what's wrong (or not) but they'd rarely say it to your face, or not directly at least and they keep beating around the bush until you get it. I got used to it now but, being French, I say things quite frankly and it can put them off sometimes ! I also loved the "French are very disagreeable" ... I sometimes think that disagreeing with people should be a national sport for us :)
Cliché /10 : 4/10
Cliché numéro 4: French people don't work a lot.
Ok so, that one was actually annoying. The manager coming in at 10:30, leaving at 17:00 and having a 3-hour lunch in between? No. Just, no. The 35 hours rule we have means that you get paid overtime if your contract stipulates that you work 35 hours a week but end up working more hours. Which is actually a great thing because you do get paid for your time! There have been articles on how France is more productive than the UK for example, although we work less hours. Having worked in the UK for more than five years, I do agree with these articles: I have noticed that British people are usually more laid back than French people at work (of course, it depends on your industry). That doesn't mean that they are not productive or work less, not at all: I just think that, when at work, French people tend to be more intense and focused which is why we have more breaks during the day. A longer lunch break and a couple of coffee breaks allows us to stay focused when we need to. One of the characters says: "Americans live to work, we in France work to live" and that sums it up really well.
Cliché /10 : 8/10
Cliché numéro 5: French people are sexy ... or sexist?
That's a really good question: what is the difference between being sexy or sexist? Sometimes, there is a thin line between the two and that's the case in France. When Emily mentions that "le vagin" is masculine, that's actually a very good question. There are plenty of articles explaining why and how the French language is sexist and it is very interesting but don't read too much into it. If it is true that, originally, genders of nouns are found to be sexist, at the end of the day, it's how the language is perceived today that' the most important, not more than 500 years from now. I also really liked that take on the perfume ad: sexy or sexist? Why do women need to be naked in a perfume ad? I get the whole "only wearing the perfume" marketing vibe but that doesn't make sense in real life...? A lot of things are actually quite sexist in France and there is that gap between feminist women and women who don't think that this is an issue. And then, you have women who think that this is definitely an issue but don't call themselves feminists due to the bad reputation they can have in France and elsewhere. If you want to see examples on everyday sexism, check this Facebook page: Pepite Sexiste.
Cliché /10 : 2/10
Cliché numéro 6: French people have mistresses and their wives are ok with it.
Pardon my French but, qu'est-ce que le f*ck? I know that French people are seen as liberal or even libertin but that's definitely over the top. We don't have ménage à trois in France, this is far from being common. Some people are in what we call couple libre meaning that whilst they are in a relationship, they are still free to have sex with other people but this is far from being the norm. Having a mistress / lover is still wrong, even to French standards ! But because we had a French president going to his mistress' flat on a moped, I can't say it's completely unheard of, though ... ! Of course people do sometimes cheat on each other like everywhere else but it's not a good thing and neither it is accepted. Don't expect your French partner to just shrug it off if you've cheated on them. Most likely, it will be the last you see of them. What is true is that French people do speak a lot about sex: whether you're having dinner with friends, watching a talk show or listening to music, a lot of these will, at some point, mention love and sex. You might consider it a cliché but the three main points of conversation during a French dinner are: food, politics and sex. Except that we might avoid sex if it's a family dinner ...
Cliché /10 : 9/10
Cliché numéro 7: French cinema is more tragic than American movies.
This is actually quite true. American romantic comedies are too cliché (like this series!) and they are just too happy and bubbly and everyone is just so nice. French movies are more about real life with tragic events. Take Intouchables for example: it all started with a tragic event and not everyone is nice in the film. It talks about real life issues but doesn't go overboard which is why we love this movie so much (and, as a side note, the American version is an insult to anyone who's seen or even just heard of the original). Think about French films you know: The Artist? About an actor falling out of fashion. La Môme (La vie en rose)? Edith Piaf's life was quite tragic. La vie d'Adèle (Blue is the warmest color)? The ending is not happy and is actually quite lifelike. La famille Bélier? It's all about a family in which everyone is deaf except the daughter who's struggling to become a singer. Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain? This one is actually very light and refreshing but you do have lots of characters struggling with everyday life issues too. If you want to compare how (better) French films are to American movies, here's a list of French original films and their American remakes.
Cliché /10 : 3/10
Cliché numéro 8: Parisian people in general are not likable.
I am not sure how to actually answer this one because, like every respectful French person, I don't like Parisians. Even Parisians don't like Parisians. But then again, it's a bit cliché to not like them. I think it's the same issue in every country: people from the capital tend to be full of themselves and less down to earth. I could really see the difference between Londoners and people from Cambridge when I moved. I had never realised it before changing city in the UK - I guess I was too focused on enjoying London and forgot how Londoners can sometimes be annoying (even if this city is definitely my favourite city in the world so far!). So, yes, Parisians can be a bit more annoying than your average French person but it also depends on the person. People from the province (anything outside of Paris) can be equally annoying and full of themselves. Actually, writing this, how pretentious is it to have an expression to talk about the whole country except the capital!? Let's just say that if I don't really like someone and they tell me that they're from Paris, I'll always have that "ah-ah" moment like it explains everything!
Cliché /10 : 6/10
Cliché numéro 9: Everyone speaks English perfectly.
My first reaction to this is "LOL". My second one is "Good luck finding someone speaking English so fluently in France". And my third reaction is "Why are they speaking in English even between French people?!" I was really surprised to see so many French actors having such a good English and also a good accent. I think it's really good to show this because learning English in France is always a bit of a struggle. French students mock the ones making an effort speaking in another language and trying to have a good accent. If, as a French person, you pronounce an English word correctly, other French people will probably say something like "Oh, look at them with their English accent! How pretentious!". So, it gets quite hard to better yourself in another language. That's one of the reasons why French people are not good at English. Also because all of the films are dubbed in French, our English teachers are not always great (but it's getting so much better with the new generation) and I think that there is a general disinterest for foreign languages. That being said, if you go to France and don't speak French, a simple bonjour, s'il-vous-plaît, merci will go a long way with French people. Show that you're at least trying and they will do their best to help you, even in broken English!
Cliché /10 : 7/10
Cliché numéro 10: You can afford a flat in the 5th arrondissement.
Do you know how much the rent is in Paris? It can even be more expensive than in London! And, a chambre de bonne is not as big as a two-bedroom flat... It can actually be as small as your broom cupboard. On average, une chambre de bonne is between 9 and 12 square meter. Sometime, the toilets are outside of the flat, shared by other tenants of the same floor. It's far from the idyllic version of the show... Without mentioning Emily's clothes, the price of eating at a restaurant or having a coffee at a terrasse in Paris !
Cliché /10 : 10/10
I also want to mention that one of the worst scene for me was the French class one: this was a terrible class! And I should know, being a French teacher and all ... I mean, what kind of teacher makes ALL the students repeat the same sentence altogether, or READING a role play situation instead of asking them to come up with their own sentences. The teaching pedagogy here is an absolute zero and that really got under my skin... and the teacher asking for 50€ an hour with her teaching style? Urgh ! If you ever find yourself with this kind of teacher, contact me straight away!
Overall, I've enjoyed watching it even though some things are definitely over the top. But that's the beauty of TV shows: we don't have to take everything so seriously, for once. So just watch the show with a nice glass of French wine paired with a French cheese, don't believe everything on the show and relax!
If you're looking forward to Season 2, as I am, listen to the French playlist in the meantime: