By Sarah Osman
This is clearly a version of Paris written by ignorant Americans for ignorant Americans.
For years, films, television shows, and books have idolized an increasingly worn-out story: American girl goes to Paris, finds love, and falls in love with the City of Lights. Americans tend to love these stories, but the French do not, and for understandable reasons.
Darren Star, the creator of Sex and the City, has produced yet another tale of an American girl making her way through Paris, Emily in Paris, now streaming on Netflix. The series follows Emily Cooper (Lily Collins), a social media savant who is transferred to a marketing firm in Paris. Her job is to teach a team of French marketers how to navigate Twitter and Instagram for the sake of making their luxury brands even more profitable. Once in Paris, Emily is openly mocked by her coworkers, struggles to make friends, and behaves like an American buffoon.
French critics and audiences have called the show “ridicule” and they are right to do so. I have spent a bit of time in Paris and speak some French. I was appalled that Emily did not bother to learn even a few phrases in the language before arriving. She could have at least learned how to say, “I’m sorry, my French is bad. Do you speak English,?” That would have garnered some respect from the natives, who would have seen she was trying. Oddly, her cultural ignorance is treated as a strength rather than a weakness, which is how it should be seen. She treats Paris like a giant amusement park, not the highly cultured city that it is. She makes the most elemental travel and cultural mistakes: she hasn’t brought the correct charger outlets, hasn’t bothered to get up to speed about the ins and outs of the French office, and couldn’t care less about what is appropriate French fashion. (Her older coworker dresses far better than she does.) Talk about the proverbial “Ugly American” — she doesn’t even know how to order a cup of coffee and a croissant!
The French have every right to be offended by the marché of caricatures. According to Emily in Paris, Parisians are rude, lazy, flirtatious, carry on multiple affairs, and are sexist. For some reason, Emily assumes that the French do not understand basic work etiquette; she insists that they follow the Chicago office’s rules. But why should they? This is another country. The French are also portrayed as being behind the times, given that they want to make a perfume commercial featuring a naked woman. So Emily is given the task of educating those around her about #metoo (even though the French have their own version, #BalanceTonPorc, that the characters would no doubt be aware of).
Collins does the best she can with the quite unlikable Emily. The actor is capable of being charming, but the series, like a wine-press, squashes out any hopes of personal appeal. It’s inexplicable why the French cast agreed to be in this, other than wanting to transfer to American television.
This is clearly a version of Paris written by ignorant Americans for ignorant Americans. In one episode, Emily literally dons a beret and munches on a baguette. She even insults the glory of Nutella by ordering Trader Joe’s peanut butter! In one of the greatest cities for food in the world, Emily questions and mocks what’s put on her plate. She even insists that the “customer is always right,” a stupid American plea for mediocrity that doesn’t mean much in France. (Or seemingly in Europe. The “customer is always right” is a terrible concept, powered by the arrogance of privilege that has ignited an explosion of Karens).
Strangely enough, Emily becomes a successful influencer after she posts about her adventures in Paris, #EmilyinParis! Emily’s posts aren’t any different from any other lunkheaded tourist documenting their trip to Paris. Her brilliance is never convincingly established nor why this account has become so popular. In a series that wallows in the inexplicable, Emily’s becoming a social media star hits absurd heights.
Even stranger is that there are some rabid fans of Emily in Paris. Twitter users have gone on about how they want to live Emily’s life and wear her clothes. Star’s hit show Sex and the City elicited the same goo-goo eyed reaction to Carrie’s life. But at least Sex and the City (which had its own problems) depicted New York’s dirt and grittiness. Emily in Paris chews on a bubblegum version of Paris. In this regard, the series serves as a mindless escape from the quarantine and the ensuing madness. The wide shots of Paris do make one yearn to hop on a plane and wander around the city.
But even pleasant escapes must have a toe in reality. The moronic stereotypes, puppets shaped by the insistence that America is great, make Emily in Paris unwatchable. I wish I could say it is the type of show that is so bad it’s good, but it’s too dull and offensive to earn that honor. Like wine gone bad, Emily in Paris is only fit to be poured down the sink.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer living in Los Angeles. She has written for Young Hollywood and High Voltage Magazine. She will be featured in the upcoming anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences under the Trump Era.