What Emily in Paris Gets Wrong About French Culture, According to Parisians
Ah, Paris: City of Light, romance, haute couture ensembles and old-fashioned ways — or so Emily in Paris would have you believe, some French critics are saying.
Netflix’s new 10-episode series has sparked debates online over the postcard vision that it depicts of Paris and its people, which is notably more flattering of the city than of its inhabitants.
While the series has been largely well received by American audiences for its romantic escapism, French critics have accused it of relying on outdated stereotypes of French culture, and of depicting an unrealistic version of their capital.
PEOPLE spoke with a handful of born-and-raised Parisians about their reactions to the polarizing new series, and whether or not some of the show’s most outlandish moments would ever happen in real life.
Victoire, 22, works for a software company and has a group chat with her friends — fellow Parisians in their early 20s who work in a variety of industries, from political consulting to luxury fashion — in which they’ve discussed the series.
“It was both entertaining and painful to watch,” Victoire tells PEOPLE of the group’s general consensus. “It was quite refreshing that the French characters are actually played by French people (which is rarely the case in American productions), but some clichés are so extreme that I wonder how the French cast rolled with them.”
One such cliché that frustrated French audiences is the idea that no one is monogamous in France, a trope that was exacerbated by nearly every male character’s flirtatious behavior on the show and culminated in Emily’s metaphoric monologue about not being willing to share her crêpe (IYKYK).
“I’m not sure French people sleep around more than anyone else, but we make less of a big deal out of it,” says Victoire. “No one is promoting it but at least we’re not hypocritical.”
Still, she continues, “That does not mean that unfaithfulness is institutionalized or accepted; having a mistress remains frowned upon and rare.” Try telling that to Antoine and Gabriel!
Anna, 25, echoes Victoire’s sentiments on the cliché nature of the affairs depicted in the show. “I would say the whole thing about French people being really open about their relationships and having extramarital relationships [was the most frustrating],” she tells PEOPLE. “Or the fact that [we] don’t really have a work ethic, [which] is totally untrue.”
The one part of the show French people wish was true? “I never had a neighbor as hot as Gabriel,” Anna quips. (I think there would be a mass-migration to Paris if more people did.)
“Seeing a lit cigarette in an office in the first episode almost made me quit watching the show,” Victoire adds of another particularly frustrating cliché (France banned indoor smoking in 2007). “This is such an outdated image that most of the show’s audience wasn’t even alive to see. People smoke where they’re allowed to,” she says.
However, smoking in those designated areas is more commonplace. When it comes to a bemused Emily sneakily snapping a photo of French women smoking cigarettes outside of their workout class, Victoire says that “girls smoking outside of the gym doesn’t seem crazy to me.”
Another moment that may have shocked American audiences (or at least Emily herself), but seems less jarring to the French is when Antoine, a client of Emily’s marketing firm Savoir, gifts her a luxurious set of La Perla lingerie, a move that would be seen as inappropriate — if not harassment — in the U.S.
However, when asked whether or not that would be improper behavior for the workplace in France, Victoire replies that “the nature of the gift didn’t actually disturb me” because their initial encounter “wasn’t very professional." As she points out — the pair “chatted/flirted/applied perfume on each other at a ‘work’ party.” The part that seemed outlandish, in her opinion, “is how La Perla was described as Antoine’s ‘go to’ brand, as if French men send their mistresses and acquaintances 600€ gifts every other week.”
Oscar, a 26-year-old student studying sustainability, acknowledges that the series is full of clichés — but tells PEOPLE that it’s still “very funny and very American-ish for us,” adding that it’s “great to watch in bed on a Sunday night.” For him, the tropes like “the pain au chocolat, the beret, the hot neighbor [and] fashion week” act as a form of escapism from the Paris he knows. “Maybe it’s the Paris we would dream to have: a big apartment, nice neighbor, nice friends.”
“To us, the way Paris is shown is like a Disneyland version, [where] everything is way too clean, too light and too smooth,” he adds, noting that the show seems to be filmed primarily in the upscale Latin quarter. It paints a picture of La Vie en Rose, he explains, adding, “you don’t see anything about poverty, social fights, migration” or other social issues.
“I think they're right, in a way. We're portraying clichés and we're portraying one single vision of Paris. Paris is one of the most diverse cities in the world. We have so many ways of thinking, so many different nationalities, so many different neighborhoods. A lifetime wouldn't be enough to know everything that's going on in Paris. It's an entire world in a city.”
With that in mind, he says, “At some point, if you want to tell a story about Paris, you have to choose an angle. You have to choose a vision. French critics, they didn't understand the fact that it's just one vision. They're like, ‘Oh, this is not what Paris is.’ Of course. Paris is many things.”
Here’s hoping we’ll see more sides of the city in (fingers crossed!) season 2.