The release of Emily in Paris Season 3 on Netflix has provoked its fair share of criticism, especially surrounding the clichés of the French capital that have become almost more famous than the storyline itself.
As a proud Parisian born and raised, I share my views on the show.
I found Season 1 super funny, mainly because the screenwriters managed to blend recurrent clichés about France, Paris and Parisians with Emily’s story as a young American infatuated with Paris and its fashion industry.
I had recently returned from a year-long study-abroad programme and – armed with a new perspective gained from my personal experience of living in the US – found the clichés to be mostly true.
I remember feeling a deep sense of recognition when presented with the overly optimistic and cheerful Emily, who fits the characteristics of many Americans I would hang around with.
But I also recognised some of the clichés I had heard often about French people while in the US.
At the time, most of my French friends were slating the show and very few could see past these clichés to talk about the screenplay itself.
The hype died down during Season 2: actor Lucien Laviscount – playing the role of Emily’s love interest Alfie – was the only aspect worth watching as the plot failed to bring anything new. The clichés became, as a result, less acceptable.
I have yet to watch Season 3.
Here is my take on some of the clichés in the first two seasons and whether in my view they are true, mostly true, false or ridiculously false.
Emily is bombarded with suggestions, innuendos and double-entendres during her first days in France. Most themes surrounding seduction or sexuality are treated with less shame and embarrassment than they would be by more prudish Americans.
The idea that the French are more comfortable with flirting and sex continues to fuel the image of Paris as the ‘city of love’.
There is a similar but inverted parallel to be drawn with regards to money. Americans appear more confident in conversations surrounding money than French people do, a distinction highlighted by sociologist and economist Max Weber in his landmark book ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’.
Read also: It is claimed the French do not care about money – but is it true?
Emily is seduced by married Antoine Lambert, who also happens to date her boss Sylvie. Photo credit : Netflix
Striking is a national sport in France, or so the joke goes. What the United Kingdom has experienced this winter in terms of industrial action is very common in France, although the latter frequently sees strikes of a lower intensity.
There is even a website called cestlagreve.fr devoted to tracking the strikes taking place that day and week.
This cliché can be applied to Parisians more than to anyone else. I personally feed into it by saying a lot that Paris is unlike any other French city.
I know I am right anyway (!) and would refrain from giving any explanation, leaving anyone challenging me to experience the city and then come back to me.
I suspect that Parisian arrogance can partly be explained by the fact that France is a highly centralised nation.
Rebecca Leffler, the real American in Paris who inspired the show, told The Connexion she experienced arrogance with her own boss in a luxury marketing company.
Emily’s boss Sylvie. She portrays the stereotypical middle-aged Parisian woman. Independent, ambitious and coolly arrogant. Photo credit : Netflix
“I was the loud American and everyone would look me up and down and not talk to me,” she said.
“That’s how it was. That has been my experience – me being this smiley, optimistic American dealing with French people.
“Even the ones who are wonderful, kind people are not necessarily, as I would say, effusive. When you first meet them, they’re not as friendly and open.”
Read also: Meet the woman who inspired Netflix’s 'Emily in Paris'
Emily in Paris likes to point out French people's lack of hygiene. I think that this cliche is more nuanced and could have been ranked among the ‘false’ category, as I believe that it is rather that Americans place too much importance on hygiene.
Several polls have shown that French people shower once a day on average, much more than Italians for instance, but change underwear less than most European countries.
However, practices like flossing, for example, are not that much of a thing in France, while they are common in the US.
Read also: Report: Are people in France really the stinkiest in Europe?
Relationship with work
Emily in Paris depicts French people as people who are very careful about not overworking, who take extended lunch breaks and respect the Code du travail with regards to weekend work.
This is mostly true since the contrat de travail à durée indéterminée (CDI – the contract given to permanent employees – represents three quarters of all contracts. CDIs give greater protection to staff as they make it very difficult to fire them.
It is also true that French people work less than people in other European countries – around 1,600 hours a year – and much less than in the US (1,800 hours).
The struggle against the current government’s plan for pension reform – which may result in the retirement age being raised from 62 to 64 or 65 – is yet more proof of the reluctance of French people to work more.
Read more: Elections, pension reform, defence: French politics in 2023
Read also: ‘Pension age rise in France is unnecessary and will worsen inequality’
France’s labour market has, however, also opened up recently to ‘uberisation’, highlighted by revelations from several media outlets of President Emmanuel Macron’s close ties with Uber while he was serving as finance minister in 2014.
‘Uberisation’ refers to the gig economy system promoted by online platforms, through which workers are not as well protected as they would be under a traditional French work contract and often work night shifts and weekends.
Read more: Why Macron is involved in leaked reports about Uber’s shady practices
Emily is more emotional than most French people when she hears about cheating stories, and in my personal experience this is also true of American people in real life.
One of my American friends was visiting France in the days following the revelation that former President François Hollande cheated on his partner Valérie Trierweiler with actress Julie Gayet.
During lunch, our friend asked us: “Is he going to resign?”, a question I assumed he asked because of the impeachment trial of former US President Bill Clinton’s in relation to his sexual conduct. We laughed really hard.
“Why would he? Plus, we do not like Valérie Trierweiler,” someone responded.
Remember the scene where someone lights a cigarette in the Emily in Paris office? There is nothing more false than believing that this is classically French.
I assume it’s an image which feeds into the idea of French people’s arrogance and lack of respect for authority.
It could have been the case until the late 90s, but restrictions on smoking in public areas were well-received in France by smokers and non-smokers alike. Nobody smokes in restaurants, planes or offices anymore.
‘Dame-pipi’ refers to a woman working as a toilet attendant. People wanting to use the toilet would normally give her a coin as a ‘thank you’ for keeping it clean and tidy.
Emily’s friend Mindy happens to work as a dame-pipi in a cabaret before eventually performing on stage later on the show.
The term is, however, no longer employed and I had to look it up when I heard it while watching the show. I have never seen such a job in Paris, although it could still exist in tourist trap areas.
While it could be argued that – considering Emily works in a luxury company – she and her employers have a reputation to uphold through their clothes, this is not the case for every French person, contrary to what is suggested in the show.
Your annual net wage in three outfits. Photo credit : Netflix
This cliché circulates because of the fashion industry, which has created a very marketable image of the grace and elegance of Parisian women and their clothes.
Inès de la Fressange is the most popular face of the industry, her aura having undeniably influenced the character of boss Sylvie.
Inès de la Fressange, the French model and fashion designer who built an empire on the image of the modern Parisian. Photo credit : Shutterstock / DKSStyle
The pristine Paris Emily inhabits
The show suggests that Paris is a spotless museum. No rubbish bins, no dog mess, no rats, no crowded streets and roads, no construction works round every corner, no honking or road rage.
A bit like Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘The Great Beauty’ which takes place in Rome, this is a picture of Paris that could exist. But under almost perfect conditions. Photo credit : Netflix
And no homeless people. I was shocked to discover that in real life a homeless person lived right in front of the door used in the series as the entrance to Emily’s office, near the Galerie Patrick Fourtin in Place de Valois.
This was during Covid and offices had closed, but the contrast with the sanitised image of the show was striking.
Any real Parisian would have liked Emily to wander in Barbès or La Goutte d’Or to see what some parts of the city are really like.
Train to Saint-Tropez
In Season 2, Emily gets on board a train to Saint-Tropez. The train resembles those of the late nineteenth century, and I suspect such carriages now only exist for show.
Dinner at the Place de la Contrescarpe
This one is the icing on the cake for me. Like? Come on!
During the finale of Season 2, the whole main cast sits at a table in the middle of the Place de la Contrescarpe in Paris’ fifth arrondissement, where Emily lives in her ‘tiny’ 70m2 chambre de bonne.
Paris’ mairie would never allow such an event to happen in a public area for such a restricted number of people.
Filming for Woody Allen’s first-ever all-French film begins in Paris