The Netflix series Emily in Paris has earned quite the audience since its debut in 2020, and with the recent release of the third season, it is once again a topic of conversation. The show’s protagonist, Emily Cooper, works in marketing and is sent last minute to a firm that her company has acquired in Paris, France in place of her pregnant boss. In each episode, Emily navigates work, friendships, and romance in a new city. While the show is admittedly addicting due to its quick paced, dramatic plot, the script has several problematic aspects, especially from an authentic French perspective.
On the surface level, an issue that many viewers have taken with Emily is her fashion choices. Paris is one of the largest and most influential fashion capitals in the world. Several prominent fashion houses are located in the city such as Chanel, Dior, and Louis Vuitton. While Emily does incorporate these brands into many of her looks, she often does it in a tacky manner. The fashion in Paris is quite defined. It boasts a clean, effortless aesthetic that is both sophisticated and casual. Emily lacks an understanding of this, considering that many of her outfits are comprised of bright colors, loud patterns, and statement pieces that just don’t go together. Sometimes, she even includes overtly French symbols like the Eiffel Tower, which comes across stereotypical and mocking. Of course, not all of Emily’s outfits are bad. In fact, the most successful ones are neutral, simple and, overall, much closer to true French style. This discrepancy between French and American style is even more striking when Emily’s outfits are compared to those of her French coworkers and friends. Her boss, Sylvie, exemplifies the classic French style. Her clothes are always chic and subtle, and they command respect. Similarly, Emily’s friend Camille is an artist whose outfits reflect her creativity while still staying true to Parisian effortlessness. Compared to these characters, Emily’s fashion choices pale in comparison. There is nothing wrong with having an individualized style, but Emily’s gaudy choices in such a stylish city parallel her inconsiderate, American perspective on the French.
Cultural insensitivity is another, more pressing matter in Emily in Paris. Upon arrival, Emily has no regard for French culture. This is understandable to some degree, seeing as her trip was unexpected, but even so, she expects everyone to cater to her needs without putting in any effort of her own. This is seen primarily in terms of language. She is visibly taken aback when her new co-workers do not immediately accommodate her with English translations. Throughout the three seasons, Emily does attend French lessons, but she lacks enthusiasm, and her progress is minimal. Even after being in Paris for a year, the third season features a scene in which Emily makes a life-threatening mistake as a result of a language misunderstanding, one that should have been easily avoidable after spending so much time in the city. She also constantly disrespects French culture in terms of work. The French are known for leisure. While Americans often put work on a pedestal and constantly try to get ahead, the French prioritize rest. In France, it is typical to take long breaks for coffee and meals throughout the day. Employees are also encouraged to disconnect from work outside of the office and even have Sundays off. Emily completely ignores these norms and is almost obsessive with her job. She incessantly talks work on breaks and even on her days off, much to the dismay of her friends and co-workers. The first season includes a humorous interaction as Emily shows up to work several hours early and is forced to wait outside until Sylvie arrives because she is not aware of the lenient hours of French business. Once again, Emily doesn’t seem to learn her lesson because she continues to turn a blind eye to French work customs in the subsequent two seasons. Once in Paris, Emily is informed of several aspects of French culture but refuses to accept them, portraying her as self-centered and, above all, disrespectful.
All of these issues culminate into perhaps the aspect of the show that is the most unsettling: the inaccurate and unfair portrayal of the French people. Because of Emily’s continuous clash with French culture, the locals around her come across as rude, self-righteous, and even cruel. There is already a great deal of American bias towards French people in real life, so the fictitious depiction of it only perpetuates this harmful perspective. Emily victimizes herself in almost every point of contention, when, in reality, her lack of respect for French culture is at fault. Despite this, Emily is constantly painted as the hero in every episode, seeing as her bright ideas always come to the rescue. It seems as if the French, who are actually aware of the customs as well as the French market, are incompetent and cannot perform their jobs efficiently without Emily’s help. This projects an air of American superiority and even saviorism over the entire series.
All in all, Emily in Paris, albeit an engaging show, is full of tone-deaf and offensive details. Everything about Emily’s character radiates self-importance and disregard for her surroundings. She makes no effort to understand French culture, which comes across in her fashion, her actions, and her overall attitude. While the show is meant to communicate Paris through the eyes of an American, it does so without taste, making the series almost too stereotypical and putting off many viewers in the process, French and American alike