“America, sounds like a prison.” –Emily’s coworker Julien
It’s rare that I’m able to discuss a show that everyone is talking about. If not for my mom, I wouldn’t know what Schitt’s Creek was. But as someone who is from Chicago (here for the Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza jokes), studied in Paris and works in social media, I have stumbled upon my moment: Emily In Paris. I’m basically Emily, minus the heels and loud outfits.
Thanks to my friend Julie, I found out about it right after it dropped on Netflix, making me feel unusually timely and cool. But I almost didn’t make if past the first 30 minutes. There is a scene in the first episode where Emily and her long-distance Cubs-obsessed boyfriend are having phone sex over FaceTime, and her presumably US-voltage vibrator blows a fuse, causing her entire building to lose power. I shouted to myself, “YOU ARE SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS AMANDA! JUST STOP.” Emily has robbed me of my superiority.
My French is not great, but is better than Emily’s–i.e., good enough to endear myself to the French for trying. Emily does not understand how much the French love French. One time, while visiting the hotel my parents were staying at in Paris, a woman literally pinched my cheek upon hearing me speak. “I jooste looove anglophones speaking French,” she said. I was stunned by learning what superpowers even garbage French could unlock for me. That said, my French friends speak perfect English, and when we hang out, we have two options — we can speak English and have a real conversation where we discuss our personal lives and the dismal state of the world, or we can speak French where I can talk about food, directions and how many brothers I have. But honestly, you don’t even need basic French — just don’t be an idiot. My parents speak no French and were once somehow invited back to a French couple’s apartment for drinks after sitting at a nearby table at dinner. We still send them a Christmas card.
Nearly everyone, from the media critics to my much more reliable friends, agrees: Emily in Paris has many bad moments and a weak plot line, but sign us up for season two. Watching the French bully Emily is what kept me watching, as her boss Sylvie (“Do you really believe that most people are happy all the time?” is her best quote) makes no effort to hide her disapproval. Emily is beautiful but easy to dislike: she makes zero effort to assimilate, is self-promoting and thinks she knows everything, the epitome of what Parisians detest about foreigners coming to their city.
But cliches exist for a reason, and I love when experience validates them. Emily wants nothing more than to be liked and has ordered her life pursuing this goal. Gabriel, her hot french love interest, comments on how miserable that must be. And while I don’t think anyone aspires to be hated, it’s an especially American concept to so actively pursue approval at large. I may not care for someone, but consider it a personal shortcoming if they don’t like me. A reason I am so endeared to my European friends is because all of them give way less craps about this. Along with the best of my American friends, while authentic and true to ourselves, we will try to hide the fact that they don’t like someone out of courtesy. The French see this as fake and manipulative, which is why they’re wary of us.
One of my French friends Marie once said to me, “I hope we can stay friends after I move back to France. I mean that, like in the French way.” I was confused by what she meant and asked another French friend to clarify “the French way” of friendship. She knew exactly what Marie was saying — “In America, you all pretend like you’re best friends for a year or so, but then as soon as someone moves away, you never hear from them again. It’s so fake.” I was surprised that it was prevalent enough for a foreigner to see. “In France, once you become “good” friends, you are a friend for life, no matter what,” she said.
The NY Times also made this observation: When Emily asks Sylvie why she doesn’t want to get to know her, Sylvie replies, “You come to Paris. You walk into my office. You don’t even bother to learn the language. You treat the city like it’s your amusement park. And after a year of food, sex, wine and maybe some culture, you’ll go back to where you came from.” There is a certain native reluctance to befriend Americans who come and go. (h/t to Deirdre for sending me this).
Emily’s coworker Luc is my favorite character because he embodies the best of the French –they are skeptical of you at first, but once you get through, they are kind, funny and loyal. My favorite scenes include Luc teaching Emily the concept of working to live instead of living to work (Emily: but work makes me happy!) and him deriding the happily-ever-after American rom-coms filled with dishonest optimism (Luc: “I want to see life! The hero tortured for his love! And the actress, naked.”).
A lot of people are hung up on the social media campaigns Emily develops and not being legit but I was more hung up on the fact that former French first lady Carla Bruni and current first lady Brigitte Macron text each other tweets about a product for older women who struggle with arousal. But to split hairs over the social part is missing the mark. You know what else isn’t real? A hot french chef living a floor below you who is not annoyed but charmed by the fact that you cannot count floors properly and think his apartment is your own. Your heels making it through the streets of Paris. Crop tops in October. Taking selfies with your local boulanger. I could go on. My French friend Jenny also pointed out it is illegal to smoke inside, not all French women are cool with being cheated on, and French businessmen do not only talk about sex.
Another element I enjoyed– Emily’s Trader Joe’s crunchy unsalted peanut butter that exploded in her package from the States. I too have felt the deep heartbreak of TSA-confiscated the peanut butter. But the best part? The Cubs won the World Series. Thanks for that, Darren Star.