Sex in la Cité really is a Carrie on! The French are up in arms about Netflix’s racy new hit Emily In Paris – but for a Brit who lives in France, it rings all too true
- Think of a cliche about the French, you’re likely to find it in Netflix’s Emily In Paris
- Expect a riotous whirlwind of fashion and heady love affairs in the new series
- The series has drawn a huge audience and is not too dissimilar to Sex in the City
Strolling down the Left Bank. Popping into a boulangerie for freshly baked pastries. The beautiful women (and even more beautiful men). Yes, we love Paris in springtime, we love Paris in the fall — and now we love Emily In Paris.
A riotous whirlwind of fashion and heady love affairs, the new Netflix series follows American ingenue Emily as she trips through the City of Light in six-inch heels.
In typically French fashion, the series has been met with derision in France. Newspaper 20 Minutes fumed: ‘The berets. The croissants. The baguettes. The hostile waiters. The inveterate philanderers. The lovers and the mistresses. Name a cliche about the French, you’ll find it in Emily In Paris’.
Despite French criticism, the series has drawn a huge audience possibly something to do with producer Darren Star and costume designer Patricia Field, the team that brought Sex And The City to our screens
Yet as a Brit who moved to France 20 years ago, a lot of it rang true.
In fact, watching Lily Collins as a young marketing executive who has been sent to work at her company’s Parisian office was at times painfully familiar.
‘Je parle un peu Francais already,’ Emily tells her elegant new boss Sylvie, in an execrable accent. ‘Well, perhaps it’s better not to try,’ responds Sylvie drily.
Like Emily, I moved to France not speaking a word of the language and very clearly remember trying to have a conversation about beauty brands with a group of women.
I was trying to tell them about Clarins, but they just looked at me as if I were an alien. They can’t not have heard of Clarins, I thought, so I tried again: Cla-reeeeens? Cla-rans? ‘Ah Clah-ranne!’ exclaimed one finally. It was the first of many times I was made to feel that I was murdering their language.
Despite French criticism, the series has drawn a huge audience, thanks in no small part to its heritage. If you’re getting déjà vu — pretty young woman working in media teetering round a major city in ever more extravagant outfits — it’s no coincidence. Producer Darren Star and costume designer Patricia Field are the team that brought Sex And The City to our screens.
Emily may have traded Carrie Bradshaw’s MacBook musings for pictures posted on social media, but some of the lines from Mindy, Emily’s new best friend, could have come straight from Carrie’s man-eating sidekick, Samantha. ‘Try his meat,’ she urges when Emily is on the verge of complaining that the rare steak, cooked by the hot chef who lives downstairs, is not well done enough.
And like its Nineties predecessor, boy, does sex loom large in this show. Casual, passionate and extra-marital — it’s all there. Par exemple, Sylvie is having an affair with one of her married clients, Antoine, whose wife, Catherine, appears to know about the affair but is unperturbed by it.
Like its Nineties predecessor, sex looms large in this show. Casual, passionate and extra-marital scenes are in plentiful measures
Is this a fair representation of French society? Well, yes. Infidelity is rife in France, although they’d never call it that. They have a very different attitude to sex — it’s like eating, or shopping: a pleasure people shouldn’t deny themselves.
When I think of my friends, nearly all their husbands are having, or have had, affairs. For all I know the wives are, too — they’re just very discreet.
Soon after arriving in France, during a discussion with a couple on whether to address someone with the formal ‘vous’ or informal ‘tu’, my husband and I got a crash course in the difference between French and English marriages.
‘I always vous my mistresses, it’s so much sexier,’ declared the husband. His wife didn’t bat an eyelid.
The consensus seems to be that if you have an affair, enjoy it — but don’t do anything stupid, like ruin your marriage. And most women accept that.
Emily’s character is a modern version of Carrie Bradshaw in the hit series Sex And The City
Sexual appetites aside, nothing in the show felt more true to life than when, in response to Emily’s assertion that she’s hungry, Sylvie replies: ‘Have a cigarette.’ The reason French women are so thin is because they rarely eat or drink.
I remember interviewing the elegant head of Cartier, and asking her if she ever ate a croissant. She looked horrified, exclaiming: ‘Not for ten years!’
This abstemious way of life means French women don’t bond over ‘just another drink’ — they’d never dream of drinking after dinner — and I think because of that, they’re just not as much fun. That’s why, in my view, Emily’s friendship with young French woman Camille doesn’t ring true.
French women can be quite stand-offish, and competitive. Great for a bitching session, but they won’t be there as a shoulder to cry on.
However, while Emily In Paris doesn’t replicate Sex And The City’s core ‘girl squad’, one element that is loyally replicated is the showstopping fashion — as it should be, given its glamorous locale.
There’s plenty of showstopping fashion in the Netflix series. Looking good in France isn’t about labels — they wear Chanel but will mix it with Gap — sophistication is key
I arrived in France heavily pregnant, and so spent most of my time in tracksuit bottoms, to the horror of my new neighbours. Two decades on, I wouldn’t dream of even going to the bakery in my gym kit.
Looking good in France isn’t about labels — they wear Chanel but will mix it with Gap — but sophistication. The French just like beautiful things, and I think that’s where what we perceive as their sexism comes from. Emily tells a client that having a naked woman in a perfume ad is sexist — he says it’s just sexy.
Women are desired and put on a pedestal here, and I like that. When I go to my local deli, the owner greets me with ‘Bonjour beauté!’ Who wouldn’t want to be called beautiful doing the weekly shop?
So for all the French may complain that Emily In Paris is stuffed with clichés, I would say the French are different from us. And for that reason, I think they will never fully accept us — 20 years on, my husband and I are still known as ‘Les Anglais’.
But I like to think they have a grudging affection for us, even if — like Sylvie — they’d never admit to having anything as crass as emotions.
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