I LIVED IN PARIS FOR THREE YEARS AND LET ME TELL YOU, EMILY IS NOT THE PROBLEM.
*Emily and Camille ;) Just kidding, that's my Camille, Ella<3
Living in Paris is not all instant instagram fame, hot neighbours and everyone speaking English around you… Mais en même temps (but at the same time), it is some of those things… and isn’t television supposed to be an escape from reality? Especially in god-awful times like these? I am American (which means I related to the American in Paris stereotype while living in Paris) but I’m currently living in Australia (after three years in Paris I craved a different scene) and I’ve been in lockdown since MARCH. Shit has been hard. You know what was nice? Sitting down, opening my windows, letting the sunshine in, and watching Emily in Paris one Sunday morning in bed while reminiscing on my three long years in Paris.
In defense of Emily:
Instant instagram fame? Not so much. I did however start a new account while I lived in Paris and went from 0 to over a 1000 throughout my time living there. I know that’s not Emily level success, but it was more than my friends had back in the states at that time. Hot neighbours? Okay, not my experience, but Gabriel does look exactly like my boyfriends' (he’s French and we met in Paris) flatmate from back then. Like creepily similar. I remember one time going to my boyfriends’ apartment when we started dating and his flatmate opened the door in nothing but a towel. He was the spitting image of Gabriel!
*I took this on a Sunday walk when I lived in Montmartre.
Now about everyone speaking English on Emily in Paris (Funny that the film Les Miserables, taking place in France, is also entirely in English, along with the film Marie Antoinette, and the series Reign, and I didn't hear complaints about the ridiculousness of that!)… I lived there for three years, I learned French. I had to. It was a vital part of being taken seriously and forming relationships with actual French people. But there are a lot, and I mean, a lot, of Parisians who will speak English with you. Maybe because they are nice, but more likely because they want to practice their English and they will use you to do it. Take my boyfriend for example, he ONLY SPEAKS ENGLISH WITH ME. I’m like, “Babe, I need to practice my Ffffrrrreeennccchhhh.” And he, in perfect English goes, “But I just think my English could be better.” MAIS NON BÉBÉ, MAIS NON.
The truth is, if you go up to a Parisian speaking English and assuming they will understand you, they will pretend they don’t speak English. Or maybe they really don’t but more often then not they don’t want to deal with your foreign ignorance. But, if you go up to a Parisian and speak French, they will hear your accent and then speak English with you. I know, it doesn’t make sense. And how fucked is this: By the end of my time working in Paris, I would even pretend I didn’t speak English when tourists came up to me… Paris changes you in this odd way.
Emily in Paris is NOT the reality of what it’s like to live in Paris. Obviously. Do you think watching Friends is what it’s really like to live in NYC? Of course not! People take offence to Emily in Paris because of what I believe is— how hard it actually is to live in Paris. It is hard, and you don’t get the Emily experience without working for it.
*My balcony in Paris my second year.
But let’s start off with what else rings true about Emily’s experience:
She arrives in Paris, is captivated by its beauty (who isn’t?), and happily walks into her new apartment and says, “Hello!” to the concierge, who just stares back at her. That is relatable. The Parisians will just stare at you if you come off as an overenthusiastic tourist, or even if you’re just existing in a non-Parisian way. There is a way to be Parisian, and by the end of my three years, these unspoken, but unquestionably evident rules had gotten the best of me; I had disordered eating, a resting bitch face, and a die-hard desire to not be seen as une américaine.
Another scene that had me, um, trauma-laughing? is when Emily goes to the boulangerie all excited to get “une pain au chocolat” and la boulangère working says, “Un, UN pain au chocolat.” This hit home for me, as I can still remember la boulangère who ran the boulangerie by my first apartment in le 16ème. She taught me French and would not let me have my order until I could ask for it correctly using the right masculine or feminine article. It was a genuine pride of mine to have won her approval by the end of my year near that boulange.
You know what else I related to? I had a beautiful blonde best friend! Like Camille! Actually I had heaps of them! Working in Paris I met a beautiful group of Swedes who quickly became like sisters to me, as kind and open and intriguing as Camille. To this day I FaceTime with them and can’t wait to be reunited. There are beautiful women in Paris, I found this to be true. It's something more than their look, but also their energy and the way they carry themselves. Especially for the ex-pats in Paris, who find a way to express their unique beauty in a Parisian way that undeniably stands out. Perhaps more so than the French Parisian women, who in their efforts to not stand out, end up incontestably blending in.
*Ella and I at a Swedish party in her Parisian apartment.
As I watched Emily in Paris I couldn’t help but smile, laugh and appreciate how they captured some aspects so perfectly.
Okay Emily, here’s what you missed:
More so then “missing some things,” I think they just fucking left them out… Because these are the things, you probably don’t want to watch… Ex-pats in Paris and Parisians alike are pissed at Emily. And you know why? Because it’s so not all flowers and Gabriels when you move to Paris.
Off the top of my head these are things Emily didn’t have to go through that I, an American in Paris, did: my first year in Paris I developed such bad anxiety that I had IBS and panic attacks très souvent (very often). Once I even went to the hospital thinking I was having a heart attack. I tried calling an ambulance but they didn’t come (typical), so my friend got me an Uber. I had such horrible stomach aches that year I had to do a poo test for three days in a row, putting my poo in a little jar and taking it through the metro and dropping it at the doctor before class. (Again— not Netflix worthy?) I got followed down the street and home more times than I could count. Some Romani boys grabbed my pussy one time when I was waiting outside a boulangerie. I got trapped in the metro, had panic attacks in the metro, nearly got sat on by homeless people in the metro, sweated like crazy in summer in the metro, and was late dozens of times to school and work because of the occasionally unreliable metro. (Emily doesn’t take the metro, ever). I developed an eating disorder in part because I worked at Wild and the Moon in le Marais, which for those who aren’t familiar is a trendy vegan cafe in central Paris with juice bottles designed by Virgil Abloh. And yes, he came in all the time and would order our beet juice called La Vie En Rose. Wild and The Moon has a mostly model and fashion week clientele and seeing nothing but stick thin Parisian models, I began to monitor everything I ate, sometimes starving myself. I cried more times than I would like to admit over my now boyfriend, who then was nothing but a confused French boy, not ready to commit to an American girl but stringing her along anyway. He didn’t use the word “boyfriend” for two years and also took that long to say he loved me. People glared at me in the street, made me feel uncomfortable in whatever I wore, and I was called a “pute” (which translates to whore/bitch/prostitute) by a homeless man who followed me out the metro and down the street. There were times I had no apartment, no job, and my visa was expiring. Don’t even get me started on all the days spent at la Préfecture to get my visa. This takes hours and hours, is never simple, costs lots of money, and something always goes wrong. Multiple experiences at the bank left me crippled with anxiety and awfully exhausted. (By my last year in Paris I could walk into the bank with ease, even get an appointment at the last minute, and converse entirely with the banker in French).
I earned this you see. In Paris, you have to earn what Emily just arrives and has.
You have to struggle, be broken, try really fucking hard, and then after a certain amount of cigarettes, at least some disordered eating, a new wardrobe of mostly black clothes, good pharmacy products and at least a conversational level of French, you can enjoy the perks of a Parisian. And maybe, if you’re lucky, even come off as Parisian.
Emily didn’t earn it — she just moved there and got it — and that’s gonna piss off Parisians and ex-pats alike. It is so not status quo.
This sounds harsh, I know, but it is mine, and multiple others’ experience of what it is actually like to live in Paris. It is trying and not for the faint of heart. I saw many people come and go after only a semester, or one year in Paris. Each year I had a different friend group because so many people I met were always leaving. I met people who hated Paris and couldn’t wait to get out, I met people who loved Paris and never wanted to leave (my Camille, my Ella), and then there was me, who loved it, and ultimately kind of hated it, all at the same time.
By my third year there, I wanted out, I needed to leave; I desperately craved the freedom of California and the kindness of Americans (I know maybe that sounds crazy but spend three years with Parisians and an American in the grocery store saying, “Hi! How are you?” Nearly makes you want to break down in tears of joy). But here I am, a year and a half later and I miss Paris again! There’s no place like it. It’s breathtaking, historical and sexy. Even with the crowded metro, the dog shit, the gilets jaunes, and the misogynistic culture. But quand même, no place is perfect!
*Photo from a stroll towards le 5ème.
You think Emily is bad? What about the Parisian influencers?
Stereotypes and false images of Paris being all flowers and cafes and men on motorcycles are not BECAUSE of Emily. These stereotypes have been around for years and years, and they are being upheld by people who spend short periods of time in Paris, and also, the influencers who live in Paris.
Take for example French-Romanian It-Girl, Sabina Socol @sabinasocol, who never ages and has an endlessly chic (and designer) supply of crop tops. I don’t know where she gets them or even how she wears them so comfortably and constantly. I wore crop tops in Paris but never without harsh stares and unsolicited catcalls and harassment. Her account will make you feel like merde because her life is seemingly perfect in Paris. She lives the Emily in Paris life: flowers, beautiful men, good wine, and sunsets. And then there’s Adenorah, founder and creative director of Musier Paris, @annelauremais, who has perfect clothes and a petite frame that she once said she doesn’t do anything for. she doesn’t work out and she eats what she wants. Or even Monica de la Villardière @monicaainleydlv, who wrote a scathing piece about Emily in Paris, whose feed is Emily in Paris, full of her French husband, pretty cafe tables, and a picturesque Parisian life.
Do not get me wrong, I am not shaming these women, in fact I look up to all of them as individual female badasses! Their accounts are fun to look at, and now that I don’t live in Paris I don’t feel the pressure of having the things they have and doing the things they do. But these accounts also give off this image of a perfect Parisian life (similar to Emily's) that is very hard to come by. And when I lived there I bought so many products and clothes trying to emulate that Parisian girl thing, it ultimately made me hate myself. Paris, and the weight of living there did this to me, not shows like Emily in Paris.
You move to Paris, see accounts like this, and expect that maybe your life will be that way. But the truth is, to be successful in Paris in that way you need money, and a certain look. You can achieve Parisian standing on a school budget, but it’s not an easy task. I think I got there by the end of my time in Paris, but I also finally stopped caring. And not caring is perhaps how you finally get that “je ne sais qoui” French girl thing, but to not care you first have to earn it. It’s the same with the French no-makeup-makeup-look. You have to buy all the right products, get all the right facials, and use all the right makeup, to then leave the house looking like you did not do any of that.
Clarke in Paris:
*Taken at a cafe near my apartment in le 7ème.
After three years in Paris I was a judgemental bitch, and I had adopted an internalised misogyny towards myself and other women. I saw the Emily’s coming to Paris, (Americans on holiday, foreign exchange students there for a semester, visitors for fashion week) and I judged them. It bothered me that they came to my city for a week or a couple months and got to see Paris the way Emily saw it, full of flowers and opportunity. Whereas I was working my ass off and a full-time student, métro boulot dodo, and could barely afford un apèro on the weekend. I was looked at and judged by Parisians during my three years in Paris, and I began to judge others just the same -- it's a cycle. So I believe those Emily critics in Paris are judging Emily like they were once judged, when en réalité, we all have that doe-eyed face and innocent optimism when we move to, or visit Paris for the first time.
Once I knew I was leaving I let alllll of that go and honestly did have an Emily in Paris experience. Sure I was working three days a week at Eggs & Co in Saint Germain and the other days I was at university and working on my thesis… but every Wednesday morning and every Sunday I would explore a part of Paris I hadn’t yet. And I stumbled upon cafes, flower shops, exhibits, and people who were so damn captivating. I was able to love Paris unapologetically because I had struggled, and came out the other side knowing it wasn’t forever. Paris is hard on your soul, but it’s also amazing for your soul because the quality of life is high. You eat good food, drink good wine, and have stunning views and sights all around you. Paris is like the bad boy, you know he’s bad for you, but you can’t get enough, so you always come back for more.
Ultimately, Paris made me stronger. And I will be the first to admit that surviving Paris has led me to feel that I can survive anything. If I could navigate living in a foreign country in a foreign language, let alone Paris, at age 20, I know I can conquer anything. In just one aspect of my life, I went from needing medication for my anxiety to being able to manage it completely holistically from the lessons I learned in Paris. And by the end of it, Paris and I were on fantastic terms. I had found four different apartments, been hired at four different jobs, met incredible people, fallen in love, graduated with honours, been invited to a Glossier party, walked in a fashion show, been invited to a Dior afterparty, served Owen Wilson on a rainy day at Eggs & Co, made connections from all over the world, kissed cute boys, kissed cute girls, and explored as much of that city as I could in three years. I didn’t go home for the summers but chose to stay and be challenged and acclimate to Paris- be seduced by Paris.
*From a cafe near la Seine.
Alas, Emily in Paris is not the problem, but a light-hearted show about the dream of Paris we all have at some point in our lives. I doubt people want to watch a show about a girl in Paris having panic attacks and carrying her poo through the metro. Maybe they do… but considering the current climate… isn’t a show about hot neighbours, best friends and beautiful Paris a bit more amusing?
*Taken at a park in le 16ème.
When I first went to Paris, at eighteen, I saw Paris as Emily did. I let myself love that city. It was the first time I was introduced to fresh bread and macarons and Versailles and cafe tables and dinner at 11 o clock and a city as beautiful as Paris in the rain. When I moved there at twenty, that magic didn’t disappear, it’s just that I got too busy, too judged, and too tired to enjoy it fully, and that can make you bitter...
So ultimately I think seeing Paris as Emily does is actually a gift. Because if you take all those good things about Paris, the little cobblestone streets, the fresh croissants, the French girls with lips painted red who refuse to smile, the endless art exhibits, the live music, the late night dining, the gorgeous parks, the cheap but high quality wine, and you let those things bleed into your being and seep into your heart, you’ll love Paris as I do, as Emily does.
*Taken at my first ever studio apartment, the first time I lived alone in Paris.
*My Gabriel ;)