The Netflix series Emily in Paris follows Emily, a young American woman, who moves to Paris for a job opportunity. In this comedy-drama streaming series, we can vicariously enjoy the modern fashions and fine French cuisine. We embark on a fantasy film experience that crosses continental borders but also causes quite a bit of discomfort due to cultural clashes, as Emily struggles to succeed in her new workplace and navigate social norms that are completely different from what she is used to.
Critics of the series are mainly French who claim they have been portrayed like the old French stereotype: lazy, hedonistic and sexist. While it’s true that the series includes many generalizations and stereotypes – of American as well as French culture, there’s still an element of truth in every gag. For example, here are some of the intercultural differences expressed in Emily:
Smiling: In much of the United States, strangers smile at one another in the street, upon entering stores and on the bus. In France, people don’t smile just to give others the benefit of the doubt or put them at ease. Emily’s French manager tells her, “If you keep smiling like that, people will think you are stupid.”
Corporate Commandments: Emily sends her colleagues in the French office the American parent company’s “Corporate Commandments.” Here are a few of them:
- Thou shalt always maintain a positive attitude.
- Thou shalt always be on time.
- Thou shalt praise in public and criticize in private.
- Thou shalt avoid workplace romances.
In response, one of her French coworkers tells Emily, “You would like to destroy our French soul!”
Personal space: In France, according to the show, every interpersonal encounter involves a double kiss – one on each cheek, including upon meeting new business acquaintances. In the U.S., even putting your hand on the shoulder of someone you just met is considered odd in the least…even inappropriate and invasive.
Work hours: Emily arrives at work nice and early on her first day, only to find the building locked. It turns out that the marketing company offices open at 10:30 a.m. and the employees also take hours-long lunch breaks not long after starting their workday. In France, there’s no substitute for a good baguette. In France, people work to live; in America, time is money.
In fact, if you’re planning to work in France and want to make a good impression with fewer cultural mistakes, it might actually be helpful to watch Emily in Paris for greater awareness of dos and don’ts, despite the fictionality and stereotypes of the show.
In any case, it’s a really good idea for anyone who works on a global team, whether physically in the same country or remotely through virtual communication, to learn at least some basic assumptions and customs in the culture/s of their team members. The seemingly smallest things can take on completely different meanings in another culture; even a smile – a crooked line that can straighten out almost anything in interpersonal communication – is suddenly liable to be misleading in cross-cultural interactions, as per Emily’s boss’ warning: “If you keep smiling like that, people will think you are stupid.”