Realistic or romanticized? Breaking down Parisian stereotypes

Television shows like “Emily in Paris” affirm Parisian stereotypes and intersect with everyday Parisian life.


Parisian stereotypes are both strengthened and invalidated by television shows like “Emily in Paris.” (Image courtesy of Netflix)

Stella Lin, Staff Writer

PARIS — “You may experience a Paris different than the one you see in ‘Emily in Paris,’” an NYU Paris staff member said during the abroad site’s spring 2022 orientation.

While the trending Netflix show has garnered great public attention over the past few months and has been renewed for two more seasons, it also sparked controversy over whether the show reflects real Parisian life or simply regurgitates French stereotypes. Before coming to Paris, students who hadn’t been to France expressed concerns over life in the city based on what they saw in “Emily in Paris.” Are Parisians mean? Are French people unfriendly to those who don’t speak French? What should a Parisian wardrobe look like?

I shared these concerns, but during my time in Paris, I’ve fared surprisingly well. Despite not speaking any French besides “merci” and “bonjour,” I not only survived my first few weeks here, but thoroughly enjoyed them. Maybe the staff member is right; I do experience a Paris different than the one I saw in the show — a Paris that is more complicated, fun and unique than any of the cities I have lived in before. Living in Paris has given me the answers to the concerns my peers and I had before coming here.

Are Parisians mean to those who don’t speak French?

This was my biggest concern before coming to Paris, but now I can reply with a confident “no,” especially if you know a few tips for talking to Parisians. In downtown Paris, most locals can speak some English, as they very often deal with international tourists. However, some may not like the assumption that all French people know or should know English, and this might be where the stereotype comes from. Therefore, always start the conversation with a “bonjour,” and then ask, in French, if they speak English. One comment I often heard from other study abroad students was, “French people are so polite.” This could be a simple greeting between strangers in the elevator or a warm smile when I say I don’t know much French. “Unfriendly” or “mean” are seldom on the list of adjectives you’d use to describe French people after spending some time in Paris.

How can I dress like a local? What should my wardrobe look like?

On my very first day in Paris, two young locals greeted my friend and me with a “Welcome to Paris.” I wonder if it’s because we were on Google Maps looking lost, or if it was our outfits that gave us away. The question swiftly came to me — how can I dress more like a local Parisian? “Emily in Paris” made berets seem like an essential part of Parisian fashion, and their popularity is obvious. Every souvenir shop or convenience store in the city will have different colors of berets for tourists to choose from. But Parisian style is not defined by one or two specific items — it’s the effort Parisians put into designing their sophisticated outfits that is appreciated. This can be a piece of delicate vintage jewelry that transforms a basic outfit, or a statement piece that communicates your unique personal style. If you wonder what is inside of a Parisian’s wardrobe, spending an afternoon in the Marais district — which has everything from boutiques to chain thrift stores — will equip you with enough fashion inspiration to blend in with the locals.

Are Parisians really as romantic as the characters portrayed in novels and movies?

The answer really depends on your definition of romantic. The slow pace of city life cultivates an atmosphere where people simply enjoy the passing of time with their partners or friends. It could be a walk along the Seine or a midday cafe break, like what we see in “Emily in Paris” and movies about the city. It’s common to see couples kissing in the streets, holding flowers in their hands, and laughing as they ride the train. Rather than considering Parisians as more romantic individuals, you’ll realize it is often more a matter of cultural differences in expressing love. In reality, shows and movies often romanticize Paris to fulfill the needs of the plot. After all, people here do not live in romantic bubbles, and they probably have very similar everyday routines as people in New York — home, commutes, work and school. But the real Parisian life without the romanticized aura shaped by pop culture is still full of excitement, and there is always more to explore in the city than what we see in shows like “Emily in Paris.”

Contact Stella Lin at [email protected].