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2 Major Problems With The Show Emily In Paris From a Former Expat

When the show Emily in Paris came out on Netflix, I was excited. I was excited because I thought it would depict the trials and tribulations of living abroad as an expat; given the fact that I was one until recently, you can understand my excitement. Instead, I found two major problems with the show Emily In Paris.

I was hoping for a depiction of some of the major issues that expats face: adjusting to the culture and customs of their new host country, learning the host language, making new friends…you get my drift.

While it can be argued that the show does depict those things to a certain degree, I was largely disappointed in the show. Yes, my time as an expat was not spent in Paris, but I found myself increasingly uncomfortable watching the program. I’m sure that you’ve seen the show by now, but in the event that you have not, I will warn you that there are spoilers ahead. While I could go on and on, my dislike for the show and its protagonist boils down to two major problems.

2 Major Problems With The Show Emily In Paris From a Former Expat

1. The Protagonist Makes Hardly Any Attempts To Learn The Language

I think this is the part that makes me the most uncomfortable about the character. One of our first introductions to Emily once she arrives in Paris is her speaking into her smartphone that subsequently translates what she says from English to French. She continues to utilize that app to communicate in French, while her oral communication is limited to English with a “très” thrown in here and there.

Furthermore, we rarely see the character actively making efforts to learn the language. While listening to podcasts and taking a language class are not bad ways to learn a language, the overwhelming majority of this character’s communication takes place in English. 

When I lived in Taiwan, I did not take a Chinese class. I studied Mandarin by listening to music, watching television, and noting words in Chinese that I didn’t know. I also engaged in basic conversations with locals when I could. By the end of my time in Taiwan, my Mandarin had improved, but I regret not making the effort to enroll in a Mandarin course, especially because outside those basic conversations, the communication I did engage in was in English.

Emily continually refuses to completely immerse herself in the culture by refusing to speak French. The show depicts almost nothing about the language learning process, which involves making mistakes and conversing with native speakers in their native tongue, something that I was hoping to see. By the end of the show, Emily’s French has not made a noticeable improvement; nor has she adapted to the culture or recognized the need to speak French. 

While I can no longer remember the exact quote, I remember reading something on social media a year ago that highlighted the fact that having a non-native English speaker speak English to you means that they are accommodating you. This stuck with me, especially after I transitioned from Taiwan, where I spoke only fragmented, basic Chinese, to Japan, where I can communicate much more comfortably. I now understand that this is why this thought about accommodation sprang to mind immediately when I say Emily’s character.

Making an effort to speak the language of your host country is a sign of respect to the locals; more often than not, regardless of where you are, locals will appreciate your attempts to speak in their native tongue. Speaking a language and interacting with locals allows you to learn more about the culture by going directly to the source. 

You are able to learn about the nuances of culture in a way that would have been lost in translation, something that we see the protagonist of this show refusing to do by continually speaking English. 

2. She Continually Attempts To Change The Culture Instead of Learning From And Adapting To It

We see Emily continually assuming her authority and pushing her culture onto others rather than adapting to French culture. She pushes her American values onto her French co-workers without consideration for what the French customs may be.

One prime example of this is her insistence on sending food back to the kitchens while she is dining with a friend. She continually attempts to send it back, despite the waiter’s suggestion that she try the dish and her friend’s attempts to smooth over the potential argument. She doesn’t pause to contemplate what would be considered proper dining etiquette in France; rather, she insists on having things the way she is used to having them rather than trying something new.

Trying new things is exactly what pushes you outside of your comfort zone and encourages growth. Remaining open-minded and learning about the customs and etiquette of your host country also enriches your experiences abroad. Your open-mindedness and willingness to learn will do a lot to create a positive impression of not only yourself but the communities you represent.

As a former expat who valued her experience abroad, I couldn’t see past the glaring flaws of the protagonist and consider the show something that boasted good entertainment value. Working abroad for as long as I have has shaped me into the person I am now.

About the Author

Alisa Tanaka

Alisa Tanaka graduated with a Communications degree from Lewis & Clark College in 2012. She hopes to develop a career that allows her to make a measurable impact on the world while doing something that she loves. Her interests include psychology, linguistics, and mental health. She can also be found reading, watching documentaries, and writing her blog.