Reel vs Real: Here's what Emily in Paris Got Wrong About French Life, As Told by a Frenchwoman
Metro.Style sat down with Chantal Michaut-Pangilinan to dissect how much of the show was faithful to real-life scenarios
Following months of home quarantine and travel restrictions, the arrival of Emily in Paris on Netflix in October 2020 was a welcome respite from it all. As we reel from the 180-degree changes in our lives, the series offered an alternative that we all happily gobbled up catapulting Emily in Paris to the top of the streaming platform’s most-viewed contents. Suddenly, in the comforts of our home and in our pajamas, Emily took us along to the beautiful city of Paris on a wild but hysterically funny ride.
Emily in Paris, a series created by Darren Star starring Lily Collins about an American who was sent to Paris for a job assignment, was both loved and disparaged at the same time. To get some clarity and to receive a review from a French point of view, Metro.Style talked to Chantal Michaut-Pangilinan, Le Coq Bleu Homestay, Baguio owner and a Frenchwoman married to Filipino husband Rafaelito Pangilinan who has made the Philippines her home for over four decades now.
As they say, you can take the woman out of France but you can’t take the French out of the woman. Herein lies the amusing and fearless conversation that transpired when we discussed her thoughts on the show.
First things first. We talked about what she loved about Paris.
“Being a typical French, I love history. Everything in Paris, there’s just so much history, monuments and art. It’s probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Every building is an architectural treasure. In Paris, just by walking around, you are surrounded by beauty everywhere you go,” Chantal says.
Chantal isn’t blinded by the flash of Paris though.
“I hate big cities and Paris is a big city. People in big cities can be nasty. Just like in Manila, in a big city like Paris, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Parisians are known as being not well-liked. Even French people don’t like the Parisians. That would be the only thing I don’t like about Paris—the attitude of the Parisians. I don’t think they’re snooty but they’re just very critical of everything,” she boldly states.
This is where she thought Emily in Paris triumphed in. Here are the real versus reel facts:
Reel: The French people are rude.
Real: Some Parisians are rude—to tourists!
“The show is a very good representation of the Parisians and not of the French. There’s a very big difference. That’s the problem. When the tourists go to Paris, they say French people are rude and nasty because they see the Parisians. If you want to see the [real] French, you need to rent a car, take the train and just go in the countryside and stay in a B&B or a small inn, then you’ll see how nice the French are. Parisians do not represent the French people,” she begins, not mincing words.
Reel and Real: There is a cultural clash between the French and Americans.
“I find that there are some exaggerations but for me, it’s fun to watch as a French person. I also appreciate the French actors. It’s a very good representation of the culture clash between the French and the Americans,” she adds.
Reel and Real: French women prefer understated colors, and focus on accessories like belts, bracelets, and earrings.She took special note of how the portrayal of the French people went on the show. “It was quite accurate the way they showed how French women are with their colors. They’re either wearing black, navy blue or brown. It’s always very understated. It’s really more of the accessory like the belt, the bracelet and the earrings. French people do not wear berets. [The French are so] unlike Emily with her bright colors and the way she dresses, she’s just so in-your-face flamboyant. That just portrays how loud Americans are and how they always had to show off,” Chantal starts, sharing her cultural observation.
“In France, nobody shows off. If you show off in France, people will laugh at you because it’s a sign of insecurity. That’s considered nouveau riche (new rich) and tacky. The French like the appearance or the outside to be very understated. For example, what you don’t know is that underneath all my black clothes, I’m wearing a very sexy lace lingerie. That’s the thing, the mystery is always there,” she explains.
Reel: The French discriminate those who don't speak the language.
Real: It's important to learn the language of the country before you move there—as a form of respect.
“I find it very rude when you travel and expect people to speak English to you. If you move to France, you should have basic French. They would appreciate that. If you go to another country and you try to speak their language, to me it’s the highest form of respect. It means you have taken the time to learn the language even if the pronunciation is bad,” she opines..
Reel and Real: The French are serious about work, even if they start the workday late.The dynamics between Emily and her boss Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) is also indicative of the French workplace culture. .
“The French at the workplace are very professional. There’s no dilly dallying. If you are reprimanded in any way, it’s never about you, it’s about your work. They don’t care if they’ve hurt you because if you’re wrong, you need to know you’re wrong. Nothing personal. The problem with the Philippines sometimes is the ‘pwede na ‘yan’ and ‘ay, okay na yan’ at work. In France, the work standard is very high so you are reprimanded but only so you can meet the standard that is expected of you,” she explains..
Reel: Croissants in Paris are the best.
Real: Anything in Paris is the best—they're a stickler for quality especially in food.Chantal also commented on the way the dining scene was showcased on the series. She admits she rolled her eyes when Emily gushed about the croissant she took a bite of.
“Of course, the croissant is the best—you’re in France. Paris has the best boulangerie. We may not have invented the croissant and got it from Austria but the French perfected it. People who go to France and say the croissant is amazing? Hello. It’s like me coming to the Philippines and saying your adobo and pinakbet are amazing. Quality for the French is important,” she notes..
Reel: Ordering a steak well-done is sacrilege for the French.
Real: The customer is always right. There is nothing wrong with ordering a steak well-done but you lose out in tasting the high quality steak.A particular scene on Emily in Paris where Emily tried to send back her steak to the chef to make it well done is something that Chantal felt had to be explained..
“French people would never order a steak well-done. It’s sort of like a snobbish thing when you order steak, it has to be always medium. I like it medium rare. But you know for the foreigners, especially here in the Philippines and when I go to five-star hotels, the people would order the steak well-done. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the steak well-done but for us French, the quality of our meat is so high that if it is well-done, you don’t taste the amazing steak. To enjoy the taste of meat, you should not overcook it. It’s not supposed to be malutong, steak is supposed to be tender and moist. But on the show, it’s an exaggeration because it’s okay if Emily sends it back and have it cooked the way she wanted it. When you order steak anywhere in the world, they would always ask you how you would like it done,” she says..
Now for the juicy part: The hot romances on Emily in Paris.
Real: French men are easily enamored, romantic, and trés sexy!
Real: The French are very honest about their feelings, and flirting is a national pastime.
“First off, French people are very honest. That’s why in some cultures, especially in Asian culture, we are considered rude. We’ll tell it like it is. I’m not going to tell you I like your makeup today when I don’t mean it. When we give compliments, we mean it. If we don’t like something, we say it straight,” Chantal begins.
“French men are not more romantic than any other culture. But I think the French people’s national pastime is flirting. It’s natural for the French to flirt. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s not be taken seriously. A lot of times, it’s just innocent flirting. Flirting for us is the most natural thing ever. For example, you’re in a restaurant eating alone and a French man would come and say ‘Oh, are you visiting Paris? Are you alone here? Would you like some company?’ If you say no, then he’ll go away,” she continues.
“It’s part of our culture—we flirt. It’s like appreciating art. It doesn’t mean a sexual connotation. When I say you look pretty today, that doesn’t mean I’m coming on to you. The French are very open with their feelings,” she explains.
While flirting in France doesn’t automatically mean sex is in the cards, Chantal pointed out that they have a healthy view of sex.
Reel: The French are open to having multiple lovers.
Real: The French are open to having multiple lovers—for both men and women. There is no double standard.
“A single woman in France, like Emily, would have lovers and is expected to have lovers. It is normal. If you are single, it is automatically assumed you have a healthy sex life. The problem with the Philippines is it’s okay for men but it’s not okay for the women. In France, we recognize that women are sexual beings as much as the men,” Chantal says, adding that culturally, they see no problem with sex for as long as it is consensual. According to her, parenting in France includes educating your son or daughter, when they reach their teens, on being smart about sex and taking precautions.
Real and Real: French is a normal part of life so they're open to discussing sex and open relationships.
She also took the time to explain the show’s complicated adulterous relationship between Sylvie, Emily’s boss, and Antoine, the firm’s client.
“In France, there are couples who are in an open relationship. Remember the wife was hinting and saying to Emily that if she gets friendly with her husband, she approves? Certain groups of people [like Sylvie and Antoine] in France, depending on which class you’re talking about, have affairs like that. In France, sex is like a normal part of life and everybody does it. They’re very open when it comes to sex,” she explains.
Reel: Emily's apartment is so tiny it is a chambre de bonne.
Real: Emily's apartment is too big to be a maid's room, it is, in fact, a gorgeous apartment fitted with windows and a kitchen.
The Baguio-based French homestay owner, however, calls BS on Emily’s apartment as a chambre de bonne (maid’s room).
“If it’s a chambre de bonne, it would have been about 10 square meters. It’s very small and basically enough for a bed and a tiny counter,” she says, but acknowledges the creative license needed to execute the show. She concurs that some buildings are so old, it wouldn’t have elevators and would also have plumbing issues.
Real and Reel: Firing someone in Paris is a long process.
As mentioned on Emily in Paris, Chantal agrees that firing someone at work would be difficult in Paris since France, like the Philippines, have good labor laws. There’s a lot of bureaucracy, filing of documents and thousands of Euros involved for it to be done.
Asked if she would recommend watching Emily in Paris, Chantal gives a resounding stamp of approval.
“I’ve been recommending it to everybody because I know my students would love it. I was discussing it with a former student of mine and she grew up in Paris. We find it accurate with exaggerations. There’s nothing I hate about the show. Of course, there are clichés but again, not all French chefs nor French men are hot and not all French women are elegant,” she concludes with all honesty, in true French fashion.
Lead photo from Netflix