Saturday, November 28, 2020

Emily in Paris

I canceled Netflix some time ago, because there wasn't much to see. I had the deluxe version, which was €13.99 a month at the time—still less than a single cinema ticket—but every time I looked for a movie or television series, Netflix didn't have it. And then the service started giving preference to more lucrative in-house productions that didn't really interest me, so I finally closed the account.

I've heard abut a new series on Netflix called Emily in Paris, which has apparently proven very popular. I've looked at excerpts, and reviews, and the basic premise, but I haven't renewed my Netflix subscriptions to watch it. I don't need to fantasize about life in Paris … because I live it in real life. And in fact, with respect to Emily's specific circumstances, I know them very well, because I've actually been there and done that.

Believe it or not, I've even considered (for years) writing a novel literally entitled Emily in Paris with a nearly identical premise. I kid you not. Although I suppose I'd be sued if I tried it now. My novel would emphasize Paris, rather than sex or romance, and thus would target a different audience than that of the Netflix series.

There has been a lot of criticism of the series from French people and Americans familiar with Paris (and Americans who like to give the impression that they are old hands on Paris). They don't seem to realize that the series is entertainment, not a documentary. The clich├ęs and stereotypes shown are chosen to please viewers, not to educate them. The character of Emily and her glaring flaws are chosen to precisely match those of the targeted viewer demographic, so that viewers can identify with Emily and imagine themselves in her place. These targeted viewers are most likely future housewives and soccer moms who will never visit Europe and could not locate France on a map, so there's no harm in letting them wallow in their illusions—they'll never be ambassadors of American goodwill abroad, anyway.

Questions have been raised with respect to Emily's work circumstances, and I am well qualified to speak on that.

Any reputable corporation that regularly sends employees overseas has a department or service dedicated to this. Sending people overseas costs a fortune and involves an extraordinary amount of red tape. Compensation packages are complex. Paperwork takes ages to complete, and assignments are often planned a year in advance. Nobody is sent abroad as a last-minute substitute for another employee who gets pregnant.

Usually people are assigned to foreign service because they have some skill set or talent that cannot be found locally, be it managerial, technical, or creative. Managers who are being groomed for advancement may be sent abroad as a rite of passage, a learning experience, or (rarely) a perk.

All foreign assignments are hardship posts—even Paris. The administrative procedures, logistics, cost, and culture shock make them so. Employees must be carefully prepared and informed. They (and their families, if applicable) must be favorably disposed to a long period living overseas. Even so, about a third of expat employees return home early due to problems adapting, and almost all are eager to return home at the end of an assignment. And for employees sent to Third-World banana republics and the like, all of this is multiplied by at least an order of magnitude.

Foreign-service employees were usually already well paid even before their assignments, and they receive additional compensation needed to adapt to their foreign posts and cover expenses that the locals don't have. So people who say Emily shouldn't be able to afford designer clothing are wrong—it's entirely plausible that she'd be able to afford the most fashionable attire.

Eiffel Tower
It's also plausible that Emily would speak no French. Learning a language is very difficult for some people; and learning a new language just for an assignment of one or two years may be avoidable if people in the host country already speak one's own language (as in the case of English in France). Many Americans on foreign assignment never learn to speak the local language. They can get away with it because practically everyone speaks English. They don't gain a lot of respect and they aren't necessarily as productive as they could be, but it's just a temporary assignment. Good companies offer and may even require language training in the local language, but that doesn't always help.

As for being clueless and uninterested in culture, that happens with expats, too, so Emily isn't so far removed from reality. There are affluent ghettos in the suburbs of Paris that are filled with American or British or other expat workers who never venture outside their enclaves and speak no French. They are here because their companies sent them here, period, and they'll be happy to return home when their assignments end.

From what I understand, Emily is "fired" by her manager during the first season of Emily in Paris, but a colleague tells her not to worry, since it takes years to fire someone in France. That requires some clarification. First, it doesn't take years to let someone go in France, although the process is much longer (several months) than in the US. Second, Emily is most likely still on a US payroll with a charge back to her French manager's unit, so she is employed "at will" and can be fired on the spot by corporate headquarters. Third, her French manager can request that her assignment be terminated immediately and have her sent back to the USA, but she can't actually fire her since Emily is not on her own payroll. It's complicated (usually).

I've read some remarks from people who say that Emily's apartment is unaffordably large. That's not true, however. She can probably afford it, and her employer is probably helping her with finding and paying for an apartment, which will most likely be larger than what a normal Parisian might have. French salaries are usually dirt, so Emily may be making more than her manager, and several times what her coworkers are being paid.

Anyway, so much for my two cents, based on what I've heard and read and seen. Emily in Paris is fiction, like 99.99% of all movies and TV shows, so I don't see why people criticize it. All fiction is inaccurate. It's just for fun.

One last thing: Sometimes people ask me if Paris is really all it's cracked up to be.  My answer is … yes! At least for me. It may not be identical to the fictional City of Light seen in Emily in Paris or Midnight in Paris, but it's still great. It's not by chance that Paris is consistently the world's most popular tourist destination city.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Yes have seen that programme and you describe it perfectly, I think also it very much depicts 'expensive Paris' ... in the centre of the City but it was entertaining to watch

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