Being an American Expat Living in Paris Isn’t Like ‘Emily in Paris’

USA News


  • Netflix’s hit comedy “Emily in Paris” has prompted many Americans to dream of a move to the city.
  • But the reality of living in Paris isn’t so glamorous, several female American expats told Insider.
  • Renting an apartment, making French friends, and dating can all be challenging.

Since its 2020 debut, the Netflix show “Emily in Paris” has prompted many Americans to fantasize about moving to Paris, pushing an age-old image of the city as the most romantic place on earth. Its plot plays on stereotypes, as Emily, a bubbly, hopelessly naive Chicagoan, wins over the rude but charming Parisians at her office and in her personal life.

The show, whose third season premiered Wednesday, is meant to be “a lighthearted romantic comedy,” its creator, Darren Star, told The Hollywood Reporter in 2021, poking fun at “clichés that everyone has experienced at one time or another, both from the American point of view and the French point of view.”

But even with the acknowledgment that life isn’t a rom-com, many young American women who’ve moved to Paris have discovered that the real McCoy — or macaron — is much more complicated than it looks on Netflix.

“Real life is taking the metro and seeing rats at night. It’s harder than TV,” says Kiana Tiese, 29, a New Yorker who’s been living in Paris since 2017. In her TikTok videos, Tiese shows her followers how actual life in the City of Light compares with Emily’s escapades.

“Being an expat is about how much you grow as a person. Emily doesn’t jump into French culture,” Tiese says. “Many Americans expect people to adapt to them. Once you are an expat and not just a visitor, it’s different.”

Kiana Tiese, a Black woman in a blue tank top, looks over her shoulder while smiling.

In TikTok videos, Kiana Tiese debunks myths about what it’s like to be an American in Paris.

Courtesy of Kiana Tiese



Work-life balance in France is better, expats say — but Emily’s social-media savvy isn’t unique

In the show, French corporate culture is depicted as rigid and hierarchical. There’s backstabbing and resistance to change, but also a healthy work-life balance — as Emily is constantly told it’s “illegal” to work on weekends.

There is some truth to that, says Cara Anne Chapman, a 33-year-old dancer and aerial acrobat living in Paris. “I find working here much better than the US,” she says. “There are more rules that protect workers. For example, I can’t have two shifts that are less than 11, 12 hours apart.”

According to Tiese, the competition between colleagues at Emily’s marketing agency, Savoir, also has some basis in reality.

“Working with French people can be challenging sometimes, because their mentality around teamwork is the opposite of the US approach,” says Tiese, who works at a department store. “They are more focused on themselves and working on their projects, rather than trying to create together.”

One thing the show gets wrong is Parisians’ relationship to social media, says Ember Langley, a 30-year-old marketing executive from Alabama who works in Paris. Emily often succeeds by teaching her old-school French colleagues the power of Instagram. But the on-the-ground reality is different.

“If I was a French marketing professional, I would be asking myself, ‘Does she think we are stupid?'” Langley says. “Europe can sometimes be a few years behind the US in technology. But the way social media is used in the show is a misrepresentation. She makes it look easy, posting a bad picture and getting thousands of followers.”

Ember Langley, a white woman in a blue top and sunglasses, laughs on a bench in a park in Paris.

Ember Langley, like Emily, works in marketing in Paris. She says the show’s portrayal of social media is unrealistic.

Courtesy of Ember Langley



‘Most landlords do not want to rent to Americans’

One distinct feature of life in Paris that the show chooses to ignore: dealing with the tentacles of French bureaucracy, including an unfriendly rental market for Americans.

Andrea Alvarez, who’s from Atlanta, moved to Paris with her French husband just before the coronavirus pandemic. She says getting a visa was a nightmare. “There is an online list of necessary documents, but when you get there, they ask you for three different versions of the paperwork,” she says. “It all depends on the person — some are mean.”

On one occasion, a visa officer was openly hostile. “They were asking why I was in France, since I didn’t speak French,” Alvarez says. “When my husband came over, the same person had a very different attitude, almost flirting with him.”

Andrea Alvarez, a mixed-race pregnant woman in a black gown, poses in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Andrea Alvarez, who’s married to a Frenchman, has had to deal with rude visa officers and casual racism.

Carolina Evanno



Like Emily, Amy Kehrig, 33, left a successful career in Chicago to move to Paris. She’d wanted to live there since she was a child, and when the pandemic hit, she says, “I realized I had been dedicating my life to making somebody else’s dream come true in the corporate grind.”

But Emily’s charming flat isn’t reflective of the reality of apartment-hunting in Paris. When Kehrig arrived in the city to study photography in early 2022, “I was coming here to experience life as a Parisian,” she says, adding, “I wanted to treat myself and get this luxurious apartment overlooking the Eiffel Tower.”

Kehrig says she soon learned that “most landlords do not want to rent to Americans.” “We are known for having more resources and being demanding,” she adds. (Another American expat corroborated that assessment.) So she turned to a reliable-looking agency that catered to Americans. When she visited one of the agency’s apartments, it was different from the pictures, with wear and tear all over, but she decided to take it, as her Airbnb rental was about to end.

The apartment quickly became a nightmare. The washer, dryer, and air conditioner didn’t work, and just a week after Kehrig moved in, construction work started in the building.

Amy Kehrig, a white woman in a white tank top, poses on a Paris rooftop with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Like Emily, Amy Kehrig moved to Paris from Chicago. She found renting an apartment to be a challenge.

Courtesy of Amy Kehrig



Kehrig soon discovered that the agency was charging about 500 euros over the rent-control limit for Parisian apartments by incorrectly classifying her apartment as a secondary residence. When she complained to the agency, Kehrig was told the apartment wasn’t classified as her primary residence because she wasn’t a French citizen — but that isn’t how the law works.

“Many people moving here have no idea about all that,” Kehrig says. “They are desperate for housing, because nobody will rent to them. So they find these apartments and pay a lot, not knowing that they’re getting scammed.”

Eventually, Kehrig decided to take legal action and move out. “That’s something I always joke about,” she says. “They didn’t show this episode of ‘Emily in Paris.'”

Paris’ racial and ethnic diversity isn’t reflected in the show

Despite Paris’ ethnic diversity, only one of the show’s French characters — Emily’s cheery coworker Julien — is Black. “Paris is very diverse, so having just one Black guy is odd,” says Alvarez, who identifies as multiracial.

Racism in Paris “is not as in your face as in the US, but it’s systemic,” says Alvarez. While walking with her daughter in an affluent neighborhood, she says, she has been asked how long she has been a nanny.

“One difference from the US is that this is rarely discussed in France. They are in denial,” Alvarez says. “You hear jokes about other races, like they live in the 1920s.”

That’s reflected in the show’s choice of settings, which focus on posh parts of the capital like Place des Vosges and the romantic bateaux, or river boats, on the Seine rather than on lesser-known areas with more residents of color.

“I have lived in districts with many African residents, and you don’t see that kind of place in the show,” Tiese says. “Perhaps they should shoot in Strasbourg-Saint Denis. It’s not as attractive as the Eiffel Tower, but it has its own charm.”

And while Paris may be the world’s fashion capital, Parisians are less fashion-minded than one would think from watching the show, American residents told Insider.

“I was surprised to find out how normal people are. Nobody walks around wearing designer clothes,” says Karina Reyes, 35, a product manager who moved to Paris in May.

Wandering eyes, fickle hearts

Part of the French capital’s allure is its ever-present promise of life-changing encounters. In the first episode of the show, Emily meets her eventual best friend, Mindy — a Chinese expat — while walking in a park. By the end of the first season, she’s made some Parisian friends, too. But socializing in the real Paris can be far more challenging.

“The part I found unrealistic was how quickly she made French friends,” says Emmanuella Hristova, 31, a teacher from California who lives in Paris. “Normally, it takes a lot of effort and time.”

The women interviewed by Insider mentioned several roadblocks to making French friends: the language barrier, the fact that locals had already spent decades building groups of friends, and just plain old busyness.

Building long-lasting friendships with other expats is also difficult, as many leave after a few years. “You meet people quickly, but that might be transient,” Tiese says.

Emmanuella Hristova, a white woman in a white dress, poses at a fountain in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Emmanuella Hristova, who’s from California, has found it tough to make French friends in Paris.

Courtesy of Emmanuella Hristova



And while Emily immediately draws romantic interest from both Frenchmen and expats, real-life dating in Paris is much more challenging. “Sometimes, when a guy knows you are American, they will not take you seriously,” Tiese says. “They think it will be easy, that you are here for a good time.”

In the show, Parisians are depicted as avid cheaters, always on the lookout for a new erotic adventure. Kehrig had a taste of Parisian promiscuity recently when a Frenchman approached her while walking his dog in her neighborhood. With his fluent English and Parisian charm, he made everything look magical. “It felt like an ‘Emily in Paris’ moment, like I was in the show,” Kehrig says. But it turned out her beau had multiple girlfriends, didn’t live in the neighborhood, and had a teenage child in the US.

“Many people here have wandering eyes,” Kehrig says. “It’s not always the most faithful cultural environment, which the show gets right through Emily’s neighbor cheating on his girlfriend. It’s as if there is a secret society or code where many people are cheating and everyone knows it’s happening, but it’s all left unspoken.”

“Many women come here with the delusion that they will have all the things Emily experiences: love, laughter, and wine,” says Sierra Ripoche, a 32-year-old teacher from Georgia. “Some nights can be like that, but it’s also one of the loneliest cities for expats.”

The show may poke fun at Emily, but expats say a little American optimism isn’t a bad thing

In the show’s second season, Alfie, a cynical British banker who becomes Emily’s love interest, questions Paris’ image as the City of Love, calling the reputation a facade.

“It’s selling you something that is not real,” he tells Emily, who responds that it’s all about how you decide to look at it.

emily in paris lily collins lucien laviscount

Emily’s cynical love interest Alfie (Lucien Laviscount) dismisses her optimistic view of Paris.

Netflix



“When you are an expat, you want that fairy tale,” Kehrig says. “You come here when you are single because it is such a romantic city, and you hope you will magically find someone.”

The show may exaggerate that side of Paris, but it still exists, Kehrig says: “This city is full of love. There are people stopping in the middle of the street to kiss or walking along the Seine holding hands.”

Emily’s coworkers may take aim at her brazen American optimism. But it can also come in handy, keeping the dream of Paris alive amid the difficult day-to-day reality of expat life.

“The show does mock us a bit,” Tiese says. “But we can take it. We deserve it.”



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