Feli In New York
Inspired by “Emily in Paris”
I was watching the new series on Netflix, “Emily in Paris” with actress Lily Collins. I enjoyed the show. Watched all 10 (30 mins) episodes on a lazy afternoon/ evening. I’ve only visited Paris while I was very young but as someone who was born and raised in France, near the Swiss Alps and moved to New York when I was about 15.5 years old, I feel like I can relate to a lot of the culture shock for an American to move to Paris, but only reversed.
Although not many may share my opinions, these are more of my own thoughts, from my own experiences and feelings.
There is a moment in the show when Sylvie, Emily’s French boss at the marketing company, tells her “If you keep smiling like that, people will think you’re stupid, unless you are really happy. Are you really happy?”. — That actually really hit me. I only smile when I am happy or because something is actually causing me to smile. When I moved to New York in 1998 with my family, whether I am walking down the street, in the supermarket, at school/ work, reading work-related emails or just at the most random moments, someone will get in my way to tell me to smile or ask why am I not smiling? — Why should I be smiling when I’m not doing anything in particular, or working or just walking down the street. It’s a strange concept to me. It often made me feel the exact same thing that the character Sylvie said… I would look like an idiot just walking down the street or shopping with a smile plastered on my face. Just strolling down the road, smiling for no reason. We used to say, which does sound quite wrong, that simple minded people would be the ones to just walk around smiling just for the sake of smiling, with no care in the world. I prefer to only show my smile, even if to strangers, if there is something that is actually making me so happy that I want to share that happiness with the world.
I’ve always felt like France, and most of Europe, approach a more relaxed way of life, a “je ne sais quoi” or “c’est la vie”! One of the characters Luc said “ I think the American have the wrong balance. You live to work. We work to live.” And I agree with that! They take long lunch, take the weekends off, enjoy good food and very good wine... Take the time to travel, to explore, to enjoy life!
The United States, I feel, is the opposite. The most important is money and power. Work, work and work! As quoted previously, America lives to work! They have so much high level of stress, anxiety, obesity, alcoholism, etc... Europe drinks a lot but they drink to have fun, to enjoy it. I feel, from my experience that here, they drink to forget, to escape reality, not always but majority of the time. They try to release all that pent up stress. The character, Luc, had also actually said another similar line that “Americans like to escape reality. French just want to live and see their lives for what it is”.
The French are often referred to as rude, mostly by Americans, yet most French would call the Americans entitled. They go visit, not always trying to fit in whichever country they visit but expect people to speak English. Although most countries do speak English, I know for a fact that when I came here, no one approached me and spoke French to me. There was no “press 2 for French” or any type of assistance. Actually, the response I got the most, was being called “Stupid” the first couple months that I got to New York because I did not speak perfect American English. Mind you, Europe teaches British English. Although I learnt quickly, and got better grades than most of my classmates, funnily enough in English/ Literature classes, including the ones that originally called me stupid. Who’s stupid now?!
But I digress, why are the French seen as rude? Is it because we don’t smile all day for no reason? Is it because France doesn’t really care what others think? We would only interact with others if we must, for work, school, etc. or because we actually care. I feel Americans, always give the standard “Hi, how are you?” — Yet they rarely care about the answer. It’s all about appearing to care. Appearing to be neighborly, but it could also be constructed as fake. The thing that could be said about the French is if we don’t care, we just don’t ask. The French mind their own business, unless they actually genuinely care. Does that make them rude?
Another character from the show, Mindy said “Chinese people are mean behind your back. French people, mean to your face”. Mindy is a Chinese girl living in France as a Nanny who befriended Emily. I personally, would rather someone be mean to my face than speak behind my back. Americans are huge on smiling to your face but then dig your grave behind your back. But again, does that really mean the French are rude? They don’t sugarcoat it. They don’t fake it. They certainly don’t beat around the bush. How is that rude? Again, I would much rather being told in person, than someone faking their friendship or interest, while actually disliking me.
I guess a reason, I assimilate more with the French “attitude” is because I mostly keep to myself. I don’t pretend to care and I don’t hide my emotions. If I don’t like you, you would know it. And it is true the other way around… if I do like you, you would know it. I like to think of myself as genuine. I think of the French, most of them, as there is always an exception to each rule, to be genuine. I don’t find it rude to be honest. I do not find it rude to be realistic. Yes, everything in moderation. I wouldn’t go out of my way to be rude or make people cry but it’s about being realistic. My mother often would tell me, “Don’t be mean” to which I’d always reply, “I’m not being mean, I’m realistic”. Although my mother has also lived in France for many years, she did spend most of her life in the United States when she moved with her family in 1955, from Belgium, at the young age of 6 and moved to France around 1967 and then we moved to New York in 1998.
Another good quote which reflects the possible rudeness but actual realism, is again from the character Mindy “The French are romantics, but they’re also realists.” Which I agree. We all want the fairytale, the happily ever after, to walk hand in hand into the sunset… But how realistic is it? Especially now a days. Not saying it doesn’t happen! But doesn’t happen often... I love Lala Land just as much as everyone else, but at the end of the day, it’s a fantasy. I rather look at the hard facts and act accordingly.
So. Are the French rude? Or are they realists? I guess, it’s up to each of us to decide. I will say that, and again, from my personal experience, that the French are just realists. They say it how it is. Live their lives how they wish. Work hard but live and love even harder! They put passion into what they do that they truly care about and don’t worry about faking pleasantries when they don’t care.
But as rude or realist as the French may be to be found…. Nothing changes their “Joie the vivre”. Their passion for good food, good wine, good friends. Their passion and taking pleasure for everything they do and set their minds to. Everything they do, they do for a purpose. For their purpose and their enjoyment. I respect that and wish I could still be there to experience that. One last quote from the show that I feel fits, although I am not a smoker, “Smoking is a pleasure and without pleasure, who are we?”. No matter what the French do, it all goes down to enjoying their lives, the small pleasures in life, even smoking! Though to me, my small pleasure would be the amazing pastries and ‘cafe au lait’!