Column: Why Emily in Paris gives a glimpse of real expat life

by Kathi Daniela

In the last six years I have lived in five countries, on two continents and in seven cities. I am not saying this to brag, but I would think about myself that I have a bit of knowledge when it comes to expat life.

So when I stumbled upon this article in Vogue about a real expat in Paris lashing out at the new Netflix show everybody is raving about, Emily in Paris, I was curious. What would she have to say? Well, upon finishing the article my feelings ranged from frustration to proper anger. I expected to read a reflection about of expat life – instead what I got was a tirade of an expat that clearly thinks of herself higher than other expats; something I never liked because after all, we should have each other backs – we’re battling the same challenges in our homes away from home after all, even Emily Cooper in Paris!

Let’s talk about language for example.

The article states that instead of expecting people to speak English, Emily should just step up the language classes. And while I agree that one should try to learn the language of the country they’re living in, I would like to point out that Emily didn’t exactly know a long time in advance that she will be moving to France. And still she’s trying to learn the language as soon as she arrives – I think we should really give her credit for that. I found out in January that I will be moving to Bosnia in May and guess what: My language skills were terrible back then and they still are because learning a foreign language while getting accustomed to a foreign country, making friends and trying to rock your new life is pretty freaking difficult. So, I think it’s quite unfair to judge her for that! 

Melanie also states that no two French people, no matter how advanced their bilingualism, will speak anything but French with one another – even when a non-native is present. And you know what: I actually don’t agree on that. 

Maybe Emily’s friends are talking English because they truly and genuinely like her and are just considerate. At least that is what I like to think about my friends here. It’s not that all conversation takes place in English, but enough of it for me being able to follow. And guess what: That actually helps me to get to know the country, its people and its customs better! It’s a win for both sides. And it doesn’t mean I am ignorant, in fact I can’t wait to be able to converse in Bosnian – and I am sure Emily feels the same about French – but it will still be a long way to get there. And judging others on their language learning ability and how far they’ve come is just mean!

Another thing that probably all of us expats have experienced is mentioned as well: How foreigners try to shove their guidelines down people’s throats. And I don’t know a whole lot about the culture in the United States and in France – but I am pretty sure a French person moving to Emily’s home town Chicago would have their fair share of challenges adapting to the American lifestyle. 

Working at Vogue, I am pretty sure the author has been working in a diverse and international environment all along and speaking from that privileged perspective I think it is pretty low standard to – again – judge other people on their ability to adapt to a new culture. Just because you moved abroad doesn’t mean you have to throw everything you learnt so far over board and just immerse into the new customs without questioning them. Sure, there are cultural traditions one should adhere to to not be ignorant – but the beautiful thing about expat life (and international marriage for that matter) is to learn from one another and create new traditions and customs. It’s actually called globalisation and I am pretty damn happy it’s part of my life!

Lastly, there is one last thing I would like to talk about. I understand that the author works for a fashion magazine and I understand that fashion is a big part of her life. But why is it that in 2020 us women are still picking at each other, putting each other down by commenting on outfits, looks and how attractive the other woman is perceived by men. Why is it that we still cannot sit there, support each other, congratulate each other, have each other’s back? I don’t necessarily love lime-green jacket sets either. But I don’t need to put down another girl wearing them and loving them. Think about it – especially in the capital of fashion I would love to see more openness to individuality.

This might have been a bit long and a bit harsh – but I think this letter just downplays the challenges and hardships behind an actual expatriation. It would have been nice to read about the author’s challenges in Paris – just to make people understand that moving abroad is rewarding and demanding, exciting and hard. And I just think Emily has deserved some kudos for taking the step of just moving into the completely unknown. Because it actually takes a lot of courage to do so!

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