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cataloguing ze French

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inconsequentially yours

We’re sitting around in the living room and sipping Glühwein. Netflix is the subject on the table.

There are probably worse ways of spending Xmas than watching Emily in Paris, my friend Celine proffers. If you want to know it all about Parisians, do watch the show, though: they’re arrogant, dirty, lazy, bitter, and – of course – love an extramarital affair. Luckily for them, an American young woman comes along and clarifies what life is about (someone lets out a loud guffaw).

Nothing wrong with watching a show that is as otherworldly as Emily in Paris while taking a long, boozy lunch with your flatmates, Matis chips in. Astrid scowls at him: I can’t get my head around this woman who takes up a job in Paris…and can’t speak a word of French. It’s just a tale, Matis counters, don’t get so worked up about it. Getting worked-up my ass, she replies. That silly girl really thinks that Paris is an extension of Chicago.

I kind of sympathize with Matis, and find Celine’s and Astrid’s sarcasm uncalled-for, somewhat: it’s a tale about a young woman and her first time in Paris, I conjecture. She doesn’t know any better. She isn’t any different from any French or Danish Erasmus student who moves to Berlin on a year off. They walk into a bakery and all they get is (what they think of) a cold stare. Their “problem” is that the first thing they see is a cliché. They’re unaware that they are just listening to an old, familiar tune. Its notes drown out their intelligence. Later on, some of them come to their senses and learn a thing or two about Berlin.

Yeah, whatever, man. Astrid smirks at me. Did you even watch the show? Emily doesn’t change. She just doesn’t. I’ve been living in Barcelona for a year now, and yes, I can relate to the bakery-like experience. To the what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-Catalans song. But I am changing (I think). I think I’ll go back a different person. Emily doesn’t even try to learn a thing or two about Paris. It’s all about the American way. It’s cultural imperialism, Matis, pure and simple. Celine concurs with her: that’s right, and of the kind that totally lacks self-irony. So much for your otherworldly tale. Want to enjoy some escapism? Watch Midnight in Paris and imagine Emily the influencer going through some kind of personal transformation. In your dreams, like.

Fine, admits Matis. I get your point. We all understand foreign cultures by reputation only – to some extent. And it does take an effort to dig deeper and conclude that cultural differences are overrated. Ever heard of the “attribution theory”? It’s like, when you’re confronted with some weird behaviour in people from a different country, you tend to attribute such weirdness to nationality. Probably Emily isn’t clever enough to understand the concept – all right, Celine, chill, mate – but hey, people are people, right, wherever you go. They want to be loved, have a family, children, get a good job, and lead a good life. Emily is just being herself. Don’t read too much into it. Cultural imperialism? Come on, give me a break…

The Glühwein is working its way into my brain, and – as I sit back and listen (after all, I haven’t watched Emily in Paris), it occurs to me that Astrid and Celine might be more critical of individualism than Matis and myself – although we’re all implicitly wary of conformity and interdependence. And I don’t have enough resources at my disposal to unpack the underlying irony.

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