by Shannon McHugh
A little over a month ago, Emily in Paris was one of Netflix’s most popular shows in Ireland but one Donegal woman was already paving the way in the fashion capital of France.
Meet Mandy, a multifaceted social media blogger with over 24,000 followers on TikTok.
Emily in Paris follows a twenty-something marketing executive from Chicago who unexpectedly lands her dream job in Paris when her company acquires a French luxury marketing company.
“There’s this image of Paris that just looks like a dream, like it’s too good to be true” says Mandy.
Mandy spent much of her childhood in Donegal before continuing her schooling in Dublin. She now works for a sustainable fashion brand in Paris and is studying business at university in the city.
When asked about her opinion of Emily in Paris and the character’s lack of interest in learning the language, she says: “I think if you’re very rich, that gives you the freedom of not having to learn the language, but I think if you realistically want to stay here in the long run, it’s so important to be able to speak French.”
It sounds like “A little ‘bonjour’ goes a long way” is only applicable if you have the funds to support a lavish lifestyle. However, the show forgets to tackle the obvious challenges facing many an expat today.
Mandy, made the decision to move to Paris whilst in her first year of studying French in Trinity College Dublin.
Her course of study had a heavy emphasis on grammar, literature and culture modules were taught from a very ‘outside perspective.’ “I really just wanted to put myself into the experience, to be able to actually live it and learn from it.”
With a minimum knowledge of the language, like Emily, Mandy packed up her bags and set off on a romantic adventure abroad, and was it everything she imagined it would be?
Well, not exactly. A crucial element brushed off in TV and film is just how difficult some foreign bureaucratic processes can be.
Mandy describes trying to find her first apartment in France as a ‘hellish’ experience. Many agencies turned her down due to her inability to provide the relevant documentation such as French payslips and French bank account statements.
They told her that if the currency on her payslips was different to France, they would not accept it. Bearing in mind, Ireland is part of the European Union and does in fact use euro. “Then it was ‘Oh well, if it’s (a payslip) from a different country, we can’t accept it.”
This is yet another reason why Mandy implores hopefuls wanting to move to Paris to learn French. “All this bureaucracy you have to go through, it’s horrendous in your own language but when it’s in a foreign language you can get so bogged down. It’s very, very stressful.”
However, some romantic ideals do seem to seep into reality. When Mandy first moved to Paris, she didn’t know anyone and found herself saying yes to every opportunity in a bid to make connections. Going on dates with French guys, heading to bars with friends, chatting to the locals in cafes. Ultimately, all these experiences attributed to her language learning and she even met her boyfriend very early on at one of these events.
Following the release of Emily in Paris, many French critics were outraged at the show, claiming “no cliché is spared, not even the weakest.”
However, it seems that some French can also be complicit in stereotyping other foreign nationals.
“Everybody thinks I’m British,” Mandy says.
On the other side of the spectrum, Mandy admits going to a bar with friends can often lead to an almost accusatory reaction of ‘but you’re Irish’ if she decides she doesn’t want to drink alcohol.
Many people abroad have trouble understanding the difference between Ireland and the UK due to the fact that the countries do share a lot of similarities. However, those with a knowledge of this distinct shared history and relationship know that such an assumption can be a perilous one to make.
Through the lens of TikTok and Instagram, Mandy seems to live the idealised life abroad that we all crave, however, she says: “I can make a video or take a photo of myself but I’m not really going to be showing much of my thoughts or my personality.”
The pandemic has affected many of us in some way, but countries like France have been subject to severe lockdown restrictions and high cases of Covid-19 and fatality rates.
While France has relaxed its national lockdown in the run up to Christmas, life is still a far cry from the antics of Emily in Paris.
As Mandy says, this pandemic, “it builds walls between people”. Travel restrictions can lead to being cooped up indoors, unable to see family and friends for months on end.
Sometimes, the grass isn’t always greener.
However, when asked if the romanticism is still there after all these years? In true romcom fashion, Mandy admits: “Definitely.”
“In your working life, you don’t spend too much time in these [tourist] areas so you really appreciate them when you get time, and I think as a foreigner, I can see it with fresher eyes.”
Article by Shannon McHugh. Follow her on Twitter: @shannon_mch