Emily in Paris between stereotypes and cultural dimensions
Culture represents a set of beliefs and values within a community of people. National differences affect organizations and their culture. Sometimes they are not easy to manage and there can be many obstacles. One of these is ethnocentrism: thinking that “my style of working” is better than the others. Prejudices and stereotypes also influence this process and the idea that all others must adapt to “my culture and work style”.
But what do we know about prejudices and stereotypes?
Stereotypes are the idea we have about the characteristics of a specific group, without having any direct experience. They come from general common knowledge. Prejudices, on the other hand, can have a more negative connotation. And they may lead to discrimination. Both are dangerous when working across cultures.
On October 2, 2020, the series Emily in Paris was released on Netflix. It is not the first time that we see the gaze of an American in Paris on the screen. We had Carrie Bradshaw, and Audrey Hepburn before her, that already brought us into this kind of imagery. We can say that the protagonist of this controversial series, has carried on this American look on the French. But it has also shown us the French gaze on Americans in what has been identified as “a series of stereotypes and clichés”. Criticism from all over the world has come up against this type of representation. What they didn’t recognize is that yes, maybe everything is magnified, but they are not all just stereotypes.
This is why for us as interculturalists, it is extremely interesting to analyze them considering the different cultural and organizational models and dimensions.
1. Work VS private life
In the series, it is clear how everyone tries to make Emily understand that she must not mix personal life and work. When during a party she tries to talk about business with a client, the colleagues stop her immediately. In this case, a theory in the study of intercultural management is fundamental: the distinction between task-based and relationship-based cultures. There are cultures in which it is evident the line between personal and work life. People are less likely to share details about their personal life, and asking you the same. On the other hand, there are cultures that don’t want to talk only about work with you. They also want to share their personal life and in this way building relationship and trust. That is a cultural trait, which should not be misunderstood as a stereotype or ‘not pleasing others.’
2. La bise VS shake hands
Also, concerning personal space, the anthropologist Edward T. Hall explained the phenomenon of proxemics and even coined the term. While the French always greet with a kiss (la bise), cheek kissing is not used as a greeting at work in the USA. Shaking hands is much more common and considered more appropriate. Many studies on proxemics and personal space show that French are more prone to the “invasion” of personal space than the Americans.
3. Emily VS Sylvie
We can say that the characters of Emily and her boss, Sylvie, are in constant contrast. Both of them seem to not want to accept the views and the life and work style of the other. In each episode an opportunity for confrontation and challenge arises, but why? The Power Distance dimension of national cultures in Hofstede‘s studies can explain this. It analyzes people’s perception, preference and acceptance of power distribution in the society. It influences organizational culture in many aspects. Emily, who comes from a less hierarchical culture than France, initially fails to accept this hierarchy, but she will slowly understand it, observing the other employees as well.
In conclusion, intercultural management uses various studies and research. Using them, we can see how most of the criticized scenes in Darren Star’s series are instead accurate representations of national cultural differences. These concern different working style cultures in different countries. And Emily in Paris is a great way to understand and analyse them simply by watching a fun series on Netflix!