‘More romantic, elegant, deep’: why Americans love Real Girlfriends in Paris | Fashion

‘More romantic, elegant, deep’: why Americans love Real Girlfriends in Paris | Fashion

Concealing ranch dressing in your handbag, worrying about the carbs in la soupe, wondering if you’ll ever find a French lover who likes to Netflix and chill: here are just a few of the new world-old world challenges the protagonists face in the first episode of Real Girlfriends in Paris, a reality TV show with its debut on 6 September on Hayu and Bravo.

As one may presume from the title of the show, the programme follows six American women in their 20s and 30s, looking for meaning, for a change and, mostly, for love. As different as Anya Firestone, Emily Gorelik, Margaux Lignel, Kacey Margo, Adja Toure and Victoria Zito’s backgrounds are (respectively: a tour guide, a design management student, an aspiring entrepreneur, an English teacher, a Cornell graduate and a fashion designer), the one thing they have in common is their passion and monolithic vision of Paris. As the trailer’s voiceover points out, these nouvelles Parisiennes are adrift in “the most beautiful city in the world … a fairytale” – that is, an enchanted, heavily Disneyfied and filtered vision of France, which features the women performing Parisian-ness to a T: drinking wine round the clock, wearing trenchcoats and berets, eating crepes, loudly discussing sex. A choice of cliches so familiar and vivid that local press immediately labelled it “the reality TV version of Emily in Paris”, with French Elle declaring it “directly inspired” by Darren Star’s comedy drama. What do the two have in common? Both shows are seen, by the French media, as a “guilty pleasure” that “one loves hating” – for their glorious inaccuracy (Paris limited to a handful of bridges and mimes, emaciated women smoking in turtle necks, not to mention an entire alcoholic population).

One thing is for the sure: Real Girlfriends in Paris, in production for its third season, closely follows the well-trodden path of an old fantasy, updated for the Instagram age by Star. Locations for Emily in Paris are listed on Google Maps and marked on city guides. They have become sought-after selfie locations for tourists and locals – “I feel like a tourist in my own city,” confessed Alicia, 18, a fan of the show who grew up in Paris. Outfits featured in the show, and documented on numerous Instagram accounts, are having booming sales. Not to mention the peak in US-originating tourism in France this summer – une coïncidence?

Kacey Margo and Adja Toure from the reality TV show Real Girlfriends in Paris
Real Girlfriends Kacey Margo and Adja Toure. Photograph: Bravo/Getty

Real Girlfriends in Paris and Emily in Paris bring to light a longstanding Francophilia in American cinema and entertainment – from An American in Paris to Moulin Rouge, Sex and the City, Midnight in Paris and, more recently, The French Dispatch. It’s a topic of fascination that has led to dedicated books (Why France? American Historians Reflect on an Enduring Fascination, edited by Laura Lee Downs and Stéphane Gerson), a multitude of podcasts and even standup stints.

To historian Robert O Paxton, the expat experience provides something of a “mid-Atlantic identity”, floating somewhere between the two cultures, yet keeping a critical distance from both. “It enabled me to move about freely in both the European space and the American space without ever becoming enclosed in either one,” he writes.

The passage between consumed or shattered cliches, well-known benefits and new experiences is what many women describe when moving to possibly the most cinematic and amply portrayed of cities. Breckyn, a 32-year-old dancer and choreographer who moved to Paris last November from New York, recalls America seeing the French capital as the sum of “a sparkly Eiffel Tower, film noir, sensuality, gentle, romantic, the city of lights – but you need to be ready for a really aggressive energy, like in most big cities”.

Nevertheless, she moved for “higher standard of living conditions, healthier, better, more wholesome lifestyle, where travelling is affordable and also culturally acceptable”, unlike in New York where “hustling is the norm in a fear-based society … where everything feels like a struggle,” she says. However, what she cherishes today is the multicultural dimension, “everything you don’t see in the cliches, the diversity in cultures, perspectives”. She adds that she was surprised to discover “people willing to argue, debate, fight over a topic and remain friends”.

Stars of Real Girlfriends in Paris at a dinner party
Living it up in a fairytale version of Paris. Photograph: Bravo/Fred Jagueneau/Getty

In addition to a more balanced life, it is also the promise of love, hand-in-hand with savoir-vivre, that attracts others. Hyo, 37, a student at the Paris School of Business who also moved from New York in July, says she has always been fascinated by “the culture and the music, which seems to carry a special philosophical depth”, listing the singer Tallisker and electronic musician Jean-Michel Jarre. She is “keen on finding love and definitely into French men, who are more romantic, elegant, deep, and can hold real discussions and live in the present”.

Going from cliche to reality is also the challenge that Shawn, a 36-year-old entrepreneur from New York, is facing. “Friends often say, ‘Your life feels like Emily in Paris, going out drinking or to incredible restaurants’ but no place is perfect and the show isn’t supposed to be looked at as anything other than a fantasy,” she says, after discovering, among other things, the difficulty of French bureaucracy and everyday reality.

These, along with the political complexity and the crottes de chien, are certainly less likely to show up in Emily’s or the Real Girlfriends’ Paris, focused as they are on the Pont Neuf, free healthcare and French men.

Et pourquoi pas? Nevertheless, the country’s multicultural history, landscape and rich cultural productions beyond the Périphérique might be worth a dig for these new TV heroines.

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