Culture

We Found The Real Life 'Emily In Paris' And Got Her Take On The Show—Here's How Her Story Compares To Netflix's Popular Series

By Anna Hartman
·  25 min read
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Instagram/@annakloots

Curious about how an American living in Paris feels about the popular Netflix series, “Emily In Paris”? Anna Kloots, an expat and New York Times Best Seller who planted her roots firmly in the City of Light three years ago, is telling us her story, and although she will tell you that she does not consider herself to be the “real” Emily in Paris, we can’t help but see the glaring similarities.

If you’ve ever caught yourself daydreaming about leaving the American hustle behind and moving to Paris to wake up and enjoy a croissant from the boulangerie below your apartment each morning, catch the evening twinkle of the Eiffel Tower, and fall in love the old-fashioned way, then you’re going to want to hear Anna’s story. Speaking as a Francophile who has studied the beautiful French language, whose wardrobe is inspired by Parisian Instagram and Pinterest accounts, and someone who stood below the Eiffel Tower as a little girl, dreaming of what it would be like to live there someday, Anna’s story tugged at my heartstrings. Her words made me fall into a dreamlike trance as I played our audio back while mincing garlic and preparing dinner in my rural colonial-style home, awakening that dream inside me once again. Parts of her story I was expecting to hear, the genuine romance of a city unafraid of love, but other elements took me by surprise.

Grab a café au lait, cozy up in your favorite nook, and let’s get into it. From how French women feel about the portrayal of their city in Netflix’s popular series to the honest drawbacks of living in Paris that no one talks about, it is my honor to introduce you to Anna Kloots, the real life Emily in Paris

How did you feel about watching Netflix’s popular series Emily in Paris? Did you feel like it was an accurate representation of an expat working and living in the City of Light, or that it was meant to be more of an American-lead fantasy? 

“I was so excited when Emily in Paris came out. I had been living in Paris for 10 months, and I was interested to see the city up on the screen. Part of the way I fell in love with Paris was through the many movies filmed here that make Paris look like a fantasy, and that's exactly what I expected from Emily in Paris. From the trailer, it was evident to me that the mission was to entertain – not educate

So when all of these articles came out critiquing, ‘that's not how people really live, that's not how people really dress,’ I was like, ‘Did I miss the part of this trailer where Netflix said this was a docuseries?' Yes, the setting is a real place, and there are certain elements that ring very true, but I don’t believe their mission was ever to be a 100% accurate portrayal of expat life. It is a fictional series, and fiction, by definition, is imagined facts! I honestly don’t understand why anyone would have expected otherwise or feel outraged by what is portrayed. This is not the first time exaggerations were made in the name of entertainment. The apartment in Friends is completely ridiculous for New York City! Carrie Bradshaw’s wardrobe in Sex in the City is not possible on a writer’s salary. No one was getting on a soapbox about those shows or obsessed over declaring themselves the “real” version of the lead character. If anything, to me, the obsession with talking about it is evidence of an intrigue that Americans have with Paris itself and the fierce pride the French have for their country and culture." 

Do you know any French women who watch the show? How do they feel about the portrayal of French culture? 

“I do know French women who watched the show, and a lot of expats! They both love it and love to hate on it. The negative feelings among people I know stem from the feeling that, in some way, it’s potentially encouraging a false narrative, negative stereotypes, or making it seem like life is way easier here than it really is. I can understand why that frustration and viewpoint exist, especially as an expat – but again – I go back to the way the show is marketed – it’s not a documentary! Emily never promised us any more reality than Gil Pender did in Midnight in Paris. What became clearly evident, though, is that people do want to know what the reality of living in Paris as an American is.  

But there isn’t one right answer to that question. Even among the people I know here – there are several universal struggles we share – but we all have very different stories, experiences, and realities here. I think rather than hate on Emily in Paris for “getting it wrong,” we can look at how it has further piqued curiosity about France, and hopefully, inspired people to travel here and learn what the reality is for themselves." 

When did you first decide to move to Paris? What was your reason behind this decision? 

“I moved to Paris in January of 2020. I had wanted to live there since I was 12 and started taking French. I just fell in love with everything about it – the language, culture, food, fashion. I finally took a trip to Paris when I was 18, then I did a semester abroad a couple years later, and that confirmed for me that it was where I felt I was supposed to be. Before I left, I put one of those 'love locks' (way back before they banned them) on the Pont Des Arts, and wrote ‘Anna + the Eiffel Tower’ on it. Despite having a boyfriend at the time, I knew Paris was my true love! I threw the key into the Seine and dramatically declared that I would come back and live here one day. 

Long story very short, I ended up getting married (to an American). I was living in New York City but traveled the world continuously for about five years working with him, and every time I came back to Paris, I felt this is where I belong. Then at 30, I went through a sudden divorce. My husband decided he didn't want to be married anymore, didn't want a family, didn’t want the life we planned. When he left, I was suddenly without a job, home, or future. It was terrifying. But I thought, ‘I have to start my entire life over. What do I want it to look like?’ 

A few weeks later, I came to Paris. We had a trip already booked to celebrate our wedding anniversary, so rather than cancel, I came alone! I thought I’d be sad, but instead, I felt happy, and like myself again for the first time since the whole divorce started. I was just like, ‘I'm moving here! This is the life I always dreamed of, so I’m going for it!' I felt like I had nothing to lose in trying. From rock bottom, you only go up, right?"

Have you ever regretted the decision to move or wanted to move back?

“I've never regretted it, and I've never yet wanted to move back. It's been three years this January! The only thing I'll say is there are times that I’ve realized, 'Wow, this is so much more difficult than I thought it would be!' And I believe that I went in with a pretty good expectation of the challenge ahead, but still, it was harder. Despite that, it’s the single best decision I ever made, and I don't know how I could ever leave. Even though I’ve seen the unglamorous, gritty parts of Paris, I still want to be here. 

When I initially arrived, my experience was honestly like a dream. I look back at that first year and think of it as my 'honeymoon' phase. I didn't know a single soul here, and that didn't bother me. That was actually part of the reason why I wanted to come. I needed to make a new life for myself, and I liked the idea of being in a place where no one knew me. I could just really focus on myself, what I needed and wanted, and be a little selfish. 

With a totally clean slate, I started my life over from scratch. I was very intentional about everything I chose to add to my new recipe for life. I had always wanted to be a writer and write books, and what better place to do that than Paris? So I found a literary agent, and I started working on a book proposal. Then I really used Paris to inspire me each day and to fuel my reinvention. I started taking ballet classes and cooking classes, shopping at the fresh market, running along the Seine, visiting museums, taking myself out to dinner. Then I’d take all my experiences from the day, and use them as inspiration to write all night."

What was your experience like once you arrived? Has your switch from American culture to French culture been a difficult or rewarding one? 

“It has been insanely rewarding, though certainly a little bit difficult. It is such a different life. Coming from New York City, everything is fast paced. I feel like the streets actually supercharge me just walking around, and I’m going, going, going all the time. You can get a million things done in one day, everything's so easy and convenient. Paris is the total opposite. The concept of convenience does not really exist – nothing happens or comes easy, you have to go out of your way no matter what you’re doing. But it’s not a bad thing – and I love that lack of convenience sometimes now; it makes you cherish what you end up with a lot more, and it forces you to slow down. To enjoy and just accept that you can’t have it all, or do it all every day. You realize that you don’t need to. You really have to work for what you want your life to look like and what you build, so to me, it becomes more intentional, because I'm really choosing it and selecting it – little by little by little. 

So many things aren't important to the French that seem vital to Americans, and there's really this focus on enjoyment. It feels like their true drive is ‘What am I going to enjoy?' more than ‘What's going to make me the most successful, what's going to make me the most money, what's going to make me powerful, or popular?’ For the French, it seems it’s 'What's going to make me happy?’ And starting to live by that sentiment, especially when I was at the place I was in when I moved here, was transformative.”

Are there any American comforts that you find yourself missing or feeling nostalgic about when in Paris? 

“They are pretty few and far between. It's mostly food, which sounds silly because Paris has incredible food! But it's just the occasional taste of home you miss – like when you're sick and you just want chicken noodle soup, and you realize they don’t have it. But, then you say, 'Okay, so how do I make it?’ and then I’m at the butcher buying bones to roast, and taking a cooking class to learn how to make chicken stock and finding a cute, Italian traiteur for homemade noodles. Eventually, you learn to craft this artisanal, amazing soup, and think 'I can’t believe I used to just heat up a can of Campbell's!’ So I do feel nostalgic and miss some American things sometimes, but, honestly, what Paris gives me in the end is always more fulfilling.”

You seem to have found love in Paris. How is the dating scene different from that of America? 

“I did find love here, very unexpectedly. Oddly, just like Emily in Paris, I fell in love with my neighbor. We met outside the building the night that Paris went into the second lockdown during Covid. I was at the door, holding about seven bouquets of flowers because the flower shop my best friend owns had to shut down. He walked up to the door and couldn't even see my face over all of them! But he arrives, I lower my flowers, our eyes meet, and I start talking in inaudible French. We realized we were neighbors, and started climbing the stairs together, and he said, 'Do you have enough vases for all of those flowers?’ And I was like, ‘I’ll figure it out! See you around the building!' About 20 minutes later, there was a knock on my door – and it was him with a vase and red wine. We sat on my couch chatting for hours, and then out of nowhere, he just stood up, extended his hand to me, and said, 'Will you dance with me?' I was so caught off guard! I said, 'Here? Now?' And replied, 'Why not?' 

And I remember thinking, yeah, Anna – why not? We’ve been dancing ever since. 

So how is that different from America? I can pretty safely say, I don't think that would ever happen in America. And maybe because I wouldn't even let it happen. I think that if in New York, I met a neighbor, and minutes later they tried to enter my apartment, I probably would have said, ‘No freaking way, psycho! I don’t even know your name! I'm going to need all your stats, then I’ll research you exhaustively, and then – maybe – I’ll think about going on a date with you if your police report comes out clean.' 

But Paris is this place that feels lost in another era to me, and the romance of the city kind of penetrates my soul and replaces the cynicism I had built up around dating. My mind immediately goes to an old, romantic movie here instead of a CSI episode! 

And the men truly are more romantic. I felt that from the second I started dating there. I was on Bumble, Raya – all the apps!  And just the things men say to you just to ask you for a date – if an American said it, you would be like, ‘Are you serious with that cheesy line, bro?’ But in France, it just feels genuine. The average proposal I would get was like, 'Would you like to stroll through the streets of Paris together on this beautiful evening? We can find a terrace to drink wine and get to know each other?' I’d crack up reading it! But then be like, 'Uuhhhh, yeah! Dream date!'

The romance is literally just present in a way that I never experienced in the US, and it never feels fake – it feels natural

So it's laughable, but at the same time, incredible. My boyfriend now, I'm not kidding, left a croissant on my door every day after the day we met for three months until I told him he had to stop because my pants were no longer fitting. He still, after two years, brings me flowers all the time for no reason, surprises me with pastries, writes me full-out, page-long love letters to tell me how he feels about me on the regular! Because he wants to. It’s important to him to be romantic. I’m telling you – it's a different land.”

Do French women use dating apps as often as American women, or is it much more romantic and effortless to meet and fall in love with someone there like how we imagine? 

“All my friends are on and off them. No matter what country you live in, I think it’s both fun and frustrating. So you try, then give up, then try again. I’ve heard dating horror stories from friends everywhere. Falling in love is never easy, and I certainly don't think it's more “effortless” to fall in love with someone in Paris. But I think it's what I said before – for some reason, I was more willing to believe that the fairy tale I wanted could and did exist here. So maybe it was 'easier' because I was more open, and I was giving off a different energy in Paris than I was in New York. 

I was also not so focused on finding the perfect person 'on paper.' I already had that with my ex-husband, and knew that what’s ideal in our heads may not always be what’s ideal for our hearts and souls. My boyfriend and I would have never matched on an app! My filters would have actually prevented me from finding my soulmate." 

What do you love about Parisian fashion? Is Camille’s or Sylvie’s style a good representation of what French women often lean toward? 

“My wardrobe and style have changed so much. Paris has this reputation for being the fashion capital of the world; haute couture everywhere! But to me, New York City was way more over the top and stylish than Paris. Paris isn't risky or trendy when it comes to fashion, and it's also not nearly as sexy as we imagine. It’s about looking chic – always. But in a classic, effortless way. 

I actually like that the show doesn’t portray the typical Parisienne style and instead indulges that fashion fantasy a bit. It makes it fun and interesting! It also tells you about the character. 

In terms of being the most realistic, I do think Sylvie's character is perhaps the most typical 'French' – she always looks chic and smart. The women here are put together, no matter if they are going to market to buy some leeks, or going to work, or going on a date. There’s no ‘I'll just wear my sweatpants to run my errands during the day because who cares – then I'll shower and I'll look nice later!' You look nice all the time, no matter where you're going, and that is really something that was such a wake-up call. I love that commitment, and adopting it has strangely made me feel more put together in every aspect of my life.

What you don’t see is anyone really over the top, super trendy, or very formal. I think of Paris style as more 'business casual' all day long. Quality, classic pieces, effortlessly thrown together, that take you from day to night."

Americans love to romanticize living in Paris, which is likely a reason why the show Emily in Paris is so successful. In what ways do you feel like Paris is truly romantic and magical? 

“Honestly, pretty much in every way to me. I know that grittiness and problems exist here – they do in every city. But not every city also has so much charm, beauty, and history. In the 1830s, Paris was actually the 'capital of Romanticism,' and the city became an intellectual and artistic melting pot. Dreamers were literally drawn to it, and what they created during that time still exists today. To me, that’s what makes Paris so special. I seek out the history here, and I find it transportive. Each day I'm imagining the stories and creating a whole narrative in my head about every street, every shop, every little fork I pass at a flea market. I'll pick up a fork and think, ‘I am certain that F. Scott Fitzgerald once ate off that fork at a dinner party. I know he did, I can just tell by looking at it.’

Now, maybe that's just me being a writer, but I look at the city that way because the history is there, and I lean into that because I want to, because I love it! The architecture, the way that the streetlights just make the city glow when it drizzles a little bit, the café tables pushed together, filled with couples sitting side by side. It’s all still here, and in so many ways Paris just oozes romance! 

PDA is everywhere. You see people making out, embracing, staring into each other’s eyes! They are shameless about it, and honestly, why not? Why are we not all shameless about loving someone intensely? I love that love doesn't have to happen behind closed doors here! The first time I took my boyfriend to New York City, we were walking around and, probably after a couple hours, he just looked at me, and he was like, ‘No one touches here. Does no one love each other here?’ And, it was such an odd realization for me. I told him, ‘You're right. We don't…or if we do, it’s just for a second. Then we feel self-conscious and worry that we’re grossing someone out.’ But in Paris, it's literally just a free for all: intertwine, cuddle, kiss someone passionately in a park! I think that adds to the romance of the city, because you’re seeing romance everywhere." 

What are some of the honest drawbacks of living in Paris that we don’t often see? 

“As I mentioned before, convenience is not a thing. So your productivity goes down a bit because every task takes longer to accomplish. 

It is insanely difficult to get an apartment! Even more so as an American. To explain the process and all the hurdles would take a whole separate interview. I’ve lived in New York City and London, and when it comes to finding a place to live, this is by far the most difficult. Then when you do secure a place, you are hit with the reality that you now live in a stone building built in 1860 – without central heat or air conditioning. My apartment is an ice box in the winter and a sauna in the summer. I don’t have closets. Or an elevator. Or a doorman. None of the amenities I was sure I couldn’t live without in New York are even options here! But, would I trade it? No way. I’ll take my floor-to-ceiling french windows that open to a balcony overlooking Paris over an AC unit – and my original Hungarian parquet over heated floors any day.

The other drawback is it is really hard to make French friends and permeate French circles. A lot of French people have had the same group of friends since childhood, so it's not that they're not necessarily open to meeting new people, but it's almost like they don't need to. So many are not needing or seeking new friendships the same way you are as an expat. I don’t think the French are unfriendly, but they're not overly, outwardly friendly like Americans are and to win them over takes time. You have to work for French relationships, but I will say that once you’ve gained their trust and friendship, then they are your friend for life. There is no fickleness, they are committed, and that is beautiful.”

Give us a day in the life of Anna Kloots! What does a typical day living and working in Paris look like for you? 

“I wake up in my Louis XV style, tiny bed and make the coffee while my boyfriend goes to the boulangerie next door to grab fresh croissants. Then I go into my living room. I renovated and decorated my apartment myself, and it took over a year! I really love my place. Every day I honestly think, I feel very lucky to live here. I open up the windows if it’s not too cold because I love to hear the city in the morning. There’s a man who plays “la vie en rose” on trumpet on the street every Tuesday. It’s magic. 

Then I put on my radio (usually ABBA or the ‘60s channel) and dance alone. That is how I start my morning; it gives me this instant boost of energy and makes me happy even if my neighbors think I'm nuts. If it’s warm enough, I eat my breakfast on the balcony. I do eat croissants most mornings, or my boyfriend and I share one. 

Then I answer my emails before going on a run along the Seine. I do that pretty much every day (to combat those croissants) and because then I get to see the Eiffel Tower. I am still totally in love with her; I tear up every time she comes into view.

I do the bulk of my work in the evening, since I still work on New York and LA time. So my hours are a bit reversed, and the afternoon is often my 'free' time. If I’m on a deadline or in the middle of a project, I’ll write all day – either at home or in a café – but if not, I love to spend part of the day doing something to spark inspiration, like popping into a museum. I'm a huge museum person! Or grabbing lunch with a client or friend. Lunch usually comes with a wander, and with wine. If you’re lunching in France, wine is always involved. The question is not 'Would you like wine?', it’s 'Are you taking red or white?' 

I never take public transportation, even if where I’m going is an hour away. I walk everywhere, and usually stumble upon something wonderful as I do. 

Whatever I'm doing during the day, I’m also capturing and sharing it. I am a content creator as well as a writer. So whether it's for my Paris guides that I have, or work for a brand, or just to give people inspiration or entertainment, I’m always creating. 

I’m usually back at my apartment in the evening, and begin work around 4pm when New York wakes up. It’s usually a lot of calls and zooms with my editor, agent, publisher, sister, or clients. I also prefer to write at that time, because I can digest what I just did and saw and use it as fuel for my writing. When my boyfriend gets home, we have apero (wine + snacks), before we cook dinner. He's an amazing cook, so he cooks for me a lot. We usually eat around 9 or 10pm. I often call my parents, and they are eating too because it’s 5pm for them. 

I love to go on a late-night walk after dinner. Ideally, up towards the Eiffel Tower to see it sparkle. Or we'll just walk to find a quiet café, sit outside, and have wine. There's a lot of wine in a French day! Then it’s not unusual for me to go back to work – the time difference with LA is nine hours, so I’m often taking midnight meetings after my evening escapades. So my day is always a mix of work, inspiration, and enjoyment – whether it’s the weekday or weekend. Every day is different, and yet the same, but always beautiful, and there's always some kind of magical moment that pops up that you couldn't plan. And when it does, you just think, This is why I love Paris."

What advice would you give to someone who is dreaming of moving to Paris in 2023? 

“Do it. First two words that come to mind. Stop overthinking it, stop worrying about it, just do it. But also, be prepared to really work for it because it is not easy. What is easy is to say, 'Oh my gosh, I loooovvvve Paris!' because Paris is really, quite easy to love when you're just visiting, eating amazing food, and walking through museums. It’s easy to think you want to move here. But actually living here (like anywhere) is hard, complicated, and frustrating.  Living abroad anywhere is a huge learning curve, and you have to realize that you are the one who has to adapt to where you now are.

So many people come thinking because they love Paris, then they realize the reality and say – nevermind!

But I think the magic happens when you can see the reality, and encounter hardship, but you stay and fight for it! You still want it, despite realizing Paris is more than the fantasy you imagined. When you know the reality behind the facade, but you still choose it anyway, to me, that is when you truly can say, ‘I love Paris.' Because that’s loving all of Paris, the good and the bad, the easy and the hard, the beautiful and the ugly. Just like in a relationship, it's not until you know someone inside out that you can honestly say you love them."

Closing Thoughts

So there you have it, from leaving America after a breakup to rediscovering herself to being a content creator who loves sharing her day-to-day Parisian life on Instagram, to falling in love with her neighbor by chance, the similarities between Anna’s and Emily’s lives are too obvious to ignore. Parts of Netflix’s popular series Emily in Paris may simply be a fantasy for most, but Anna’s story reminds us that there is still hope. Life as an expat in Paris won’t be all croissants and couture, but it can still be beautiful and romantic, if that’s the lens you choose to see it through.

If you found yourself captivated by Anna’s storytelling and want to follow along on her journey in Paris, you can follow her on Instagram, shop her Paris city guide, or pre-order her personal memoir titled My Own Magic, which will be published May 16, 2023.

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