Four years ago, Jamie Beck was a photographer who lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She was on a plane having an anxiety attack and was convinced that she was going to die. “The first thing I thought was, ‘I’ll never know what it’s like to live in France,” she said. “I swore if the plane lands I will move to France.” It did. And she did.
Ms. Beck, 37, followed in the footsteps of so many before her into the French emigration life: Ernest Hemingway, Peter Mayle, “Emily in Paris”. She moved to Provence, where she documents the sunflowers and vineyards, as well as castles and croissants, that she encounters while clad in a seemingly endless line of fluffy white dresses. Her apartment in the city of Apt was previously rented for a honeymoon. It’s all very idyllic and her 317,000 Instagram followers seem to agree.
During “Le Confinement” – as the French call their coronavirus lockdown – Ms. Beck lost all of her commercial work. “The only thing I could control was what I was doing with my time. That’s why I decided to make a work of art every day,” she said. She tagged her posts with #isolationcreation and soon found she was gaining around 1,000 new followers every day.
Ms. Beck isn’t the only American in France with an online following who has seen a sharp surge in engagement during the pandemic. With American tourists banned from Europe, French fluencers (and their counterparts in other charming, quaint countries) are as close to vacationing abroad as many are this year.
“I definitely saw a surge on Instagram and YouTube in June and July,” said Tiffanie Davis, 30, who moved to Paris in 2017 to do her Masters in Business Administration. In 2019, Ms. Davis began posting videos about the lives of expats on YouTube on topics such as the cost of living (189,000 views), dating in France (which were explored in a two-part series), and black hair salons.
“I’ve gotten a lot of DMs from people who are interested in my story and say, ‘I’m living your experience and want to move abroad.'” Ms. Davis created a Moving Abroad Worksheet that is downloadable from her personal website .
“Paris sold. Many of the stereotypes are true, ”said Elaine Sciolino, a frequent New York Times writer and author of The Seine: The River That Made Paris. “But there are two different Parises: there is the Paris Museum with the slim, beautifully dressed young woman who leads her dog across the Seine without dirt. You can have this seduction, but you won’t have sex on the Seine because there are rats, it is dirty, there is petty crime, you can be molested. But who will feel sorry for you when you live in Paris? Nobody.”
Paris and the rest of France are grappling with pandemics, violence and protests, but so much of what outsiders see is still the beautiful parts. “I’m frustrated with the one-trick pony approach, which for the millionth time only shows some old-looking doors and a rosy view of the Seine and like, ‘Oh, sometimes I pinch myself that this is mine Background, ”said Lindsey Tramuta, 35, who has lived in France for 15 years and is the author of“ The New Parisienne: The women and ideas that shape Paris ”. “I chose the camp where we don’t treat it like a postcard.”
Molly Wilkinson, 33, who lives in Versailles (“30 minutes from the Eiffel Tower to our apartment by train”) said, “I think my audience is more interested in the pastries, walking down the street looking at antiques. I like being that little escape for people and I’m a positive person too. “
Ms. Wilkinson moved to France in 2013 to study pastry at Cordon Bleu. Before the pandemic, she personally taught cooking classes. She now leads online workshops on making macarons (her most popular class) and tarte tatin. They were all sold out, she said, and she increased them from 30 to 50 students for 25 euros each.
She posted lots of photos on Instagram from a trip to the Loire Valley in September. “The engagement was amazing,” she said. “They wanted to experience everything and dream about where they could go. Whenever something is forbidden, you want it more. “
Still, Ms. Wilkinson believes that some have an overly rosy view of life abroad. She mentioned the 100 pages of documents she had to collect for a recent visa application and frequent conversations with her sister, a nurse in the Texas emergency room.
In the midst of the aged cheese and warm baguettes, some try to point out the advantages and disadvantages of living abroad. “I don’t want it to look like, ‘Oh, I’m here and you’re stuck there,” said Jane Bertch, 44, whose shop, La Cuisine Paris, also offers cooking classes.
“I’m talking about being kicked out of my apartment that real life is not the dream,” Ms. Davis said of her YouTube videos. “I also wanted to show people that black people are here, that there is a more diverse population than many people imagine.”
Cynthia Coutu, 54, hosts workshops (now online) titled Delectabulles for women on the topic of champagne, usually for devoted Francophiles who dream of retreating in their beloved country. “At the start of every webinar, I talk about restaurant closings and the problems of life in Paris,” she said. “I don’t idealize life here.”
David Lebovitz, author of nine cookbooks and the memoirs “The Sweet Life in Paris” and “L’Appart” (which will be converted into TV shows), has lived in Paris since 2003. During the pandemic, he began experimenting with Instagram Live from his 11th arrondissement apartment, often unpacking what he bought in local markets or sharing cocktail recipes.
The 61-year-old Lebovitz also shares videos of excessively loud scooters and garbage on the street with his 258,000 followers. “My life is the opposite of Emily’s from ‘Emily in Paris’,” he said. “That Paris is walking through Place Vendôme with Natalie Portman.”
When a divided America took part in the elections, Ms. Beck retained her exuberant aesthetic, but with an air of cynicism about the world. “I’ll still try to get a nice picture,” she said. “But recently I took a picture of myself with my baby and added a caption that said, ‘Let’s talk about health care.'”