Four years ago, Jamie Beck was a photographer living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She was on a plane and had an anxiety attack and was convinced she would die. “The first thing I thought was, ‘I will never know what it’s like to live in France,’” she said. “I swore if the plane landed, I will move to France.” It did. And she did.
Ms. Beck, 37, was following in the footsteps of so many before her into French expatriate life: Ernest Hemingway, Peter Mayle, “Emily in Paris.” She moved to Provence, where she documents the sunflowers and vineyards and castles and croissants that she encounters, all the while clad in a seemingly endless series of flouncy white dresses. Her apartment in the town of Apt has previously been rented for honeymoons. It’s all very idyllic, and her 317,000 Instagram followers seem to agree.
During “le confinement” — what the French call their coronavirus lockdown — Ms. Beck lost all her commercial work. “The only thing I could control was what I did with my time, so I decided to make a piece of art every single day,” she said. She tagged her posts #isolationcreation and soon realized she was gaining about 1,000 new followers per day.
Ms. Beck is not the only American in France with an online following who has noticed a big increase in engagement during the pandemic. With American tourists banned from Europe, Frenchfluencers (and their counterparts in other charming, scenic countries) are as close to a vacation abroad as many got this year.
“I definitely saw a spike in June and July for Instagram and YouTube,” said Tiffanie Davis, 30, who moved to Paris in 2017 to get her master’s degree in business administration. In 2019 Ms. Davis started to post videos about expat life on YouTube around topics like the cost of living (189,000 views), dating in France (which was explored in a two-part series), and Black hair salons.
“I have been getting a ton of DMs from people interested in my story and saying, ‘I’m living through your experiences and want to make the move abroad.’” Ms. Davis has made a worksheet on moving abroad downloadable from her personal website.
“Paris sells. A lot of the clichés are true,” said Elaine Sciolino, a frequent contributor to The New York Times and the author of “The Seine: The River that Made Paris.” “But there are two different Parises: There is the museum Paris, with the slim, beautifully dressed young woman who walks her dog across the Seine with no dirt anywhere. You can have that seduction, but you’re not going to have sex on the Seine because there are rats, it’s dirty, there’s petty crime, you can get harassed. But who’s going to feel sorry for you if you live in Paris? Nobody.”
Paris and the rest of France is struggling with the pandemic, violence and protests, but so much of what outsiders see is still the beautiful parts. “I get frustrated with the one-trick-pony approach where the only thing to show is some old looking doors and a rosy view of the Seine for the millionth time and, like, ‘Oh sometimes I have to pinch myself that this is my backdrop,” said Lindsey Tramuta, 35, who has lived in France for 15 years and is the author of “The New Parisienne: The Women and Ideas Shaping Paris.” “I’ve picked the camp of ‘let’s not treat it like a postcard.’”
Molly Wilkinson, 33, who lives in Versailles (“Thirty 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 the Cordon Bleu; before the pandemic, she taught cooking classes in person. She now leads online workshops about how to make macarons (her most popular class) and tarte Tatin. They were all selling out, she said, so she has increased them to 50 students from 30, for 25 euros each.
She posted many photos to Instagram from a trip to the Loire Valley in September. “It was incredible, the engagement,” she said. “They wanted to experience everything and daydream where they could go. Whenever something is banned, you want it more.”
Still, Ms. Wilkinson thinks that some have an overly rosy view of life abroad. She mentioned the 100 pages of documents she had to amass for a recent visa application and frequent chats with her sister, an emergency-room nurse in Texas.
Amid the ripened cheese and warm baguettes, some are trying to show the pros and cons of life abroad. “I don’t want it to appear like, ‘oh I’m here and you’re stuck there,’” said Jane Bertch, 44, whose business, La Cuisine Paris, also offers cooking classes.
“I talk about getting 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 a lot of people make it out to be.”
Cynthia Coutu, 54, hosts workshops (now online) called Delectabulles for women about champagne, usually to devoted Francophiles who dream of retiring in their beloved country. “At the beginning of each webinar, I talk about restaurants closing and the trials and tribulations of life in Paris,” she said. “I don’t idealize life here.”
David Lebovitz, the author of nine cookbooks and the memoirs “The Sweet Life in Paris” and “L’Appart” (which are being adapted into television shows), has lived in Paris since 2003. During the pandemic, he has started to experiment with Instagram Live from his apartment in the 11th arrondissement, often unpacking what he bought at the local markets or sharing cocktail recipes.
But Mr. Lebovitz, 61, also shares with his 258,000 followers videos of overly loud scooters and trash on the street. “My life is the opposite of Emily’s of ‘Emily in Paris,’” he said. “That Paris is running through the Place Vendôme with Natalie Portman.”
As a divided America headed to the polls, Ms. Beck was keeping her sumptuous aesthetic but with a note of cynicism about the world. “I will still try to make a beautiful image,” she said. “But recently I took a photo of me with my baby and wrote a caption saying, ‘Let’s talk about health care.’”