"The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap" by Gish Jen

The author is better known as a novelist, but she’s written this non-fiction exploration of the divide between Western and Eastern culture. She basically divides West from East by how the self is seen. Western people are characterized by individualism and self-esteem, compared to Eastern people, who are flexible and interdependent. In the West we value uniqueness, while in the East, support for the family and community takes precedence.

She uses the weird analogy of an avocado pit, calling the Western, individualized self the “avocado pit” self, or “big pit” self (because an avocado has a large, well-developed core), and the Eastern self the “flexi” self, all throughout the book.

She concludes by recommending that we somehow find a way to combine the freedom and individuality of the West with the collectivism and cooperation of the east, to get the best of both worlds. The book is filled with example after example (i.e. Westerners have come to expect 50 flavors of ice-cream, while Easterners are perfectly happy with ten), study after study, that illustrate and support her claim. It’s interesting at first, especially the stories about the educational system in China, but you get the idea pretty clearly after just a few examples, and for me, the book went on a little too long. Fortunately, Jen is an excellent writer, and if you find this kind of cultural commentary interesting, her warm, personal writing style will keep you reading.

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