Saturday, April 15, 2023

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

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Sociology
Book Club Event = Book List (08/05/2023)

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“As if life is linear!  As if it is a matter of simple cause-and-effect! The flexi-self shakes its head at the very idea.  Instead, it sees the lion as embedded in the savannah in much the same way as it is itself embedded in its group.  It conceives, too, of the boundaries between the lion and the savannah as permeable and fluid – as a dotted and ever-changing line much like the line that it imagines surrounds itself.” – Gish Jen, 3: Some Helpful Background, Page 44

“The flexi-self’s characteristic mode of thinking is holistic.  It is oriented toward unbrokenness and feeling, toward rhythms and dialectical movement; and often, too, especially in its Asian permutation, it is oriented toward pattern-making.  As this self is on the lookout for associations more than distinctions, its focus is not on the exceptional.  In fact, the unusual or unique is often seen as noise in the data, to be screened out.  Focusing on things that can be meaningfully groups, this self is interested in force fields, weather patterns, historical patterns.  Circles of friends, circles of allies.  Networks.  Systems.” – Gish Jen, 3: Some Helpful Background, Page 44

“”Geniuses”? What is that? – a question that leads to one more subject we must understand if we are to understand flexi-self life, namely the very different ideas big pit selves and flexi-selves hold about the figure who constitutes the pinnacle of humanity.  Is it the individualistic genius who remakes the world with the might of his or her avocado pit?  Or is it the interdependent master who absorbs, refines, and hands down a great and noble tradition?” – Gish Jen, Chapter 6: Boundary Blurring, Page 95



Different cultures think differently about how each individual fits in their society.  Cultures influence how much control each individual thinks they have to shape events.  Whether the individual chooses every decision, to decisions being a product of the situation and influenced by the community.  Cultures that are individualistic prioritize oneself and contrast themselves to others.  Cultures that are interdependent flexi-self do not have clear personal boundaries, for the boundary is fluid within their group, but do have a boundary for an outgroup.  Individualistic cultures prioritize individual achievement and effort.  Flexi-self cultures prioritize the context and community that facilitated the achievement. 

Different ways of understanding can create misunderstanding when interpreting the decisions of people from other cultures.  A cultural clash.  Each type of culture has its advantages and disadvantages.  The dichotomy between individualistic and flexi-self has deviations for individuals within the cultures can think differently.  People and organizations can also become ambidependent, by making decisions and interpreting them using both types of understandings. 



The book is composed of mostly examples.  Lacking a systematic analysis of the ideas.  The focus is primarily to explain flexi-self cultures such as China, while often contrasting it with individualistic cultures such as America.  These examples themselves are diverse ways to understand the concept of a flexi-self, they do not necessarily add value to the concept of flexi-self. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What are the characteristics of an individualistic culture?
•What are the characteristics of a flexi-self culture?
•What is the avocado pit?
•How to think about innovations? 
•What is ambidependence?  
•What is li and qi?
•How to think about counterfeits? 
•How to find meaning in life?
•What are the social consequences of being too independent? 
•How to think about geniuses?  

Book Details
Edition:                Frist Vintage Contemporaries Edition
Publisher:             Vintage Books [Penguin Random House]
Edition ISBN:      9781101947838
Pages to read:       259
Publication:          2018
1st Edition:           2017
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    3
Content          2
Overall          2