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


A provocative and important study of the different ideas Easterners and Westerners have about the self and society and what this means for current debates in art, education, geopolitics, and business. Never have East and West come as close as they are today, yet we are still baffled by one another. Is our mantra "To thine own self be true"? Or do we believe we belong to soA provocative and important study of the different ideas Easterners and Westerners have about the self and society and what this means for current debates in art, education, geopolitics, and business. Never have East and West come as close as they are today, yet we are still baffled by one another. Is our mantra "To thine own self be true"? Or do we believe we belong to something larger than ourselves--a family, a religion, a troop--that claims our first allegiance? Gish Jen--drawing on a treasure trove of stories and personal anecdotes, as well as cutting-edge research in cultural psychology--reveals how this difference shapes what we perceive and remember, what we say and do and make--how it shapes everything from our ideas about copying and talking in class to the difference between Apple and Alibaba. As engaging as it is illuminating, this is a book that stands to profoundly enrich our understanding of ourselves and of our world....

Title : The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap
Author :
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ISBN : 9781101947821
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 336 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap Reviews

  • Graeme Roberts
    2019-03-14 08:26

    Gish Jen writes beautifully, her warm voice full of empathy, humor, and honesty in describing the East-West culture gap. She was born in the United States, but I expected that she would identify with the Chinese culture of her parents; I was entranced that she seems to see herself as an all-American girl who happened to be the daughter of Asian parents. She did go through a quintessential Asian experience, however, in having to endure her mother's silence for a month after she dropped out of Stanford Business School to attend the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. That was apparently mild by Tiger Mother standards!As an Australian married to a Taiwanese woman I have experienced many of the cultural differences and misunderstandings she talks about. When one of our daughters married a young Indian-American man recently we found ourselves warmly welcomed into two large Indian families with a host of new cultural expectations to understand and negotiate.This is a big subject, and an important one. I hope that more fine minds address it. Ms. Jen describes East-West cultural differences in several ways, including Interdependent vs. Independent, the Flexi-Self vs. the Big-Pit Self, and Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft, respectively. Big-Pit Self refers to the pit of an avocado as a metaphor for the big ego of individualistic, independent Westerners. I wish she had defined the German terms, although I already had a sense of their meanings.The book refers to literature, art, and education to illustrate many cultural differences, in addition to social science research and personal anecdotes and opinions. Although I was constantly fascinated, I felt that the narrative lacked overall coherence. It piles on the differences in various ways without explaining them as the title promises. Explaining how East-West cultural differences originated and developed would require history and a deeper understanding of the intertwined biological and cultural evolution of homo sapiens. I hope that Ms. Jen takes that as her next challenge.

  • John Pistelli
    2019-03-09 08:12

    One time, teaching a course on the graphic novel, I described the differences in artistic form and storytelling technique between manga and Western comics. A student raised her hand and offered the opinion that the contrast between the two modes reflected the difference between individualist Western culture and collectivist Eastern culture. The student was Asian-American and so presumably permitted such an observation. I am professionally committed, I believe, to promulgating anti-essentialism; therefore I did not feel I was permitted to agree with it. Like the Holy Trinity, anti-essentialism is a mystery beyond human experience, as you have to be an essentialist—naïvely believing in the unity of your personality, the power of your conscious intention, and the stability of matter—just to walk across the room, so I did not press the point very hard, but I did caution against overly broad generalizations. All the same, cultural difference exists and is even visible to the naked eye: there should be some way to discuss it without undue reductionism or stereotype. Novelist Gish Jen's nonfiction study The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap attempts a nuanced and well-informed exploration of this divide between Western and Eastern culture about the importance that should be accorded the individual—though Jen does dismiss "collectivist" and "individualist" as terms with too much Cold War bias and prefers to speak in the more neutral language of independence vs. interdependence instead.The Girl at the Baggage Claim takes its title from its opening anecdote: an Asian woman applies to a prestigious Western academy and demonstrates her English-language proficiency in a Skype interview with the school authorities. Yet after she is accepted for enrollment, it is discovered at the airport that "the girl at the baggage claim" is not the girl they interviewed. The young woman had asked her sister, whose English was better than her own, to substitute for her in the Skype interview, and evidently saw no problem in doing so. What ideas about the self and society allowed her to think this appropriate behavior? Jen's book is essentially a comparative study of Western and Eastern sensibility attempting to explain and defend the latter to puzzled Westerners (and Jen, a first-generation American, as I am [on my mother's side], considers herself one such Westerner).Jen divides West and East by two concepts of the self—the flexible, interdependent self of the East, embedded in its social environment and alive to its context, and the "avocado pit" self of Western individualism, self-assertive and self-esteeming. This book draws extensively on social-psychological studies to prove this split in sensibility, though the rapidity with which such studies seem to be debunked and the replication crisis affecting the field makes me wonder how persuasive this is. Her many examples from the arts are perhaps more convincing—to me, a humanist rather than a scientist—though obviously more impressionistic. The book concludes with a plea to synthesize the two sensibilities in an "ambidependent" self that would combine the freedom of the Westerner with the responsibility of the Easterner, and it is difficult to argue with this argument for nuance and complexity.This book is a work of somewhat breezy, TED-like pop-nonfiction, though, and it definitely creaks under the complexity of its task. For one thing, Jen often admits that her binary barely holds—that, essentially, only well-off Americans fit the mold of the "avocado pit" individualist, while almost everyone else in the world, including most Europeans and many Americans (such as Catholics or the working class), exhibit higher interdependence. Attributing cultural difference to economics, Jen suggests that the source of divergent cultural sensibilities goes back to the differences among rice farming, wheat farming, and nomadism; but she also says that such difference is perpetuated through time by habit and "contagion." Even so, it does make one wonder how much culture on this model can really change if it is so determined at its source by economics? On the other hand, to note one detail that troubled me, it is surely ironic that she keeps mentioning Emerson and Thoreau as examples of Western or American individualism, when their Transcendentalist philosophy entails that what the individual actually expresses is nature and the world-spirit streaming through every particular soul. "Self-Reliance" as promoted by Emerson and Thoreau is a complicated dialectical notion bearing many surprising similarities to Taoist thought—and this is not even to note that both authors were early Western devotees of Indian, Persian, Arab, and Chinese thought. Like all binaries, independence and interdependence have a way of becoming each other in the mystic union of opposites foretold by many thinkers and writers, Western and Eastern alike.Jen also makes things politically easier for herself than she probably should in defending interdependence. At one point, she mentions as an example of excessive American individualism the preference for choice in all things, alluding to ice cream flavors—but would she mock so readily the increasingly multiplicity of genders? Her critique of self-esteem-based education, meant to foster the student's individual expressivity, raises similar questions (though I agree with her at least provisional defense of prematurely discredited pedagogical methods like memorization). For better or worse, American individualism does not merely implicate targets agreed upon by the liberal literati, like rampant consumerism or such Republican clichés as the greedy businessman or the gun-toting bigot; it encompasses also figures and causes who would be sympathetic to this book's target audience—think of the role played by heroic individualism in African-American culture from the emancipatory slave narratives onward; or the assertion of individual preference and identity in queer culture—and I would have liked to see Jen deal with these harder questions of cultural politics. (In this context, it might be notable that the latest Chinese word to break into Western awareness is baizuo , or "white left," a term that like "social justice warrior" is used to mock cultural liberalism as so much whining and opportunistic—i.e., "virtue-signaling"—hypocrisy.) Jen's comments on the arts, though, are welcome and suggestive, even if, as with the rest of the book, somewhat over-generalized. She argues that the great artist in Western culture is the genius, a grand individual expressing his or her vision in startlingly original terms, while the great artist in Eastern culture is the master, who has so totally merged his or her sensibility within craft, nature, and tradition that the resulting work has an air not of disruption but of smoothness and calm. She allows that this ideology of mastery may make the East a culture of excessive copying (in her own Westernized view) when she discusses plagiarism in academia and dwells at length on Dafen Oil Painting Village with its teeming replicas of classic paintings. But she also claims that mastery, in its emphasis on tradition and learning, is an aesthetic that can be a corrective to the West's enervating pursuit of novelty and transgression. Without referring to any binary of East/West, I have had similar thoughts when encountering arguments that seem to want to mandate avant-garde aesthetics for any writer with serious literary ambitions—see, for instance, my comments here, wherein I defend seemingly "traditional" novelists like Jonathan Franzen and Kazuo Ishiguro for using recognizable and even sociable literary forms to communicate their difficult truths, rather than willfully defying tradition and the reader with overt radical gestures like subtracting punctuation marks or paragraph breaks or whatever. It is just too simple to dismiss as hidebound complacency any use of traditional forms in art, and Jen's defense of mastery over genius helps to articulate why this is so.In conclusion, The Girl at the Baggage Claim, while perhaps suffering from its pop-nonfiction simplifications, is nevertheless well worth reading as much for Jen's own genial, wise sensibility as for the examples and data she marshals.

  • erforscherin
    2019-02-25 05:39

    I like the author’s thesis and see where she’s coming from, but as a child of immigrants myself, I couldn’t help wondering how much of the behaviors or thought-patterns she points out are not rooted in differences between Eastern and Western cultures, but rather American vs. non-American cultures. I would have loved to see more research comparing not just Americans to Asians, but also to European, South American, and African countries.

  • Kate
    2019-03-07 07:29

    A lot more cultural psychology theory than I expected - I was hoping for more practical examples and anecdotes. Would be a good university textbook. Interesting, but not what I was expecting.

  • Staci
    2019-03-08 11:30

    This is really a 2.5 star book.It is quite interesting and perhaps a bit strange that even though Jen is essentially talking about the difference between the more individualistic, independent, "big pit self" West and the more collectivistic, interdependent, "flexi-self" East, Geert Hofstede's name doesn't really seem to come up, even though he was a pioneer (some would say the pioneer) in research dealing with that dichotomy across cultures.Going into this book, I thought it would be more of a memoir, recounting Jen's experiences as an Asian American, where the "Asian part" of her life--for example, as the daughter of immigrants, with presumably Asian relatives--would contrast with the "American part" of her life--growing up in America with American friends--peppered with a bit of research to support what she had figured out through personal experience. This book is...not quite that (and considering what Jen says later in the book about why "big pit" Americans prefer memoirs, it's probably quite interesting that I assumed it would be so. However, I, for numerous reasons, don't quite fit into the "typical American" that Jen is referring to in the book--I mention reasons for this assumption later in this review--so it's hard to say just what and where my assumption is coming from). A better example of what I was expecting would be something along the lines of Alex Tizon's Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self. There are some mentions in this book of Jen's personal experiences but they serve more as side examples in support of the research than vice versa. Rather this book relies quite a bit on (others') research and yet--maybe because of the above mentioned omission of Hofstede--it still feels a bit lacking somehow. This may also be because Jen's explanations and examples at times seem a bit contradictory; Jen will state something, but then give an example or a quote that can be read in a totally different manner or that, indeed, is actually talking about something different than what Jen is, for example when she talks about Calvinists (i.e. independents) who are better able to tell the meaning of a word apart from its tone or to keep themselves from unconciously copying an interviewer when in "work" mode but then immediately talks about how this has "implications for, say, flexi-selves in job interviews". Wait, what? We were totally just talking about independents and how American individualism was influenced by the Calvinism of its early founders such as the Pilgrims, what does that have to do with flexi-selves in job interviews? A connection does actually exist, as Jen will go on to explain, she just tends to jump there without fully showing the connecting steps and isn't the best at explaining the connections after the fact. Or maybe, since she's Asian American she's a bit better at seeing the interconnectedness between things, like the researcher she brings up relatively early in the book who saw the connection between lizard saliva and a way to help people with diabetes, however Jen doesn't seem to fully realize that her audience may not be as good at seeing such abstract connections and thus, is not the best at helping said audience to follow along to reach the same conclusions.Part of this disconnect may also be due to the structure of the book -- Jen is, after all, simplifying things quite a bit, stating that the East-West culture gap can be boiled down to this ultimate difference of independent/interdependent ways of going about life. Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory started with four dimensions before eventually expanding to six but while most of those--uncertainty avoidance, power distance, masculinity-femininity, and indulgence-restraint--can also be connected to the independent/interdependent dichotomy, it just may be taking too broad/simple a view of things. Likewise the independent/interdependent dichotomy isn't just East vs. West (or really, West vs. East), rather research has shown it's a bit more West vs. Everybody Else. And even within the "West", countries can vary as Jen herself mentions when she brings up how Catholics and therefore heavily Catholic countries tend to be more interdependent, even if they're "Western". But still the people of South America and Africa, who are often considered neither East nor West tend to be more interdependent compared to the "typical American" and this continues even when people who hail or descend from those that hail from those countries find themselves in that bastion of all "Westerness", America. Therefore both racial minorities in America and those who are closer to the immigration process (i.e. first generation Americans vs. second generation Americans, whatever their race) may often be more interdependent than that defining characteristic of "American" would necessarily suggest -- or at least the way Jen would have you think of "Americans", even though she herself seems to be using a somewhat narrow definition of "American". (Although, to give Jen the benefit of the doubt, it is only relatively recently that social science researchers have made a concerted effort to spread their research, and hence, to stop drawing conclusions about all people, from the West and particularly, white Western males. Jen even points out how in 2010 a paper, talking about how most social science research had drawn its conclusions from the West, including, to be fair, Hofstede, states that "96 percent of test subjects came from Western industrialized nations, which contain only 12 percent of the world's American undergraduate was four thousand times more likely to be a subject in a psychology experiment than a random person outside the West".)I was quite excited for this book and really wanted to like it but overall found it just a bit too lacking and unclear to really do the trick. However, it does look to have a decent bibliography, even if it questionably excludes Hofstede.

  • Keith
    2019-02-18 12:17

    disappointingI thought this book would give some genuine insight into differences between East and West but it's mostly just impressions.

  • Ran
    2019-03-01 12:20

    An interesting investigation into the East-West culture gap through the conception of self, particularly hoping to demystify the East from the perspective of an Asian American writer. As Gish Jen posits, Americans tend to be "big pit avocado" or independent selves while Eastern cultures tend to be flexi-selves or interdependent cultures. Jen even provides a helpful and fun little test to see if you're more independent or interdependent (pages 27-29). I'm more flexi-self, which would be a shocker if I hadn't spend years studying Eastern cultures and language but I live in a very independent culture, which Jen also uses with many examples from the Northeastern United States (she lives in Cambridge, Mass - makes sense to use local example, such as the Patriots). Most importantly, Jen finishes her book with dive into these questions: "Can the East-West culture gap be bridged? Is there a sweet spot in between independence and interdependence, a rich and productive ambidependence? If so, what does that look like, and what does all this tell us about the nature of humanity itself?" (xvi) Honestly, it was a pretty interesting and thoughtful read. I did enjoy it and would suggest it to anyone with an interest in Eastern cultures, or differences between Western and Eastern cultures.

  • Will
    2019-03-03 08:21

    From the beginning, an otherwise entertaining and informative work by an author I know to be intelligent and engaging is rendered unreadable by pages of graphs purporting to show conjecture and interpretation as objective data. There are many books which do this, and sadly, many people have difficulty distinguishing truth in such cases. I'll not contribute to the mess by detailing further. With apologies, I cannot recommend this book.

  • Alison Hardtmann
    2019-02-25 05:39

    The Girl at the Baggage Claim is Gish Jen's book explaining the East-West culture gap, by examining the differences between interdependent and independent people. We're all somewhere along a continuum, but in the West, and especially the US, we value independence and uniqueness, while in the East, using China as the main example, interdependence with one's family and community is stressed. Jen was raised by parents who had immigrated to the US from China, and now teaches at both American and Asian universities, giving her a perspective that takes in Eastern and Western cultures as both an insider and an outsider. Having lived in five countries, albeit all in the West, I'm fascinated by how the culture we are raised in shapes how we perceive the world. We make unconscious value judgements all the time, based on nothing more than what we're used to and as the world becomes an increasingly global place, we desperately need to make the effort to understand cultural differences and how to work with and around them. Jen does go a little academic at times with her subject matter, but it's clearly one that she understands and finds fascinating.

  • Jeff Baron
    2019-03-18 12:20

    Think of your favorite college professor: knowledgeable about his or her field, of course, thoughtful about the research, able to synthesize the work of others into a syllabus — and thoroughly engaging for the uninformed undergraduate (that's me, or you) who has signed up for the course and is willing to get excited about the material. Gish Jen is a novelist, and a good one, not a PhD in cultural psychology or sociology. But her life, like her novels, has clearly been in part about the large and small fascinating and diverging ways in which East and West, particularly China and the United States, look at so many aspects of how we fit into our world. And she makes "The Girl at the Baggage Claim" a thoroughly fun, thought-provoking and scholarly romp through this compelling subject.Yes, scholarly: Jen isn't a researcher, but she relies in part on studies by a number of them. (She's clearly immersed herself in the subject.) And thought-provoking: You will find yourself reconsidering your assumptions about art, about education, about entrepreneurship, about citizenship and government. And let's face it, reconsidering assumptions is at the heart of what education is about, whether we are children or college students or old enough to have grandchildren in college. And Jen makes the journey fun, both through her obvious talent as a writer and her delight in uncovering the fascinating nuggets that she's uncovered along the way.

  • Rebecca
    2019-03-05 11:34

    I have now finished this book. I added this book to my list of "to read" books for this year because I heard the author speak at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Her description of the book, and her use of art in the eastern world and western world to illustrate her point, made me want to read it. I was not disappointed--she does an excellent job of explaining the difference between the way in which "easterners" and "westerners" conceive of the self and thus family, culture, and society. I'm looking forward to being able to finish it.

  • Michael
    2019-02-18 04:37

    I found this an interesting book, perhaps one that would be best suited as a suite of related essays. The discussion is not, despite the title, about the "East-West Culture Gap" per se. It is really more about the distinction between the highly individualistic sense of self that typifies the West — in her case, mostly the United States — which she calls the "big pit" self, as in an avocado with a large, well-developed core; and the interdependent sense of self typical of East Asian society, particularly although not exclusively China. As an ABC, an American-born Chinese daughter of immigrants, this is an obvious focal area for exploration, and individual discussions and chapters really stand out, especially a discussion on how East Asian and Western students recall and focus on different aspects of their own personal narratives. Western students focus on individual details and a self-focused narrative; East Asians focus on interdependent, relationship-driven long-term trends and patterns. A further fascinating piece is on how artists and scholars in the West focus on individual works of genius; this is contrasted with the Asian art traditions in which skilled mastery of existing forms and works is emphasized, and individual recognition is either frowned upon, or seen as largely irrelevant. There are a host of similarly interesting and well-fleshed-out vignettes, many of them focused on the educational system and highly-motivated students from Asian and North American society. As a university professor it's unsurprising that she is focused on these subjects, but it makes me wonder if she could have looked at struggling, low-income youth in China and America as well, to see if their cultural gaps are similar. (By the way, as she acknowledges, the psyches of kids from prosperous Western nations are by no means 'typical' psychologies; they are WEIRD — "Western, educated, industralized, rich, and developed," so the extension of Western psychology to students from Asia and Africa and Latin America was intrinsically flawed.)As to the girl at the baggage claim? She is a red herring, or whatever the equivalent of red herring is in Mandarin. She is a prop, a stand-in — a real person, as it turns out, but more of a hook on which Jen hangs a whole host of perhaps-unrelated thesis statements.The author's name, by the way, is a bit hilarious once I figured it out. Her Chinese name is Ren Bilian; her English name is Lillian Jen. The pen name, "Gish," is frequently confused as something "Asian" and thus she was frequently called "Geesh" by well-meaning Anglos. But it doesn't take a genius to figure out that she was called "Lillian Gish" as a girl, after the actress, and took "Gish" as her pen name accordingly.

  • Bryn (Plus Others)
    2019-03-08 04:25

    Why was this book so annoying? I'm not sure; I think because it was all over the place; Jen talks about herself and her life, she talks about psychology and sociology and culture, and most of all she talks about an 'American self' that I mostly do not recognise at all. I wish this book had been ONE thing: Jen's memoir about her own experiences growing up as an Asian-American and her decisions about child-raising? That would have been fine. Jen's take on the differences between traditional life in China & life in the U.S. and how those things are changing in the 21st century? Also fine. But what she's trying to do here is a Malcolm Gladwell like popular cultural-history/sociology/psychology thing with some arguments for Better Ways To Be and some arguments about why it's hard to be one particular way or why expecting people like X to do things like Y is not a good idea. Which can be an interesting book, but she really, really doesn't pull it off.Also, as some other reviewers have noted, many of Jen's examples seem to read counter to the point she's trying to make. She argues a lot that typical individualistic American people believe in a 'big pit' essentialist self, whereas typical interdependent Asian people (which seems like an amazingly broad category to generalise about) believe that circumstances matter more than individual experience -- but then gives examples in which (to my eye) the circumstances are being ignored in favour of a belief that everyone's essential experience is identical, and argues that this demonstrates interdependence. Is my confusion about this an example of the cultural gap that she's talking about? I wish I could sit down with her and her book and ask her a lot of questions, because I do think she is trying to say *something* but a lot of the time I couldn't figure out what -- which made for a very frustrating experience as a reader.

  • Susan Grodsky
    2019-02-28 04:40

    Gish Jen has good ideas on a good topic. She'd be a wonderful person to meet for coffee: warm, funny, quirky, and very very smart. That said, the book has frustrating flaws. Why, for example, is her description of the fundamental attribution error -- an important part of her argument -- so sketchy that I had to consult Wikipedia for a clear explanation? I know she can write very well. Why didn't she?Another example: why does she construct this story of the girl at the baggage claim in the preface, then keep me guessing on the resolution until the epilogue? It's only there, after slogging through hundreds of pages, that I finally deduced that the entire story was fiction. How is this fair, exactly? After all, Gish Jen promised me in the preface that I would understand the logic of the girl at the baggage claim being not being the girl she was supposed to be. She promised me that I would understand why a Chinese family might pull a bait and switch operation on an American school and why they would expect it to succeed.And then in the epilogue, I find out that there was no girl at all, and no Chinese family determined to deceive MiltonAcademy. The whole story was fiction. So the bait and switch was Gish Jen pulling a deception on me. Gish Jen is a graceful and expressive prose stylist, but I don't like being deceived.

  • RJ Koch
    2019-02-20 08:37

    Too intellectual for me. Felt like I was reading a text book. Made it to about page 40 when I gave up and then I skimmed a little and read a Goodreads review or two. The Big Pit Avocado independent self of the west vs. the Flexi Self, interdependent and collectivist of the East. Not sure I learned anything. We each have parts of both? Chinese sons bring Mother bottled water. Self definition or self sacrifice. Interdependent self is accomodating. Stereotypes: Asians are good at math. 1989 Tiannanmen tank man. Americans blame themselves. Israelis blame the system. English lang. paper blame personal characteristics, short fuse, etc. Chinese point to external factors, recently fired, postal supervisor was his enemy. The West = lone dissenter, Winston Smith who stands up to Big Brother in 1984 George Orwell. USA = rugged individualism. Japanese get divorced too now. Or don't marry. Rate has risen 3X since 1960, a marker of individualism. Rice culture. All agriculture encourages flexi selves. Trade and hunting fostered big pit selves. Q: were they immoral to have the sister who spoke better English do the Skype college entrance exam interview for the other sister?

  • Katie
    2019-02-25 12:37

    Interesting non-fiction book about East/West cultural differences, specifically focused on the strong Western individualistic tendency vs. the Eastern tendency to move in groups and not necessarily express strong ego-focused opinions (this is all, obviously, very general and stereotypical). The author examines the implications of these cultural differences in terms of art, culture, education, and family.She does a good job of looking at each "side" in a new and different light, portraying the "other" side as having advantages that one might never have thought of. I did think at times her conclusions were a bit of a stretch, but that's often true of a non-fiction author trying to prove a point. Overall, it made me reconsider aspects of behavior that I'd always previously considered stifling or overly-conformist. It sure makes one, as a Westerner, feel appropriately silly and humble about our navel-gazing tendencies. There are 7 billion of us...we're not special!

  • Jocelyn Eikenburg
    2019-03-05 10:34

    Through stories and anecdotes, including her own personal experiences, Jen helps readers understand the East-West culture gap, focusing mainly on differences between America and China. She writes about the distinctive selves that tend to dominate in these countries, and how our worldviews can lead to completely different perspectives on life. Along the way, Jen challenges some widely held beliefs, such as the idea that China just isn’t as innovative as America. She also points out what some of us have always known – that, in fact, Americans are a pretty weird bunch compared to the rest of the world.If you’re as fascinated with culture as I am and happen to be in an intercultural relationship that spans China and America, “The Girl at the Baggage Claim” should be required reading.

  • Devon
    2019-03-05 04:22

    Closer to 3.5 stars. I enjoyed this book, but I found it a little too repetitive. I felt like the sections could have been arranged better throughout the book somehow, which might have solved this problem, or maybe a couple of them were too long. I did like the way the book was written, though, with studies and different people cited, and then with the author's own experience thrown in as well. It made the book less dry. I like Jen's writing style a lot, as well. For a subject I wouldn't consider myself *extremely* interested in, I found the book compulsively readable and sometimes couldn't find a point when I was willing to put it down and move on to another task.

  • Beth
    2019-03-11 10:38

    The "girl at the baggage claim" was not who she had said she was - exactly. As Asian college student, arriving for the start of the semester, could not speak English or write English fluently. Her sister had taken the exams and wrote the essay that gained entrance. Why did her family feel this was acceptable?It is this kind of psychological mindset that Gish Jen explores in this book. As an Asian-American writer, she is in a unique position to explore both the Asian and American views on a variety of topics regarding life choices and success. It is fascinating.

  • Sriram
    2019-02-24 10:19

    As an Indian American, I was fascinated to think what adults had analyzed from they experience in this world. I myself have formed many opinions on why the 2 hemispheres are so different, and it was awesome to learn what others thought. I loved the thorough anecdotes which highlighted different points, which were simple yet so complex at the same time. I would recommend this book to anyone who has any relatives form the East, as it definitely help me understand the differences which I have observed.

  • Robert
    2019-02-25 12:12

    Important book, among others, for any westerner (called "weird" in the book) planning on visiting, doing business or living in Asia or even Africa (though her examples are all from Asia). Jen has a repetitive style and wanders pretty far abroad in her set-ups for comparisons and contrasts. Her term for self-centered westerners, Big Pit (as in avocado pit), grates some, especially since her term for Asians is "flexi-self," hardly as gnarly an image.Most useful are discussions of the meanings of Yes and No in the different cultures and the differing processes and meanings of collaboration.

  • yo
    2019-02-25 04:12

    I really enjoyed this book. I was especially interested in the comparisons of mainland Japanese and Hokkaido-born Japanese students with American college students. There was a lot of discussion about plagiarism and copying which was very interesting (but as an ESL teacher,not particularly helpful --one professor just told his/her Japanese students to stop plagiarizing and they did! Wow!) I also feel that I now have a better understanding of testing culture in China. This is a book I'd like to buy and read again.

  • John
    2019-02-20 12:17

    Certainly thought-provoking, but tantalizingly so. Almost too succinct. Wish Jen had gone more in-depth with everything. But overall an excellent general overview of Eastern/Western behavioral patterns. My favorite chapter was the last in which the differences were examined through art, specifically Fan Kuan's "Travelers Among Mountains and Stream" and Lucian Freud's portrait of Queen Elizabeth. Someone should devote an entire book on how different present their contextual worldviews.

  • Marc Faoite
    2019-02-27 11:31

    East meets West, West meets East – say it three times quickly. It looks straightforward on paper, but, like the subject matter, turns out to be more complicated in practice.Never judge a book by its cover, but what about its title? When I first saw the title of Gish Jen’s latest book, The Girl At The Baggage Claim, my initial reaction was “Thanks, but no thanks”.Stieg Larsson’s The Girl trope has proven remarkably resilient in the publishing industry, and even beyond that on the cinema screen. And I’m getting to the age where the number of books I can potentially read in my lifetime is dishearteningly finite.Reading yet another iteration of the countless conditions and situations “The Girl” (who invariably turns out to be a woman, but let’s ignore the semantic infantilization of an entire gender for the moment) might find herself in was something I decided I could live without.But then I read the subtitle “Explaining The East-West Culture Gap”. I live with one foot on either side of that gap, and am lucky and happy to do so, but at times it can be a precarious balancing act. Any insights Jen had to offer on the subject were welcome.Though the author has written novels, this is a nonfiction academic text.For the most part Jen spells East with a capital C and West with a capital A. While there are some exceptions, the moments when this book’s focus roams beyond China and America are few and far between.But as the edict goes, “write what you know”. Being an American academic born of Chinese parents, Jen has an understanding of the two countries that both represent and offer extreme examples of the particular cultural traits she discusses.Strenuously avoiding the loaded term “ego”, she opts instead for an avocado, using the large pit (seed) as a metaphor for the supersized Western sense of self. Each person is a unique individual striving to allow this “big-pit self” to flourish.The contrary (or complementary) is the Asian focus on a more expansive identity that places and favours the extended ties of family and society above personal attributes and aspirations.The borders between the individual and the context are much more blurred than in the West.This, Jen terms the “flexi-self”. She also refers to these two contrasting traits as the “independent self” and the “interdependent self”.The Western focus is on originality and innovation. Standing out from the crowd is a good thing. Brand identity wins the day.By contrast, the Eastern emphasis isn’t so much on invention, but rather on taking something pre-existing and doing it better, more efficiently, pragmatically. Emulation trumps innovation.The Chinese copy things: handbags, paintings, buildings, even whole cities. Imitation isn’t derided as inferior, but lauded as a form of homage.China’s fake Apple stores shocked Americans, but even when the Chinese understood the shops weren’t authentic their reaction was not outrage but admiration at how carefully and accurately these copies were made.No one practices tai chi to change or modify the sequences. The forms are rigidly codified. There is no room for innovation or originality.But within the constraints of that rigidity is the scope to refine every nuanced subtlety of an ideal form. Tai chi is the very antithesis of the spontaneity and hyper-individualism of Western interpretive dance.The previous example is my own, but Jen discusses art in somewhat similar terms, from the painters in China’s Dafen Village who churn out copies of famous Western artwork, to classical Chinese paintings where the placement of the human characters is intrinsic to the literal and metaphoric bigger picture, contrasting Western art’s distinct and separate entities like the Mona Lisa, with her individuality clearly defined and asserted regardless of, or perhaps even in spite of, her surroundings.Abstract modern art is the expression of the “big-pit self” and for this very reason has little or no currency in the Chinese context.Mastery is more valued than genius in the Chinese/Eastern view, with the implication that persistence and hard work can compensate for lack of talent.The Eastern mind sees patterns and connections, where the Western mind sees disparate elements.The East moves around obstacles, keeping the eye on the prize, while the West gets side-tracked by the obstacle, expending needless effort on its removal.The “interdependent self” seeks continuity and cohesion. It wants sons to carry the family name, and if it has girls they must be respectful and know their place and role in society.In the “big-pit” West the individual stands alone against an unkind, uncaring world. In the East conformity has greater value than individual aspirations, or at times even basic human rights.Freedom versus loyalty, isolation versus suffocation, both cultures have their merits and their pitfalls.All in all an informative, insightful and worthwhile read.This review was originally written for The Star

  • Jack Madden
    2019-03-21 04:24

    I didn't finish the book too much like a college text that I had to work at.

  • Sean Holland
    2019-03-12 12:17

    Sadly failed to answer why people in Sydney's Chinatown stand 8 wide on the sidewalk.

  • Angela
    2019-03-08 08:35

    An interesting look at how culture shapes us, but still there is hope on controlling your own self.

  • Maureen
    2019-03-06 11:38

    Beautifully written. Thought provoking, thought stretching really.

  • Mark Fuqua
    2019-02-18 11:38

    Huge disappointment. Was hoping for true insight into a would be fascinating and timely subject but found the book to be a collection of unqualified and unsubstantiated personal opinions rather than scientific research. Very few references to other sources or specific examples for most claims. As well, a tenuous understanding of quality writing along with rough editing skills at best. Not worth reading.