Cross-Cultural Psychology in West Is West
Culture affects the psychology of an individual because it prescribes certain norms and values that affect the perceptions, attitudes and behaviors of an individual. Culture varies by geography and philosophical traditions. As technology makes geographical barriers irrelevant, people from diverse cultures are brought close together resulting in frequent interaction. An understanding of cross-cultural differences can help to make these interactions productive opportunities for personal and social development. The setting of the movie West is West during 1970s Britain and Pakistan has enabled archival data to be used for the purpose of analyzing cross-cultural differences between the East and the West in the movie.
The Movie: West is West
West is West is a British 2010 movie that illustrates the challenges of living in a culturally diverse family. The movie is about a British-Pakistani man trying to bridge the gap between his British life and his first wife and family back home in a Pakistani village. George/Jahangir also has a British wife Ella with whom he has seven children and is desperate to ensure that his children are brought up as good Muslims. The youngest son Sajid refuses to accept his Pakistani identity and also faces behavioral problems due to experiencing racism at school. According to a report by Bam-Hutchison (2012), Paki-bashing (a form of verbal and physical racist abuse directed at Pakistani immigrants as well as those who had similar brown skin and Indian heritage) was fairly common during the 1960s and 1970s. To meet both his goals, George takes Sajid to his village in a bid to help him connect with his roots and to make amends for ignoring his family for 30 years. The family feels betrayed and is not happy to see him. George continues to try building bridges while Sajid succeeds at making friends in the village and becomes more accepting of his identity. Ella follows George to confront him about his intentions. She is insecure about George’s first wife, but realizes her love for George after Rashida assures her that she has no feelings for him. George and Ella make up towards the end of the movie.
Collective and Personal Agency in West is West
George is shown as a man of Pakistani origin who migrated to Britain in 1937, ten years before the establishment of Pakistan through the partition of India. The BBC archives (2003) state in a report that a number of seamen of Pakistani origin migrated to Britain. However, it does not seem likely to assume that George was a seaman because he belongs to the Punjab region which is a land-locked part of Pakistan with no remarkable history of seafaring. His desire to reach out to his roots back home is typical of a trend during the 1960s and 1970s documented by the BBC (2003).
The belief in collective and personal agency can be seen clearly in the Eastern and Western characters in West is West. When George’s British wife Ella discovers that George has withdrawn funds from their joint account to visit his first wife back in Pakistan and help improve their living conditions of his family, she is infuriated and makes the long trip to Pakistan to confront him and demand an explanation for being unfair to her. Through these actions, Ella demonstrates a belief in personal agency because she feels she can take steps that will make her life different and better for her. On the other hand, George’s Pakistani wife Rashida does not take personal initiative at changing her circumstances to her own interest. She fatalistically accepts George’s defection of her family and tries to explain to Ella how George means nothing to her in the present and has no place in her heart. Whenever Rashida is seen expressing her disappointment she is seen in the company of her sons and daughters, who give her the courage to express her feelings to George. On her own, she is unable to speak out her mind as she feels she has to defer to her husband.
George himself displays a belief in both collective as well as personal agency at times. He sets out on a visit to Pakistan to help his son Sajid get over his behavioral problems and to learn about his culture. This desire is typical of many first-generation Pakistani immigrants to Britain as described in a 2009 report by The Change Institute (10). While initially he tries to independently deal with the problem in his dominating nature, he soon adopts a different strategy by putting Sajid into a completely different context with the expectation that the environment and society of his village in Pakistan comprising of family members, neighbors and local village folk will help him achieve what his personal efforts at disciplining his son have failed to. In this way, the movie sees George moving from a belief in personal agency towards collective agency and displaying the eastern attitude favoring collective agency.
Analytic and Holistic Approaches in West is West
Differences in analytic and holistic approaches are also evident in the way characters in West is West respond to life’s challenges. It is seen that Ella has greater difficulty in coming to terms with George’s two marriages although she has known the fact for many years. On the other hand, Rashida accepts the second marriage in a Stoic manner even though it has caused her a lot of suffering and a life of poverty and deprivation. Also, when the two wives meet one another, Ella is less prone towards making useful communication and engagement than Rashida. Ella does not feel that she can have anything to say to a woman who may be close to stealing her husband from her, while Rashida sees room for engaging with Ella on a human level even though she could have blamed Ella for her sorry state of affairs.
This difference reflects an analytic approach to life held by Ella who sees Rashida only in terms of competition. On the other hand, Rashida holds a holistic view of her life which is why she can feel hurt at having been betrayed for another woman while trying to communicate with the same woman as a human being. This is also reflected in the findings of a study on part and holistic cues by Ishii and Tsukasaki (103-109). Rashida is able to simultaneously hold differing perceptions of the same individual while Ella learns to develop this view through her interactions with Rashida and the local environment.
Another interesting character who reflects a transition from an analytic to a holistic view is Sajid, who at first comes to the village as a cynical and skeptical person without any belief in the power of his environment to change his view of his identity as a British lad. However, through interaction with his cousins, village friends and a local pir, Sajid is able to come to terms with his hyphenated identity as a Pakistani-British young man. While earlier, he is unable to identify with his Pakistani roots, towards the end of the movie; his views have accommodated his roots into his identity.
Individualism and Collectivism in West is West
Hofstede (1980) presents an analysis of diverse cultures along individualism-collectivism. The characters in West is West can also be analyzed along these dimensions of cross-cultural difference. The Easter characters in West is West, in particular Rashida and her son, live in a close-knit, collectivistic rural society and their perceptions are shaped accordingly. Their ability to share common emotions as a group is typical of East-West differences noted by Masuda, Mesquita, Tanida, Ellsworth, Leu, and Van de Veerdonk (365-381).
Rashida devotes herself to fulfilling the needs of her children during her husband’s long absence. She does not see an existence for herself outside of her responsibilities towards her family and conforming to the social norms of her village. In this regard, Rashida demonstrates vertical collectivism because she sacrifices her happiness for the well-being of her children.
Similarly, her son agrees to marry the girl of his parents’ choice since he places a high value on fulfilling an obligation towards his parents and the view that his wife would also have responsibilities towards the family and not just himself. On the other hand, Ella and Sajid display individualistic behaviors. Ella and her friend do not try to conform to the expectations and sensibilities of the rural society they are visiting. They smoke openly and take sunbaths in the open, which makes Rashida’s family and the villagers a bit uncomfortable. They also continue to dress in western attire. This reflects the idea that British society is individualistic. In fact, according to a report in The Telegraph (Alleyne), research by Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede Britain is the most individualistic country in the world. Sajid learns to conform as he adopts the dress and language of the village in order to fit in. he also attends the village fair and consults to the village pir to understand the values of the culture. Another character that is shown to have struck a balance between individualism and collectivism is Sajid’s would-be sister-in-law. Like Sajid, she is a British girl with roots in the Pakistani village. She speaks fluent English but also understands the social norms and expectations of a Pakistani bride. However, she does not feel threatened by them and sees it with a touch of humor.
Other Cultural Dimensions in West is West
Along with individualism-collectivism, Hofstede (1980) discusses cross-cultural differences along three other dimensions: uncertainty avoidance, power distance, and masculinity-feminity. In terms of uncertainty avoidance, Rashida is seen to have a higher tolerance for ambiguity than Ella. Rashida has been able to survive without seeing her husband for 30 years and knowing only that he has taken a second wife. On the other hand, Ella shows a lower tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty since she cannot remain in Britain for very long without knowing what her husband and son are doing back in the Pakistani village. This compels her to make a trip to Pakistan to confront him and see his activities firsthand.
George shows a similar lack of tolerance for ambiguity as he is not sure of where he stands with his Pakistani family. They are clearly not pleased to see him and his efforts at helping them financially and not reciprocated. They blame him for betraying and deserting them. At the same time, his British wife is worried that she might lose him and that he would leave her to return to his first wife. George’s insecure state of mind is revealed when he breaks down before Ella and expresses his desire to be a good man. Similarly, Ella also confesses her love for George which helps them cope with their identity crisis.
Power distance also features in West is West. Ella being born and bred in Western society enjoys a closer relationship with her children compared with gorge’s relationship with them. George acts as an authoritarian disciplinarian who does not open up emotionally to his children. On the other hand, Ella expresses her insecurities openly to Sajid when she sees him dressed as a typical Pakistani boy in his village home. This shows that Sajid enjoys a relationship with his mother based on low power-distance but has a high power-distance relationship with his father.
Masculinity and feminity is also played out in West is West. George assumes the patriarchal role in both his families and is primarily responsible for earning the livelihood of the family and socializing his children into becoming Pakistani kids. Ella and Rashida are responsible for running the household and looking after the emotional needs of their children. George also assumes the role of deciding the marriage partners for his children while Ella and Rashida have a secondary role in these matters.
In-Group and Out-Group Norms in West is West
In-groups and out-groups are clearly obvious in West is West. George’s British and Pakistani families form two distinct groups while George and Sajid attempt to fit into both the groups. George assumes a British name and speaks the English language to fit into his adopted group while tries to arrive at a closure with his other in-group where his identity is that of Jahangir. He adopts the local style of dressing and speech when he is with his Pakistani family to get accepted by them. In addition, Sajid also tries to join the village boys and his cousins in their games. They are more welcoming of him into their group than he initially wants to. Sajid learns to greet people in the village with the Islamic greeting to become accepted by them and to conform to their norms.
When Ella and her friend visit the village, they are clearly identified as the out-group by Jahangir’s family although they remain polite and hospitable. There is no communication between them and the two groups occupy different parts of the house and courtyard during the day.
Intercultural Communication in West is West
Intercultural communication occurs at two levels in West is West. Communication between George and Ella represents communication between a Pakistani immigrant to Britain who is fairly aware of the norms and values of British society. The second level of communication takes place between Ella and Rashida which represents intercultural communication between a British and an illiterate Pakistani village woman.
Intercultural communication between George and Ella is smoother because they both share the same language. Ella speaks British as her native tongue while George has acquired it and has a reasonable fluency in it. At times, he has difficulty understanding Ella’s non-literal use of the language but there is mutual understanding between them. George also adopts a British name to increase the congeniality of his identity to his British wife. Ella does not have to learn about George’s Pakistani culture of his language other than the religious aspect of his culture so that she may raise their children as good Muslims.
The scene between Ella and Rashida in the movie is the most compelling instance of intercultural communication. Both the women have a lot of emotional baggage and ambiguity regarding one another and their own identity in the life of George. Neither of the two understands the language of the other. Ella does not see the point of trying to communicate but Rashida initiates communication. Both the women continue to speak in their languages, yet they are able to understand one another through non-verbal gestures and facial expressions. According to Jandt (105), interpretation of facial expressions not signifying primary emotions is difficult to achieve in intercultural communication. Nonetheless, Rashida comes out as poignantly expressive and is more effective at communicating through non-verbal means. She shows Ella a photograph of Jahangir and her taken at the time when they were together. She then places her hand near Ella’s heart and makes a gesture that conveys to Ella clearly that Jahangir is not in her heart anymore and that she does not feel any emotional bond towards him after 30 years.
Sajid being young and in the presence of strong environmental cues is able to pick up the local language and norms to communicate effectively with his friends and the villagers. He also consults with the village pir and is clearly influenced by their meetings. He comes to understand his father and communicate more understandingly with him after spending time in the village.
Cross-cultural differences between the East and the West are illustrated in the movie West is West. The movie explores the religious, moral, social, linguistic and interpersonal foundations of cross-cultural psychological differences. The characters of the movie typify the behaviors of eastern and western cultures when they are brought together in interaction. Their attitudes, emotions and behaviors are influenced by their cultural and social background.
Alleyne, Richard. “Britain’s “me culture” making us depressed.” The Telegraph. The Telegraph, 06, November 2009. Web. 15 Aug 2012. .
Bam-Hutchison, June. “Race, Faith, and UK Policy: a brief history.” Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past. University of York, 2012. Web. 15 Aug 2012. .
Charsley, Katharine, Nicholas Van Hear, Michaela Benson, and Brooke Storer-Church. United Kingdom. Home Office. Marriage-related Migration to the UK. Bristol: University of Bristol, 2011. Print. .
Home Office. United Kingdom. Department for Communities and Local Government. Pakistani Muslim Community in England. London: Department for Communities and Local Government, 2009. Web. .
Ishii, Keiko, and Takafumi Tsukasaki. “Culture and visual perception: Does perceptual influence depend on culture?.” Japanese psychological research. 51.2 (2009): 103-109. Print.
Jandt, Fred E. An Introduction to Intercultural Communication. 6th ed. Sage Publications, 2010. 105. Print.
Masuda, Takahiko, Batja Mesquita, Shigehito Tanida, Phoebe C. Ellsworth, Janxin Leu, and Ellen Van de Veerdonk. “Placing the face in context: Cultural differences in the perception of facial emotion.” Journal of personality and social psychology. 94.3 (2008): 365-381. Print.
The Change Institute. United Kingdom. Department for Communities and Local Government. Pakistani Muslim Community in England. London: Department for Communities and Local Government, 2009. Web. .
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