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The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap
     

The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap

by Gish Jen
 

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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

Overview

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 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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
02/13/2017
Novelist Jen (Typical American) gleans insight from the field of cultural psychology and her own experiences as an American-born daughter of Chinese immigrants to explore the nature of cultural divide between Eastern and Western societies. She argues that the culture gap “stems from a difference between the conception of self that dominates the West and the conception of self that dominate the East.” She explores the notion of the Western construct as “individualist, independent” and Eastern as “interdependent” and “collectivistic” through a variety of prisms—such as education, business, art, and relationships—and unpacks tough subjects, such as racism and prejudice in America, with sophisticated insight. Her examples are rooted in her own experience as a first generation Chinese-American, so the book focuses a lot on China and America, specifically describing the experiences of more affluent city-dwelling Americans. Jen is most compelling when she draws attention to the blended constructs of those who straddle both cultures, such as Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee or Chinese-American artist Maya Lin. She articulates the complexities of culture with a novelist’s command of language in this rich exploration of the East-West culture gap. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
“I loved the book! A deep psychological examination of how place, habits, and identity mix in our world. Tremendous!” —Yo-Yo Ma

“An excellent and engaging read, certain to appeal to readers interested in cross-cultural communication, cognitive science, and the experience of Asian Americans in the United States.” —Rebecca Brody, Library Journal (starred review)
 
"A fascinating, brilliant book that gripped me from page one. Subtle, erudite, and daring, The Girl at the Baggage Claim is a tour de force by one of the most insightful writers of our time." —Amy Chua, the John M. Duff Jr. Professor of Law at Yale Law School, and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother 

“[Jen] articulates the complexities of culture with a novelist’s command of language in this rich exploration of the East-West culture gap.” —Publishers Weekly

"Insightful, far-reaching and a joy to read, Gish Jen takes on the mystery of cultural difference, and succeeds in cracking the code. The Girl at the Baggage Claim answered questions I’ve been asking my whole life." —David Henry Hwang, playwright of M. Butterfly
  
"This book gives special proof to the belief that our best novelists are also our best psychologists. With characteristic wit and unfailing insight, Gish Jen creates a genre all her own—uniquely universal, deeply serious, and unselfconsciously joyous." —Maryanne Wolf, the John DiBiaggio Professor of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University, and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

"What a delightful exploration of ideas about how culture affects notions of the self. In her trademark lively and witty prose, Gish Jen not only limns non-Western views of the self but questions whether the Western self is really a natural way to be. A powerful, provocative work." —Michael Puett, the Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History at Harvard University, and author of The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life.

"Gish Jen draws on personal experience, interviews with experts, and her astute reading of both literature and social science to illuminate the crucial question of self in culture. Misunderstanding East-West differences can cost us in every way we know how to measure: in money, friendship, education, in the balance of power, and the fate of the planet. The Girl at the Baggage Claim is remarkable and fluent but, most of all, essential." —Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, and author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.

"Science has revealed how our senses filter the world around us—making us focus on visual boundaries, musical repetition, and musky odors. With her novelist’s insights, Gish Jen shows us how differences in culture can filter our world as well. The Girl at the Baggage Claim is truly eye-opening and thought-provoking." —Eric Lander, president and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University
 
"A beautifully observed book with a perfect, light tone, The Girl at the Baggage Claim poignantly captures the personal tussle between independence and interdependence so many of us are caught in. A must read for anyone navigating the East-West divide." —Priya Natarajan, Professor of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University, and author of Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos. 
 

Library Journal
★ 02/01/2017
As a follow-up to 2013's Tiger Writing, Jen (Mona in the Promised Land) takes readers on an exploration of independent-minded, self-focused "big pit" Westerners and the interdependent "flexi-selves" found in abundance in many other cultures. Jen uses her experiences growing up in America as a second-generation Chinese American to explore the tensions and bridge the gap between these two worldviews and to highlight the ways in which these differences in social orientation can lead to cultural misunderstanding. Much of her argument is rooted in the work of cognitive scientists such as Richard Nisbett (The Geography of Thought). Jen builds upon this investigation by detailing the implications of these cultural and psychological differences for the arts, education, and sports, highlighting both the strengths and weaknesses of each group. Ultimately, Jen argues that both types of orientation are present to varying degree in most individuals, and that developing an "ambidependence" that leverages the best of each outlook could result in positive social, economic, and cultural change. VERDICT An excellent and engaging read, certain to appeal to readers interested in cross-cultural communication, cognitive science, and the experience of Asian Americans in the United States.—Rebecca Brody, Westfield State Univ., MA
Kirkus Reviews
2016-11-23
A Chinese-American novelist and essayist investigates how culture shapes identity.Award-winning writer Jen (Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Independent Self, 2013, etc.) continues the inquiry of her last nonfiction book, in which she examined differences in Eastern and Western writing and art. Here, drawing on abundant research from psychology and sociology, the author probes East-West distinctions in self-definition and community. These distinctions are so profound, she asserts, that they affect personal relationships, teaching, storytelling, architecture, and even "our ideas about law, rehabilitation, religion, freedom, and choice." In the individualistic West, Jen argues, the self is "a kind of avocado, replete with a big pit on which it is focused." In the collectivist East, the "flexi-self" is interdependent, "a context-focused self, oriented toward serving something larger than itself." Whereas the big pit self believes that individual ability and drive lead to achievement, the flexi-self, Jen asserts, "starts with debt" to parents, teachers, and community. The flexi-self is more attuned to patterns than to "the strange and novel"; the Chinese, therefore, are not "divergent thinkers—thinkers who can easily generate novel uses for a brick, say, or a tree branch," but rather can adapt others' ideas to their own needs. Jen makes much of the Chinese college admission exam, in which students' success is supported by the entire nation. Traffic noise is forbidden so as not to disturb the test-takers, and taxi drivers offer students free rides to the exam site. Yet despite the "self-sacrificing help" of parents and teachers, students are under extreme pressure to perform, since their entire future depends on admission to an elite college. In asserting that American schools "concentrate more on imagination and resourcefulness"—big pit traits—Jen ignores the competition for top nursery schools, emphasis on resume-building extracurricular activities, and intense test-prep tutoring that mark the experiences of many students. While Jen's findings are undoubtedly intriguing, she is not fully convincing in her portrayal of the modest, hardworking flexi-self and the big pit self "with high self-esteem and a lack of stick-to-it-ness."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101947821
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/28/2017
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
1,046,263
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

GISH JEN is the author of four novels, a book of stories, and a previous book of nonfiction, Tiger Writing. Her honors include the Lannan Literary Award for fiction and the Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She teaches from time to time in China and otherwise lives with her husband and two children in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
August 12, 1955
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Education:
B.A. Harvard University, M.F.A., Iowa Writers¿ Workshop