Experiences of Life as an Immigrant Essay Example
Experiences of Life as an Immigrant Essay Example

Experiences of Life as an Immigrant Essay Example

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  • Pages: 10 (2710 words)
  • Published: December 9, 2017
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Eva Hoffman's book Lost in Translation recounts her exile in Canada and the emotional turmoil she experienced leaving her beloved hometown of Cracow. The narrative spans from 1957 to 1959, during Poland's Communist regime liberalization. Through this autobiographical work, Hoffman aims to convey the essence of her forced departure from a joyful and familiar life to an unfamiliar and foreign country – Canada. It is important to note that the book goes beyond storytelling; its intention is to share profound insights rather than solely recounting events.

This text delves into the depths of emotions, the cultural subconscious, and the tensions that arise between individuals and within individuals. While it tells the story of a Jew in a foreign reality, the main distinctions do not stem from religious beliefs. Instead, Eva highlights the differences between her own national


culture with its traditions and the unfamiliar culture, and how this impacts her family and life. To fully comprehend the book, it is crucial to read beyond the surface and grasp the subtle meanings that are scattered throughout its pages.

In this essay, I will analyze pages 102-109 from a cross-cultural perspective. To explain the differences and movements between the two realities in the book, I will refer to theories by Hofstede, Schwartz, Ruben, and Bennett. The essay will consist of multiple paragraphs that each explore a distinct cross-cultural aspect present in the book. My focus will primarily be on specific pages that encompass all necessary information, events, and facts to make references to the entire book as a whole. According to Hofstede's theory, the term culture holds various meanings when applied to different cultures and subcultures.

In a broader

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sense, culture is referred to as a “collective phenomenon”[1] since it encompasses the shared aspects among individuals belonging to the same community. It can be defined as the entirety of patterns (such as behavior, habits, traditions, and stereotyping) that are shared by a specific group of people within a particular social setting. As mentioned earlier, the book highlights the contrasting aspects between Eva’s national culture and the Canadian culture. Rather than emphasizing the religious disparities, the author chooses to emphasize the dissimilarities in terms of traditions, habits, and behaviors.

The significant impact that these differences have on Eva and her family's lives is why she emphasizes them. For instance, when they visit Rosenberg's house, Eva comments on the taste and smell of the food, saying "it has no taste, it smells of plastic"[2]. This comment subtly highlights that Canadian food is not as good as Polish food. Eva's behavior stems from her unwillingness to accept her new life and culture. She is determined to hold onto her previous life and most importantly, does not want to assimilate into the "Sahara" culture[3].

She compares Canada with a desert because she lacks knowledge about that place. Another cultural difference worth mentioning is the language. Eva struggles to express gratitude to someone. In Polish culture, saying "You're welcome" implies that there is something to be thanked for, which is considered impolite in Polish. Although Eva doesn't feel the need to express gratitude, she feigns gratefulness towards Mr. Rosenberg because she understands it is the appropriate behavior.

There are also differences in the way people dress in Poland and Canada. When Eva is at school, she criticizes how girls her age dress

and wear makeup. She describes how the girls wear bright lipstick and their skirts are held up by stiff crinolines. Judging from her language, it seems that Eva doesn't understand or accept this type of clothing. According to Hofstede, people develop certain patterns of thinking, feeling, and potential behavior that are deeply ingrained and hard to change because they have been learned throughout their entire lives.

Eva's confusion about the new culture can be attributed to her deep connection to her heritage. I plan to provide various examples that demonstrate the varied subcultures depicted in the book. Although there is no exact definition of subcultures, we can broadly define them as individuals within a specific culture who distinguish themselves from the larger cultural group they belong to by their distinct thoughts, traditions, and concepts. The middle-class society in Poland during the 1950s serves as a prime example of such a subculture.

Following the war and governmental shift, Poland underwent a shift from an agrarian society to an industrial one, which deeply influenced its social structure and demographics. The transformation resulted in significant changes to both class hierarchy and ethnic composition. Numerous individuals belonging to the middle class were forced to emigrate from the country, while those who remained experienced a decline in their social status. Recognizing that post-war Poland no longer provided prospects for the middle class, Eva's family chose to move to Canada with aspirations of discovering a more promising future.

Poland in the 1950s was a Communist country with an individualistic society, according to Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory. Polish culture values individual over collective values. This is demonstrated when the Rosenberg family generously offers hospitality

to Eva and her family. Eva recounts how Mr. Rosenberg, after hosting them for a week, decides he has fulfilled his duty towards them. This highlights Mr. Rosenberg's strong belief in individualism as he believes it is not advantageous for them to depend solely on his charity.

Eva's background should be recognized as being from a Polish Jewish family. It is important to understand that national culture and religion can be seen as separate subcultures. While the national culture holds more significance, religion should not be ignored. The noticeable differences between their culture and Canadian culture can be observed in traditions, food, and clothing. These cultural and subcultural aspects create challenges for the characters due to contrasting values, beliefs, and practices as identified by Hofstede and Schwartz. Hofstede identifies five dimensions that can characterize the culture of any country.

By studying cross-cultural relationships, the author provides an understanding of cultural backgrounds and the culture of other countries. One important aspect discussed in the book is masculinity/femininity, which refers to societies that are highly driven by competition, achievement, and success. These societies prioritize being the best. In Lost in Translation, masculinity is evident in different situations, particularly when Eva discusses her father or Mr. Rosenberg.

Both individuals show a strong determination to achieve their goals and succeed in their fields. The book also delves into Hofstede's idea of the contrast between individualism and collectivism. In an "individualistic" society, individuals prioritize their own well-being as well as that of their immediate family. On the other hand, in a "collectivist" society, people make decisions and operate within the boundaries of their community or group. This concept is exemplified when Eva and

her family move to Canada and temporarily live with the Rosenbergs.

The relation between the two families highlights their contrasting approaches to handling situations. For instance, upon arriving at the house, Mr. Rosenberg promptly requests payment for their train tickets from Montreal. Shortly thereafter, they are forced to relocate because Mr. Rosenberg no longer wishes to support them. This illustrates a distinct sense of individualism and a lack of generosity towards Eva's family. When evaluating the book in terms of 'values', it becomes significant to consider Schwartz's value theory.

This theory suggests that there are ten universal values that serve as guiding principles in life. These values are clearly apparent in Eva's family and the lives of others. Achievement is especially prominent among these values, as demonstrated by Eva's father's actions. Despite encountering various obstacles, he actively pursues success in all his endeavors, from relocating to another country to renting a store and immersing himself in learning a new language.

These examples illustrate his determination to achieve personal success. Tradition is highlighted as the most crucial value in the book. The core theme revolves around Eva's internal battle between her cultural heritage and Canadian culture. Her reluctance to embrace the new culture arises from her strong loyalty to her Polish roots. In terms of security, she longs for a stable society that promotes harmony within herself and her family. They felt insecure both in Poland and after moving to Canada.

Eva's behavior is influenced by their internalized culture, which was shaped by the difficult situations they faced in both Poland and Canada. In Poland, they had to confront challenges during the post-war period and a change in regime. Following

their exile to Canada, they had to rebuild their life from scratch, leading to feelings of insecurity and uncertainty. Eva's behavior reflects their awareness and understanding of their cultural background.

Internalized culture is the manifestation of a mastered cultural practice where one no longer needs to consciously follow it as it becomes ingrained. It can be linked to biases and stereotypes, as demonstrated by Eva who lacks understanding of Canadian culture and tends to judge and associate certain characteristics to specific categories. Eva's strong pride in her Polish culture leads to her rejection of Canadian culture, evident in various demonstrations.

For instance, Eva struggles with expressing gratitude towards others. In a passage from the text, her mother advises her, "Say thank you, people like to be appreciated" [11]. Eva reluctantly follows her mother's advice, as she believes that in her Polish culture, expressing gratitude can be considered impolite. She explains, "We do not use stereotypes in an undiscriminating or unthinking way; rather, they serve as a tentative for which we then seek out further information" [12]. This indicates that Eva recognizes the distinctions between her own culture and others, but she is not yet prepared to fully accept these differences because of her lack of understanding.

We can observe another instance of internalized culture through the connection between language and the associations words evoke in Eva. Through reading books, Eva has acquired new words and expressions. She may have an irrational preference for certain words based on their sound or the satisfaction of guessing their meaning. However, there are also occasions when she learns expressions that lack a proper accumulated association. Notably, the word "River" evokes different

images for her compared to what it brings to mind in Polish.

Despite Eva's apparent awareness of her internalized culture, her actions indicate a lack of understanding regarding the impact it has. This behavior can be described as ethnocentric, as she views her own attitude as logical, natural, and superior to that of other cultures. The tensions experienced in the book are both external, between individuals, and internal, within Eva herself, as she navigates her exile in Canada.

I believe that the main focus should be on the tensions that Eva experiences particularly during the initial phase of her new life. Due to her resistance towards the unfamiliar culture, she finds it challenging to adapt to life in Canada. This rejection can be observed through certain behaviors and events, such as the nightmare she has on the third night at the Rosenberg's residence. Eva refers to this as "my entry into the New World" (14), indicating the fear she experiences that night is akin to a transformative revelation.

The text suggests that there is a tension between Eva and her conscience, as she becomes increasingly aware that she may adapt to her new life. Additionally, there is another form of tension between Eva and her schoolmates, as well as her teacher. Eva's ingrained prejudices and stereotypes about the other culture contribute to her belief that her schoolmates view her aggressively. This perception is likely due to her lack of understanding and knowledge about their culture.

The teacher is concerned about Eva and her sister's mispronunciation of their names, which causes them to feel alienated from themselves [15]. This situation surprises Eva because she does not identify with the new

names. By rejecting this reality, Eva will encounter internal conflicts and tensions with individuals from different cultures. She recognizes that fully embracing this new world and culture may require disconnecting from her native culture. Eva's journey during her exile involves transitioning from complete denial to eventual acceptance. To assess Eva's actions, it is crucial to first define Intercultural Competence and its fundamental components. Intercultural Competence refers to the exchange of perspectives and conversation among individuals and groups with diverse cultural, religious, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds.

The basis of this exchange is built on respect and tolerance, aiming to promote understanding and avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. These skills are not naturally part of a person's culture and cannot be easily acquired. They require individuals to consistently practice and uphold them. The Council of Europe's White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue[16] outlines four essential elements that make up intercultural competence: attitudes, skills, knowledge, and behaviors.

In the beginning, Eva lacks the aforementioned components because she refuses to open her mind to another culture. It appears that she has no interest in expanding her knowledge or forming close connections with people from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, she fails to adapt to the new cultural environment by neglecting to discover or learn more about it, and by lacking interaction with individuals from other cultures.

Contrarily, she possesses self-awareness of her own culture and understands the "various linguistic and communicative norms in different cultures"[17]. Additionally, having suitable, adaptable, and proficient behavior during intercultural interactions is a crucial aspect. By observing Eva's behavior, it can be said that in the initial phase of her exile, she attempts to assimilate into the circumstances to demonstrate appropriate conduct.


to Bennett's Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity, individuals go through six stages of development to enhance their understanding and acceptance of cultural differences. Eva demonstrates a defensive approach when she visits Rosenberg's house. While she acknowledges the presence of another culture, she struggles to fully comprehend it. This is indicative of her current stage, where everything appears confusing and incomprehensible.

Eva's behavior can be analyzed by considering Ruben's seven dimensions of communication, which help individuals function effectively in intercultural settings. Eva exhibits a severe lack of knowledge orientation, believing her knowledge and perceptions are universal. In terms of tolerance for ambiguity, Eva is unable to handle unexpected or equivocal situations without being affected by them. Additionally, Spitzberg's concept of communicative competence defines competent communication as behaving effectively and appropriately.

According to him, a competent communicator should possess three aspects: knowledge, motivation, and skills. Eva's lack of motivation, which Spitzberg refers to as the desire for effective and appropriate communication, can be linked to the lack of orientation, motivation, and tolerance for ambiguity that I discussed previously. In fact, examples such as mispronouncing names, using the word "river" inappropriately, and having prejudices about her schoolmates can all be categorized under these patterns.

But it is worth noting that the more Eva is exposed to that culture, the more she embraces it. In reality, as previously stated, Eva's story consists of several stages that lead her to acknowledge and embrace the new world, language, life, and culture. This stage can be referred to as acceptance since it signifies that the individual recognizes the existence of their own culture as well as others. It can be seen as understanding the intricacies

and significance of individuals who possess different cultural backgrounds than oneself.

In the concluding pages of the book, Eva's words convey a sense of final acceptance: "This is the place where I'm alive. How could there be any other place?" (19). This pivotal moment motivates her to connect with the other culture, and she develops an openness to acquiring knowledge and accepting others' perspectives. Overall, Eva's journey from leaving Cracow to reaching this moment of acceptance highlights her internal struggles with conflicting emotions and feelings throughout her transition to a new life.

The challenges of starting a new life in an unfamiliar place may be linked to the complex and profound differences between two cultures. These differences create contrasts until Eva realizes the impact of her own cultural upbringing. The main barrier she faces is her pride in her own culture, which hinders her from embracing new knowledge, traditions, and cultures. However, we have observed that gradually she begins to recognize the existence of other cultures alongside her Polish heritage.

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