April 25, 2020
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a Romantic Comedy
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a romantic comedy about the problems of an intercultural relationship, especially when it includes an entire family. Toula Portokalos is a 30-year old Greek woman who faces difficulties with finding her place in life. She lives in the closed Greek community in Chicago, works at the Greek restaurant of her father, and does not have a connection to the outside world. Although raised in a traditional Greek family that managed to secure its culture from Americanization, Toula never felt comfortable and wanted to experience life. Consequently, she starts an adventure of studying in college and working in her aunt’s tourism company. The viewers see Toula’s wonderful transformation from a mediocre waitress to a confident young woman. Toula meets a man of her dreams, and they have a beautiful romance. However, the fact that Ian Miller is of Anglo-Saxon descent motivates Toula to hide the relationship as the Greek family would not approve a stranger. The movie dedicates time to exploring the difficulties of understanding each other in the context of dissimilar cultures. However, it reiterates that true love can create miracles because it does not fear obstacles. After numerous incidents of discomfort, surprise, shock, and discontent due to the familial cultural difference, the two lovers receive blessings from the parents. Toula and Ian get married and live in peace with both families that have absolutely nothing in common except their children being in love with each other.
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The film presents the cultural patterns of both families in a creative and funny way. The striking difference between the Greeks and Anglo-Saxons is visible in every little detail, including clothing, communication, relationship, music, and food. Therefore, the list of cultural patterns is unlimited. The first element of social practices transcends the entire movie. The Greeks share every holiday with the extended family. They love their food, which accompanies every occasion. The patron barbeques lamb on the lawn and invite the relatives to every single celebration. The scene of Easter festivity is proof that Greeks cherish traditions and appreciate the ability to get together and share the holidays. Toula states that she has 27 cousins, who visit regularly. During Easter, they follow the Greek Orthodox tradition, unite all relatives, and cook much food. The custom to gather together in celebration is mandatory to the Portokaloses; it is unquestionable and unchangeable for the family because they are Greek and they should share these events with Greeks.
Another representative cultural aspect is the norm of kissing each other in the family. Everybody, namely men, women, and children, kisses and holds hands as a greeting. There is nothing wrong with the absence of boundaries and personal hygiene discomfort as the Greeks need their kisses. Therefore, when aunt Voula meets Ian, she puts her both palms on his face and gives a couple of pecks. For a conservative American, who loves his space and protects the skin from others, the norm is astonishing. The public display of affection is a standard for the Greeks since they show their love through hugs, kisses, and touches. The personal space is not granted to anyone when they enter the Greek family.
The third scene that presents a bright example of family values shared by the Greek community is the need to ask the father’s permission when dating a daughter. During the first meeting of Ian and Toula’s father Gus, the latter is furious with the fact that Ian did not ask him for the relationship consent. The episode represents a classical tradition of Orthodox families to cherish their patron and consult him on every issue. The Greeks respect the man of the house; moreover, he is the decision-maker and the influencer, who is omnipresent in every decision. Thus, the practice of asking for permission before dating a daughter seems obligatory and given for Gus through the long-lived tradition.
American melting pot of cultures presents an opportunity and a challenge for the representatives of different heritages. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory provides the assessment of communication within different cultures based on five factors. My Big Fat Greek Wedding has examples of all factors as showed by Greek and Anglo-Saxon representatives within the American setting.
The first cultural dimension is power distance, which explains the perception of inequality between more and less powerful members of society. In the movie, the Greek culture has a low power distance index. Despite the fact that family members have dissimilar incomes, occupations, and societal influence, they behave like equals and never feel uncomfortable around each other. Therefore, they strive to balance the power inequality through unrestrained familiarity and the absence of boundaries. On the contrary, the English family represents a high power distance, which is evidenced even within inter-generational communication. The parents hold distance from the children; they show authority and demand respect. Their power as older members is inevitable and granted.
The second cultural dimension is individualism and collectivism. The phenomenon is excessively vivid in the movie as the contrast between the Greek and English families is stunning. While Ian’s family members respect each other’s privacy and individual preferences, Toula’s relatives feel the urge to stick their noses into everyone’s business. The Greeks represent a collectivist culture observed through an incredible amount of advice, sharing of private moments, and discussing uncomfortable issues such as sex whereas the Anglo-Saxons possess an individualistic value. Thus, Ian has complete autonomy in making decisions and planning his life. The dimension transcends throughout the entire plot since the cultures are bipolar in collectivism/individualism.
The third dimension is masculinity versus femininity, which determines the difference between competitiveness and cooperation. The phenomenon is less conclusive in the movie; however, the story of Ian allows deriving the assumption that his culture has high masculinity values. He reiterates that the decision to become a teacher was not well-received by the family because the Millers have two generations of successful lawyers. Therefore, the competition, achievement, and desire for recognition run their community. On the contrary, the Portokaloses want their children to work in the family restaurant instead of achieving career heights. It seems that decent income and family stability play a more critical role for the Greeks than the position in society. Consequently, Toula’s family has feminine elements while Ian’s culture is masculine.
An uncertainty avoidance index is the fourth dimension defined by Hofstede in his theory. It identifies the willingness of cultural representatives to encounter insatiability and ambiguity. The factor is evident only in Toula’s family because the film does not provide sufficient examples of Ian’s culture uncertainty factor. Nevertheless, Portokaloses demonstrate strong uncertainty avoidance due to several reasons. First, they are very religious and traditional. Second, they do not celebrate diversity and prefer repeating the same patterns from generation to generation. Third, innovation and unconformity are punishable by the elder family members. Thus, when Toula decided to study, the father did not tolerate the idea because it was non-conformist. A woman from a Greek family should take care of the house and children as it has been for hundreds of years. They attempt to avoid surprises and novelties as much as possible.
The last dimension of cultural difference is long-term and short-term orientation. Evidently, Greek score is low on time orientation because they cherish old traditions and connect to history. They know their ancestry and appreciate the connection to the great empire in world history. In particular, Gus Portokalos always finds a way to remind about his heritage by proving the Greek roots of every word. Moreover, the movie depicts the Greek community as conservative and unwilling to change. The women should marry Greek guys and give birth to kids while men have to enter the family business and provide for their offspring. Moreover, everyone must attend Greek school and participate in the life of the Greek Orthodox Church. Therefore, the repetitive referrals to everything Greek remind about heritage and culture, as well as ensure the historic connection to the country of origin. On the contrary, Ian’s Anglo-Saxon descent proves to be short-term oriented because he easily changes religion and adapts to the family values of Toula’s relatives.
The analysis of Hofstede’s dimensions of cultural communication confirms that My Big Fat Greek Wedding represents two completely opposite cultures. The Greeks are conservative, traditional, warm, open, and supportive of each other. On the contrary, the Anglo-Saxons are modern, open to change, individualistic, and strive for excellence. Through the contrast in family values, the movie creators ascertain that love has no boundaries and the adaptation is always stressful.
Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
The hidden communication patterns that require additional attentiveness are an interesting phenomenon appearing throughout the movie. It ranges from passive-aggressive hand clinging of Ian’s mother during the family gathering to Toula’s father’s constant insertion of Greek words in conversations. The peculiar element of non-verbal communication is the amount of gesturing in the Portokalos family. The Greeks allocate equal importance to talking and hand waving in the conversations. In order to prove the point, everyone in the family throws the hands up in the air. They show anger, discontent, excitement, agreement, and fairly all emotions with throwing hands up. The observation suggests that Greek people are expressive and dramatic; they like attention and tend to exaggerate most experiences.
Verbal communication patterns are critical to the movie plot because the words describe the story and explain the challenges of the heroine. Nevertheless, they are inseparable from non-verbal means. The most noticeable feature of communication among the Greek community is that they are loud and fight all the time. The aggressive wording is attributable to Maria, Nikki, aunt Voula, and Athena. An example is when Athena yells at her husband when entering the house. Yianni whispers to Ian that Greek women always nag someone because otherwise, they will die. The phrase substantiates that the Greek community can insult each other without any remorse because they forget it the next day. The dynamic of condescending and aggressive communication is present throughout the movie; however, every family member seems to be comfortable with it.
Persuasive Style of Communications
Individuals use the culturally inclined approach to the judgment of the environment. My Big Fat Greek Wedding presents a number of occasions when culturally preferred ways were regarded as the only correct decision. Toula’s father constantly refers to tradition when talking about the daughter’s aspirations. It seems logical to him that a woman’s main goal in life is to become a wife of a nice Greek fellow and become a nagging homemaker. He states that education and college will not bring anything good because they cannot enrich Toula’s life. Greek culture considers previous experiences and references to historic tradition to be an acceptable argument for persuading the opponent. Moreover, the only authority in the family is the father although Maria knows how to influence him. The gaps in logical arguments are not critical since the conclusion refers to the phenomenon of “being Greek.” Therefore, the persuasiveness is structured not based on universal logic but on culturally specific elements of communication. Despite the fact that Toula sees inconsistency in the reason and believes she should study, she cannot argue with the father’s decisions. The only truth in a Greek family is coming from the father.
Interaction scenes are the repetitive elements of conversations, including topics, themes, ideas, and settings that transcend through different talks. My Big Fat Greek Wedding depicts in detail the Greek culture in terms of conversations. The recurring theme is marriage and Toula’s age. All family members feel obliged to remind Toula and her parents that she is 30 and not married yet. They have the audacity to state that it is not normal to be single and put Athena as an example. The relatives reiterate that Toula’s sister has three kids and a husband, which is the peak of a woman’s dream. Eventually, the interaction scene typically moves to family matters such as business troubles and financial issues. The groups gladly discuss the news in their companies and explain the job patterns and complaints about understaffing. The community does not feel discomfort when discussing private topics such as illnesses or relationship crises.
For instance, the Millers are mortified by aunt Voula’s openness about her limp that grew during the menopause. Therefore, the film episode shows the difference between interaction scenes acceptable for the Greeks and Anglo-Saxons. The collectivist culture ensures that all group members feel comfortable with discussing private matters. Moreover, it gives the right for each Greek person to intrude into everyone’s personal life. They gladly give advice even if it is unasked for; they impose their view of life and fit everyone into one description. On the contrary, Anglo-Saxon representatives avoid sensitive topics in conversations and debate general facts and phenomena.
Even though I have watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding before, I perceived it as a romantic love story and funny comedy about cultural differences. Upon completing the assignment, I realized that the plot uncovers numerous details about the pitfalls of intercultural communication and international families. I learned from the movie that true love does not see obstacles. The cultural shock and the challenges of entering the foreign family are erased by the desire to be together and create a family. Although the writers intentionally exaggerate the differences between the Millers and the Portokaloses, the essence remains true. The globalization and internationalization created the arena for finding the common ground for the representatives of completely opposite cultures. I believe that the representation of intercultural communication is relatively accurate because the clashing values and norms can result in discomfort and misunderstandings. The Millers were flabbergasted by the size of the Greek family, but they had the courtesy to preserve dignity.
The task from Lustig and Koester equipped me with the ability to dissolve a large picture into smaller details. The strategy allows understanding elements that are lost in the total concept. For instance, the interaction scenes seemed to appear for the purpose of fun in the movie. However, the analysis proves that they display cultural peculiarities and the habits of interaction. The current task presented an opportunity to take a look at the familiar movie from the learning point of view. I realized that in addition to entertainment, even comedies can teach about the pitfalls and joys of life. Even the conservative Greek community can open a small gate for a stranger to become a family; however, he/she should live in the house next door.
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