Despite the universal tendency to globalization in the modern world, people persistently unite on cultural principles and bases. The representatives of the same ethnos have a similar mentality and ways of reflecting reality. Cultures differ in the dimensions of aggression that exist between them. When contacting another culture, different people experience the necessity to perceive the unfamiliar environment and preserve their cultural identity. Some folks fuse and adapt to the new rules of behavior, and others try to promote and develop their culture in a novel way.
The Greeks are one of the most scattered ethnoses in the world, and they can compete with the Armenians, Jews, and other diasporas in this aspect. Being a Greek is a special pride to the representatives of this ancient culture. The ability to preserve and enlarge a cultural tradition is picturesquely depicted in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding released in 2002 and based on a story from life. The title implies ironic and, at the same time, the sympathetic attitude of the main character, Tuola, to her cultural traditions and restrictions. She is not quite a young Greek woman brought up in a conservative spirit who lives in accordance with the family’s traditions and rules. She is constantly discouraged about the pride of being a Greek by her father’s stereotypes. Her duty and destiny are to marry a Greek and bear Greek children to promote the Greek origin in America. Moreover, the traditional Greek conventions do not imply individuality in a woman. However, attending an American school and having close contact with American children have made Toula aware of the existence of another vision of the world. She feels both ashamed of and ironical about her father’s rigid views. At the same time, she does not have the courage to be rude or direct in judgments with him or oppose his will openly. It is subconsciously unacceptable in Greek culture. Later, Toula meets an American, Ian, and falls in love with him. He is a teacher by profession and vegetarian in food preferences. Ian is a representative of an individualistic mentality, but he manages to find a way to Toula's heart despite many obstacles arising in cross-cultural communication. Thus, the film reveals many aspects of intercultural relations and presents an example of a reasonable compromise in establishing close relationships between the representatives of different mentalities and cultures.
The film reflects the eternal theme of love and romance, the turning of an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. However, it appears from a new perspective. Berardinelli notes that it is a film with a significant clashing of cultures. Wedding is traditionally a happy end of an on-screen love story, but in this film, it becomes a real challenge for the main characters, Tuola and Ian. Gus, a woman’s father, represents a typical effusive Greek mentality. He is confident of his superiority and rigid judgments. They live in a house which looks like a museum of contemporary and traditional Greek culture. Being the head of a big family and prosperous business, he wants his daughter to behave properly and meet “a good Greek boy, bear Greek children and cook Greek meals. In her childhood, the girl visits a Greek school while her classmates join Scouts Union. She is expected to preserve traditions, and it can be a great challenge to say father that she wants to get an education, a new job or marry “a representative of a reserved Protestant culture.
The first meeting of Gus and Ian reveals the difference in the attitude to free will. The father does not like the young man because he starts dating his daughter without asking him for permission. Ian objects stating that Toula and he are mature enough to decide themselves on their love preferences, but Gus makes it clear that his daughter will not violate his will.
The film was criticized as family members were depicted one-sided and in a superficial manner. For example, Toula’s brother shows signs of Greek dark humor when making Ian pronounce obscenities in the Greek language. The woman’s cousin, Nicky, constantly exposes her breasts and vulgar sexuality. Her attractive looks are contrasted by Toula’s ordinary appearance. However, such comparison reveals the real beauty of a woman which is hidden not in glamour things and stylish clothes but in inner sensitivity and individuality.
The critics also emphasized the rigidness in depicting culture-specific advantages and disadvantages of communication. The whole impression of the family is the busy and noisy mess which is constantly on the move. The Greeks were depicted with characteristics that were particular to them at least fifty years ago. Numerous relatives come and go from the café, and the first meeting of Ian and Toula takes place there. The girl looks dull in her simple clothes, without make-up and wearing glasses. In a while, she understands that the change is unavoidable and starts working and fulfilling her dream “to break out the routine of her life.
Toula's aunt owns a travel agency, and the girl wants to become the employee there. As usual, she is afraid to tell the father of her decision and asks mom to assist her in the problem. Her mother says that the most important thing is to present the idea as if it comes from Gus. They arrange a dinner where Toula’s aunt shares her problems in the agency with the man, and at the end of the conversation, Gus offers his daughter’s assistance as the best alternative for the family business. This episode reveals the peculiarity of a patriarchal family where women get what they want by deception.
Education and desire for a change make Toula confident and attractive in an extraordinary way, which attracts Ian and makes him enchanted. The girl is not a beauty, and her unexpected reaction to jokes seems irrelevant and silly in some episodes, but the boy admits that she has brought happiness and joy into his life. He is serious in his intentions, and the repetitions of the scenes of partings in a car suggest that the young people are not quick with physical closeness. As juveniles, they have to keep a distance because Toula’s culture and upbringing do not allow intimate relations before marriage. It can be characterized as one more important cultural aspect and symbol contributing to the strength and longevity of the relationships. In 2002, the film was nominated for Oskar Award for the best original screenplay.
Critical Review and Analysis
Triandis states that intercultural conflict depends on the cultural distance. The latter is related to the amount of aggression in the typical forms of behavior within a family or a commune.
The subcultures of the Greek emigrants in America and Anglo-Saxon Protestants come into contact. The intercultural clash becomes particularly evident in the scenes of parents’ first meeting an acquaintance. After the party, Gus reveals that Ian’s parents are like “dry toasts” to him, too intelligent and reserved. He is not accustomed to modest meals and celebrations in a narrow family circle. In fact, the Greek emigrants’ subculture is depicted flamboyantly and brightly while Ian’s one is not even identified precisely. It is known that he originates from an intelligent family and has not got many relatives and friends. Ian is a typical representative of the progressive American society concerned with the individual development, career and healthy way of living. Gus accuses the young man’s parents of being not emotional and sincere enough to enter his honorable Greek family. Toula’s mother is disappointed by the present brought by Ian’s mom. She is not used to such a modest treatment as a cake on the first meeting with the groom’s parents. In fact, the cake would be nice and suitable for a quiet family evening in a typical American family, but it looks funny and even offensive at a Greek big noisy family reunion. At the same time, Ian’s relatives do not expect to meet such a big family. They feel dizzy because of the variety of fatty meals, drinks, and noise. In the whole, Toula’s relatives are depicted heartily as hospitable and simple people while Ian’s parents look intelligent, reserved and sophisticated.
The episode where Toula’s aunt sits by Ian’s parents and starts telling about all her problems with digestion and hygiene is a very illustrative example of cultural knowledge. People of different cultures consider different topics to be acceptable. Of course, the story sounds wild and rude from the point of view of Ian’s relatives, but in Toula’s culture, speaking of any problem is typical, common and can be regarded as a sign of the utmost sincerity.
Triandis identified the syndrome of tightness and looseness of cultures revealing that rules and cultural conventions affect the freedom of the perception and collectivism of different subcultures. Toula’s relatives bring tightness and many restrictions on the way to the lovers’ union. At the same time, Ian’s culture is loose and allows much freedom in relationships.
Gus insists that Ian should accept Christianity and change his faith. After the ceremony, Toula thanks him for understanding and feels a bit ashamed of her archaic family traditions. She is really concerned about preserving closeness, trust, and sincerity in her relations with Ian. Her family members’ treatment seems to be a mockery of the sincerity of Toula and Ian’s relations. However, the groom is ready to overcome all the cultural obstacles on the way to the union with his bride.
The number of relatives and Toula’s social connections prove the collective nature of the Greek culture. On the contrary, Ian is a typical representative of an individualistic culture that is free and tolerant in judgments and conclusions. In my opinion, the ironical but, at the same time, respectful attitude to Greek traditions help the young couple test their feelings and readiness to serve and help each other in the future.
Samovar, Porter, and McDaniel state that culture is based on symbols which form values and particular cultural coloring vision of the reality. For example, roasted lamb is a symbol of the party and family feast in the Greek culture. At the same time, Ian’s mother believes that the cake is sufficiently enough for the first meeting with the bride’s family. Greek culture is hospitable and abundant with meals and drinks while the American vision of a family party is quite reserved and directed at etiquette and preservation of healthy habits.
The film is rich in cultural details and demonstrates the reactions of the representatives of both cultures. For example, at the wedding ceremony, everyone spits on the bridal veil. Greeks believe it is a norm while the expressions on Ian’s parents’ faces reflect disapproval and disgust. Greek culture shows adherence to numerous superstitions and cultural restrictions. It can be characterized as a tight culture which forces an individual to follow the family traditions and customs. On the one hand, it unites people and makes them assist and help each other both in happy and sad moments. On the other hand, the rejection of individuality can lead to personal stagnation in the development as it happened to Toula. Her culture turned her into deaf to the wonders and unexpectedness of life. Only love made her conscious and subconscious desires awaken. The woman’s rich cultural knowledge was broadened by popular and transformative academic one, which helped her to evolve into a culturally competent and bright personality.
The film reveals the forgiving power of love capable of overcoming any difficulties and differences stipulated by culture peculiarities. It often becomes an impulse and a strong motivator for a change. In my opinion, the first meeting of Toula and Ian made the girl start looking for self-realization. Her care for the man’s attitude and well-being is evident in the episode where she is ready to leave everything she has been used to and flee away from all the stupid norms and stereotypes. Ian, in his turn, follows all the family traditions and restrictions in order to preserve the values which are so meaningful in his bride’s family.
The transformation of Gus’s attitude at the end of the film that can be noticed in his wedding speech reflects the possibility of a compromise between cultures. Love helps people find the way and perceive each other’s differences as the glory of variety and not as a threat. Toula’s father admits that Ian’s surname, Miller, has a Greek origin and means “an apple”, and his family name can be translated as “an orange”. The conclusion that both family names reflect fruits is the sign of the father’s approval of his daughter’s choice. The rest of the guests respond with acceptance and understanding that Gas’s perfectionism is ineradicable but tolerable, if necessary. In order to find a compromise, it is obligatory to develop non-aggressive forms of communication and behavior and respect other people’s differences.