The topic of cultural dimensions (individualism vs. collectivism, monochrone and polychrone) is almost de rigeur in intercultural training workshops. Most of these models remain quite theoretical in the minds of our Indian participants.
As I watched the Bollywood film “English Vinglish,” I saw some great examples of these dimensions being acted out, and am delighted that some of these scenes can be used to illustrate these dimensions in a way that will resonate with Indian audiences. Please note that like with most films that portray another culture through the eyes of a foreigner, some of the situations and characters might seem a bit exaggerated or even culturally inaccurate. However, the film has many select scenes that would be a great resource for intercultural trainers looking for ways to connect theory and application. So read on!
This film by Gauri Shinde is a heart-warming tale of how an Indian housewife, played by Sreedevi, discovers her hidden potential after landing in the US and learning the English language. The film can be used for a variety of training objectives: questioning existing stereotypes, ethnocentrism, or how the film accurately or inaccurately depicts cultural differences.
Being part of a collectivist culture, Sreedevi puts her family’s needs before her own and her individual efforts are often unrecognized or even mocked by her family at home. She is an excellent cook and in India she sells her speciality “ladoos” (an Indian dessert) during weddings and other festivals. During her first English language class in the United States, her English instructor asks her what she does (individualist orientation) and Sreedevi, not used to talking about her individual accomplishments, sheepishly confesses that she sells “ladoos.” Her English instructor provides her with the term “entrepreneur,” and her face lights up at this definition of her individual identity. This theme is quite recurrent in the movie and can be used in discussions on how to leverage the best of both individualism and collectivism. For example, after having discovered the joys of individualism such as “me time,” personal development, and individual accomplishment, Sreedevi does not bail out on collectivism. On the contrary, she explains the core philosophy of collectivism in her speech at the wedding of her niece.
Yet another dimension is beautifully illustrated in the scene where Sreedevi orders a cup of coffee in New York for the first time. To see the differences between monochronic and polychronic attitudes. I encourage you to watch the film!
Thank you for this great review, Sunita, Cultural Detective extraordinaire and current President of SIETAR India.
We would like to encourage all of you to purchase early-bird registration before December 9th for the SIETAR India 2013 conference, “From Internationalization to Intercultural Competence.” It will take place in Mumbai on the 2-3 of February.