Cultural differences in the short story "A Family Affair" by Kazuo Ishiguro

Essay, 2018

17 Pages, Grade: 3,0




1. The five-dimensional model of national culture

2. Short Story “A Family Supper”

3. Using Hofstedes' model of culture to analyze the short story “A Family Supper”.

Works Cited

1. The five-dimensional model of national culture

This chapter is going to build a fundamental understanding of the works of Hofstede and the five-dimensional model of national culture. Furthermore, it will explicitly target the differences between the culture in the US and Japan. The knowledge of these differences is going to be the basis of the later work on the short story “A Family Affair” which will be analyzed in the later chapters.

The five-dimensional model of national culture is a model which is mainly used in economics to differentiate between different cultures and their reaction to certain actions or circumstances. More than 50 modern nations have been evaluated with the help of large multinational business organizations to identify five main dimensions which shape the culture of a specific country or region. The survey was done around 1968 and 1972 accounting more than 116,000 questionnaires. The survey discovered five different dimensions which display how different cultures are contrasting fromeach other in the solution of basic problems every community must deal with. (Hofstede, Culture's consequences).

Hofstede defines the term culture in his book as follows: Culture is the “collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another” (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 9). It is a short form of a more detailed definition from Kluckhohn. Culture is described as a unique way of life which is represented through all members in the community. The individual will represent its culture through its celebration of normally traditional ideas and values. (Kluckhohn 86).

The five dimensions are: Power distance, Uncertainty avoidance, Individualism, Masculinity, and Long-term vs. short-term orientation. (Hofstede, Culture's consequences xix). The five dimensions are going to be explained in the following. The paper will define the dimensions but will not go into detail since this would exceed the limitations of this paper. However, it will go into detail with the family aspect of each dimension since this is going to be important later while analyzing the short stories.

Power Distance describes how a society deals with human inequality. Human inequalities can be seen in prestige, wealth and power, but also in different aspects of life depending on the culture. The countries were rated with a score which was determined by three survey questions. These questions focused on the relationship of subordinates and superiors, analyzing the “fear of disagreeing with superiors, [...] superiors' actual decision-making style, and with the decision­making style that subordinates preferred in their bosses.” (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 79). The Power Distance Index (PDI) shows the willingness to openly disagree with superiors or authorities. Higher scores indicate a certain submission and unwillingness to confront superiors directly. The country with the highest score is Malaysia and the one with the lowest score is Austria. This displays that in Austria people are more likely and willing to criticize superiors openly, while in Malaysia people learn to behave submissively, not only in a face-to-face situation but also when no superior is around. (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 85-87). In families, power distance is programmed into the children at a very early age. Children learn their behavior from mirroring the behavior of their elders. In countries with a high PDI-Score, children are raised to be hard working and obedient, while in low PDI-Score countries independence is valued higher. Especially in low PDI-Score countries the social class and education level of the parents are considered more relevant. (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 99-100).

The next dimension is called Uncertainty Avoidances. This dimension focuses on how cultures deal with the unknown future. Humans try to match this uncertainty with technology, laws and religion and the research questions focused on how the participants deal with rule orientation, employment stability or the lack of, and stress. From these scores, each country was rated with a Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI). (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 145). Hofstede stresses that uncertainty avoidance does not mean risk avoidance. He explains that risk is focused on something specific, which mostly is expressed in outcome percentages, while uncertainty is more a feeling, it has no probability. The main difference could be that in uncertainty anything could happen, while with risk one of the possibilities is more likely to happen than others. To clarify, the maximum UAI score of +230 would mean that everybody thinks rules should not be broken, everybody wants to stay in a specific job, and everybody is always nervous or stressed. In contrast to that the lowest possible score of -150 means exact the opposite, everybody thinks rules can be broken, no one wants to stay in a specific job, and nobody is ever stressed or nervous. The maximum score reached in the test by a country was 112 (Greece) and the lowest score was 53 (Singapore). (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 150). In the family life, the higher the UAI score, the lower the satisfaction with home life. Parents in high UAI score countries behave more emotional, have tighter rules on what is taboo, and are overall more protective of their offspring. In lower UAI score countries, parents are more likely to control their emotions and to let their children experience new situations. Children are also taught that the world is a kind place rather than a hostile place. (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 1 69) .

The next dimension is called Individualism. This depicts the opposite of collectivism. Individualism describes the link between an individual and the collectivism in the society. While in some cultures it is perfectly normal and a sign of good character to be more individual in other cultures it is seen as being a lone wolf and looked down upon. Individualism is often distinguished into different levels. The most renown would be Tonnies's “Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft”. (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 209). He explains that Gemeinschaft means a low individualism where people will put the greater good for the society before their own success while in Gesellschaft everybody is in a loose culture and fights more for themselves than for the community, therefore meaning a higher individualism (Tonnies). This results in the person and the collectivity connecting on a higher level than merely living together. The social norms and therefore the value systems in cultures, are a vital part of the network between an individual and its institutions in a society. Keeping this in mind, one can imagine it was not easy to identify but more importantly rate different individuality scores. Therefore, the mean of 14 questions were used to determine the Individualism Index (IDV). The questions all consisted of the importance of different factors, for example, “how important is it to you to have an opportunity for high earnings?”. The highest ranked country, and therefore the one with the highest individuality, was the United States, the lowest ranked Guatemala. (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 214). In the family, low IDV countries the family is the main point of ones' life and strong family ties and frequent interactions are the rule. Children are raised to think as a “we” rather than an “I” as common in high IDV countries. The family stretches over more than one generation, mostly three (children, parents, grandparents), and can also include clan members. This results in the family depending on each other, while children grow up being protected by the family, the family expects lifelong loyalty and caretaking of their elders. In high IDV countries people live in close or single parent families. Children are raised to being able to care for themselves as early as possible and weak family ties and rare contacts are common. (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 236) .

The fourth out of five dimensions has been called masculinity by Hofstede. In contrast to masculinity the opposite is femininity. The reason this dimension is called after the sexes is the difference in goals and focus on different things in life. Woman tend to be more focused on social goals, they favor relationships, helping others and the physical environment, in comparison to men. Masculinity therefore stands for attributes more likely found in men. Therefore, ego goals are more important in a masculine culture than in a feminine. Ego goals could include careers and income. AS already mentioned, a feminine culture focuses more on social goals where as a masculine culture would focus more on egocentric goals. The factor scores in the survey did show a strong difference between masculinity and femininity and were converted into a Masculinity Index (MAS). (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 279). The country with the highest MAS was Japan (95), the country with the lowest Sweden (5). It should be noted that the effects were higher on men than on women. In high MAS countries the goals of both women and men became more masculine while the effect was stronger in men. Men seem to have been raised with tougher values in high MAS countries than women, while in low MAS countries both men and women do not contrast in that matter. (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 286, 288). In the family setting high MAS countries have stronger gender differentiation. Children are raised to be ambitious and should love their parents regardless of their actions. Family plays an important role and the traditional gender roles are implemented, for example: girls cry, boys fight, fathers handle facts, mother's feelings, boys are performers, girls' socializers, etc. In low MAS cultures the gender differentiation is weaker, parents have similar roles and fighting is frowned upon. The satisfaction with home life is higher and family concepts more flexible. Both girls and boys are raised the same and are grown into modest adults rather than desiring success. (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 306).

The last dimension, long- vs. short-term orientation, must be disconnected from the other four. It was not discovered in the survey done by IBM. It was found through the Chinese Value Survey, which aimed at finding key values of Chinese scholars. It was especially designed to fit eastern minds rather than western ideals as the IBM study was which could explain the reason it was not mentioned earlier. (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 351). The Long-Term Orientation Index (LTO) shows the extent to which a culture is willing to wait for its fulfillment of reward. “Long Term Orientation stands for the fostering of virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular, perseverance and thrift. Short Term Orientation stands for the fostering of virtues related to the past and present, in particular, respect for tradition, preservation of ‘face' and fulfilling of social obligations.” (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 359). The highest LTO-Score reached China (118) while at the end of the ranking was Pakistan (0). (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 356). Countries with high LTO scores teach their offspring thrift and educational and financial achievements are rewarded. Mothers should stay at home while the children are in preschool. In LTO countries tolerance and respect for others is taught and self-concept and love are promoted in children. Humility is seen as a feminine virtue and couples should share tastes and interests. (Hofstede, Culture's consequences 366).


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Cultural differences in the short story "A Family Affair" by Kazuo Ishiguro
University of Bayreuth
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affair, cultural, family, ishiguro, kazuo
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Anonymous, 2018, Cultural differences in the short story "A Family Affair" by Kazuo Ishiguro, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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