Term Paper: Baray's Analysis of Cultural Miscommunication

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Baray's Analysis of Cultural Miscommunication -- Between German and American Jews, between Native and White Americans

The sociologist Laray M. Barna (1997) suggests in her essay "Intercultural Communication Stumbling Blocks" that, ironically, one of the first cultural stumbling blocks someone in a new cultural environment may encounter, a barrier that impedes full, true understanding of 'the other' is the naive assumption that people are all alike, because they are human. Although this may sound like a good thing at first, this assumption can often lead to a failure to recognize the foreign person's needs and desires. This is seen poignantly in the fate of the German refugee Oscar Gassner. Oscar is conflicted between his sense of German nationalism, which he still retains within his soul, and the impersonal New York environment, which assumes that everyone who comes to the city, loves the city, and is willing to embrace a new identity, that of an American. Oscar still remembers his wife, a non-Jew, back in Germany, and wonders if "in her heart," she was "a Jew hater," and that all non-Jews are Jew haters (Malmud, p.25) Also, Oscar's fellow Jews assume that he is happy to be in America, and that America is good place for Jews to live. Oscar is assumed to be the same as Americanized Jews, because he is of the same persecuted religion.

The second barrier to cultural understanding between two people from different cultural contexts is that of language, on the obvious level of linguistic mistranslation but also an a third level of nonverbal communication. Although Oscar Gassner speaks English, this sense of a barrier is also frequently expressed in the pain of Bernard Malmud's "The German Refugee." This German survivor of the initial Nazi persecution still feels as if he expresses himself best in his German language, even though he hates what Germany has done to Jews like himself in the name of German nationalism. Oscar may speak English, but German is the language that he feels most comfortable speaking in, in terms of his emotions -- and no Americans seem to understand this.

The story suggests although German Jews like Oscar have found a physical place of sanctuary in America but that they are aching within, because their uncertain relationship with the new English language is not understood by American Jews, and because these refugees can only imperfectly express themselves in English. They cannot "say what was in them to say," even when asked to talk about subjects specific to the German-Jewish experience like "The Literature of the Weimar Republic," a lecture that Oscar is asked to give to an assembled crowd of persons from his new nation, a lecture Oscar can never bring himself to give. (Malmud p.20)

Malmud's story is set in 1939, and the protagonist knows that most New Yorkers think he should be happy, to some extent, to have escaped the suffering that lay behind him in Germany but because Oscar feels that his suffering is impenetrable, inexpressible, and unheard in his current context, he no longer wishes to go on. He has found no refuge. Oscar also encounters the fourth cultural barrier in his new land, that of stereotypes. These stereotypes can be either positive or negative -- even the stereotype that a refugee is grateful to the home nation in an uncomplicated way, or that American and German Jews think and feel alike as Oscar feels people assume, regarding his presence in America.

The fifth barrier is the tendency to be judgmental. When something is different, people are eager to judge if like it or not, right away. Oscar has decided he does not belong, already, and thus he engages in his own prejudgment of the culture and land he cannot leave, just as people judge him. The sixth is the anxiety of difference, the anxiety that the presence of someone who is culturally unfamiliar experiences in the presence of an alien, or in an alien environment full of "displacement, alienation, financial insecurity."(Malmud, p.27)

At the end of Malmud's story, the first-person narrator, an American Jew, expresses a certain judgmental attitude of his own, however, when he notes that other immigrants… [END OF PREVIEW]

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