Intercultural Communication in My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Intercultural Observation Paper

My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a movie released in April of 2002, is a film largely imbued with the concepts of intercultural communication found in Roger Desmond’s Communication in the Digital Aqe. It stars Nia Vardalos as Toula, a Greek-American woman who comes from a large Greek family and works in her family’s restaurant, Dancing Zorba’s, in Chicago. She is in her early thirties and is also single, much to the distress of her traditional family, specifically her parents.

They want to send her to Greece to find a husband, but seeing as she doesn’t want to leave the country to find a man, she stays where she is.

At least, until she sees a handsome stranger in Dancing Zorba’s one day. Unable to work up the courage to talk to him, she becomes frustrated enough that it results in an argument with her father, whose traditional views make him think that all Toula should do is marry a Greek man and have lots of kids.

Rejecting her father’s ideals, Toula quits her job at the family restaurant and starts working as a travel agent, feeling a need for change in her life. In addition to getting a new job, she improves her look by replacing her glasses with contacts, curling her hair, and begins wearing makeup. Additionally, Toula signs up for night classes studying computers at the local community college to help her work at the travel agency. As fate would have it, she encounters the handsome man again, and he asks her out on a date.

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A tall, smart, and attractive school teacher, Ian seems like the man of her dreams; at least until she discovers that he comes from a culture completely separate from her own. Regardless of their cultural differences, and despite her father’s attempts to stop the relationship, when Ian asks Toula to marry him, she says yes.

The escapades that follow are all filled with examples of ethnocentrism, enculturation, and individualism/collectivism. Different cultures usually align more with either individualist or collectivist ideals, usually depending on whatever country they come from. The U.S. has a very individualist culture, wherein we credit ourselves for our own accomplishments and see ourselves as the basis for all of our achievements. By contrast, collectivist culture revolves around whatever family or group that you belong to, and has the perspective that all of our achievements grow from there. The Millers all view their own individual attainments as being solely theirs; for example, Ian Miller doesn’t think that he became a teacher due to his parents. Instead, he holds the viewpoint that his own hard work is what got him to where he is. The small size of the Miller family is representative of this independence, just as the expansive Portokalos family symbolizes their codependence with each other. At the beginning of the film, Toula knows that she has a job due to her family’s hard work before her, seeing as she works at the family restaurant.

Although she does not follow her parents’ wishes, it pains her to do so because she is not used to going against the opinions of her family. Collectivist culture is particularly strong amongst immigrants, because they can see exactly how their lives are built upon the efforts of their ancestors. As a Greek-American family, the Portokalos place great value on togetherness, and maintain a lot of aspects of Greek culture while continuing to contribute to American culture as well. When it comes to planning the wedding, every member of the extended Portokalos family makes their opinions on every matter known, because they value each other and want to help contribute to make their group better as a whole. The Miller family does help with the wedding preparations, but they are more content to let their son do what makes him happy, and they trust him to follow his own path in life. Tan doesn’t feel dependent upon his family in the same way that Toula does, but on the same note he also doesn’t feel the same sense of togetherness and collectivist strength that the Portokalos’ possess.

At one point in the movie, Gus becomes very upset with lan for not asking him permission to date his daughter. Because of their different perspectives, Ian sees Toula and himself as individuals capable of making their own decisions, and didn’t see the need to request this of Gus. When he tries to explain this to the patriarch of the Portokalos family, Gus responds by saying that he is the head of the family, and that he must be included in family-related decisions. This collectivist attitude is one of the biggest reasons why the Portokalos are such a large, yet still close-knit family. Everyone views the world through their own individual lense, and it is this concept that ethnocentrism is built upon. As we go through our lives, we evaluate the actions, words, and appearances of others with a basis in our own cultural upbringing. In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the Portokalos family is perplexed by the Millers. The Portokalos’ are a very large group, and they invite all of their extended family members to attend the wedding.

By contrast, lan Miller is an only child, and the entirety of the family he really interacts with are his two parents. For all of the pre-wedding celebrations and gatherings, the Portokalos family arrives in droves; the Millers can all fit comfortably into one car. Toula’s parents pity the Millers because they think that they are lonely without a lot of family by their side. By contrast, Ian’s parents think that the Portokalos are a large, loud, obnoxious horde of Greek-Americans who don’t know the meaning of the word quiet. On a similar note, the Portokalos’ believe that quantity supercedes quality, and plan for the wedding accordingly. There is excess of everything; food, alcohol, and people, all of whom wish to spend the whole time talking to the three Millers. Even the Portokalos’ themselves are bigger, providing of a symbol for the boisterous presence they exude. A personal favorite instance of ethnocentrism occurs at the Portokalos household, where Aunt Voula is talking to Ian and Toula about how they should come over to her place for dinner. Toula mentions that there might be a problem, seeing as lan is a vegetarian. Aunt Voula is so shocked that she has to ask a second time to make sure that she is hearing them correctly.

Meat is such an important part of their culture that Aunt Voula has probably never knowingly encountered a vegetarian before, and loudly exclaims “YOU DON’T EAT MEAT?!”, at which point the entire room turns to look at them. After a moment of hesitation, she says “That’s okay, I make lamb!”, and everyone sighs with relief. The Portokalos’ are so entrenched in a culture that revolves around meat and food that the idea of someone not eating meat is unfeasable. In a specific scene from the movie, the Miller family comes for what they were told was going to be a “quiet” introductory dinner. As a polite gesture of goodwill, the Millers bring a bund cake for dessert after the dinner. What follows is an uncomfortable scene during which Maria, the matriarch of the Portokalos family, tries unsuccessfully to pronounce “bund”, a process which only serves to frustrate Mrs. Miller.. As a result of her ethnocentrism, Maria has never seen a bundt cake before, and has to have it explained to her. It is not her fault, nor is it the fault of the Millers’; this is just an example of their cultural differences being reconciled. It is also worth mentioning that Maria comes back with the bundt cake after dinner, claiming to have “fixed it” after putting a nice potted plant in the center of the dessert.

Because of their own ethnocentrism, the Millers, particularly Mrs. Miller, end up feeling mildly insulted by the affair as a whole, simply because their culture was not entirely recognized by the Portokalos family, and vice versa. Enculturation can occur intentionally or unintentionally, and is often a result of being immersed in another culture for an extended period of time. Normally, it manifests itself as a gradual acquisition of characteristics of a culture, but can also occur at a more rapid pace. A fitting example for fast-paced enculturation would be lan Miller’s choice to be baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church, even though he’s a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). It’s the first time in the movie that Ian is shown to truly begin accepting Toula’s family and their culture, and he chooses to become baptized as a means of conveying that message to her father. Thankfully he succeeds, and Gus agrees to allow the two of them to marry. By electing to integrate himself into the Greek-American culture of the Portokalos family, Ian successfully extends the olive branch between their two families, paving the way for them to get together and learn more about each other.

Yet as you can tell from my previous example with the bundt cake, which took place after lan’s baptism, enculturation does not completely negate the effects of ethnocentrism. For some unknown reason, Gus Portokalos has a strange obsession with the window cleaner Windex. He thinks that it has healing properties, an idea inspired by actress Nia Vardalos father in real life, who sprayed it on some warts, causing them to dry out and disappear. Thus, every time someone mentions having some sort of physical ailment, Gus is always quick to suggest spraying a bit of Windex on it, regardless of the affliction. Ian, as well as most of the reasonably-minded Portokalos family, sees this as being ridiculous. And yet, in one of the final scenes of the movie, we discover an intriguing example of enculturation. Newlyweds Toula and lan get into the car to begin their honeymoon, and Toula mentions that she woke up with a huge zit that morning. lan exclaims that he also had one, in the exact same spot on his forehead as Toula’s. When she asks why it isn’t there anymore, he simply responds that he “put some Windex on it. Regardless of the truth in this statement, the fact that he said it shows how far along he had come on the journey of integrating himself into the Portokalos’ culture.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a cultural shish kabob filled with examples of individualism/collectivism, ethnocentrism, and enculturation, and in fact contains one last gem from the wedding reception, where Gus makes a toast to the newlyweds: “You know, the root of the word Miller is a Greek word. Miller come from the Greek word “milo,” which is mean “apple,” so there you go. As many of you know, our name, Portokalos, is come from the Greek word “portokali,” which mean “orange.” So, okay? Here tonight, we have, ah, apple and orange. We all different, but in the end, we all fruit.” Despite all of their cultural differences, the Portokalos and the Millers are both families trying to make a place for themselves in the world that they share. It is through communication that they are brought together, and it is through this same communication that they all become a part of one another’s family.

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Intercultural Communication in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (2023, Apr 22). Retrieved from

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