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Edexcel English IGCSE: A Game of Polo with a Headless Goat by Emma Levine

Q4. How does Emma Levine portray the cultural differences between Pakistan and England in this extract?

Edexcel English IGCSE Model Essay by an Expert

Emma Levine is originally from England, and in this passage, she is travelling through Pakistan. There are many differences between these two countries, some of which are highlighted in the event described in this passage.

In the build-up for the race, a number of unexpected things occur which seem to go unquestioned by people native to the Pakistani culture. The guides, for example, suggest that Levine climb into the boot of their car to get the best picture; this is certainly unusual and at worst, dangerous. Humour is employed as the image of Levine uncomfortably “perched” in this strange position is combined with the length of time that they have to wait. To Levine, the hour-long wait for the race to arrive feels like “eternity”; the fact that Levine is from a Western culture probably exacerbates this and justifies such hyperbolic language, since she is probably more used to attending carefully planned events with a strict schedule. This cultural difference is highlighted by her difference with local people: whilst she begins to “lose faith” that the race will happen at all, the guides “remained confident”. These two expectations are contrasted within one sentence. Similarly, passers-by call out “Coming, coming” when asked about the event: this vague reply is clearly frustrating for Levine, but perhaps reveals the patience of Pakistani culture, in contrast to Levine’s expectations for things to be on time and exactly as planned.

Levine highlights cultural differences by making references to scenes which are more familiar to the reader. The first example of this is in the title. “A Game of Polo with a Headless Goat” juxtaposes something familiar and formal with something strange and grotesque. This combination of the familiar and unfamiliar is somewhat unsettling, and prepares the reader for a description of something unusual. When describing her experience as part of the donkey race’s entourage, Levine uses metaphors relating to Western culture, to help the reader to understand how strange and unfamiliar the experience was: “This was Formula One without rules” and “city-centre rush hour gone anarchic”. These are familiar scenes to the reader, which are considered fairly chaotic anyway; by describing this event as even more chaotic, Levine shows how different sports events are in Karachi. Despite these differences, Levine celebrates the diversity between the two cultures. When describing the jockeys using whips on the donkeys, she clarifies that they weren’t using them “cruelly”. This shows the awareness of a Western reader’s potential reaction, but also ensures that her portrayal of cultural differences is not a condemnation of diversity.

This passage is exciting because it describes a scene which is unfamiliar to the reader, and teaches them about the way that sporting events are run in a culture very different to their own. 

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