Study Guide

Everything Is Illuminated Tradition and Customs

By Jonathan Safran Foer

Tradition and Customs

Traveling to a different country also brings about some form of culture shock, whether it be from misunderstood hand gestures or a dog who won't stop humping you in the backseat of your translator's car. All right, a randy dog is more of an Alex thing than a Ukrainian thing, but that doesn't mean that Jonathan Safran Foer (the character) doesn't encounter more cultural differences during his time in the Ukraine, like a lack of vegetarianism, people being really proud about their coffee, and the fact that no one there seems to have seen a Jew before. Culture shock runs both ways.

Questions About Tradition and Customs

  1. What surprises Jonathan most about the Ukraine? Or does anything seem to surprise him?
  2. What cultural differences does Alex have trouble understanding about Jonathan? Do they eventually bridge the cultural divide?
  3. How the shtetl's culture in Jonathan's half of the story similar to modern-day Ukrainian culture? How is it different?

Chew on This

Alex bridges the gap with Jonathan by focusing on the fact that he is American, not that he is Jewish, because Alex is fascinated with American culture but knows nothing about Jewish culture.

Part of the reason Alex writes the story about Trachimbrod is to record and share their traditions and customs, when otherwise they would have been lost to time and war.