Sarah, a newly appointed Regional Manager, visited her team members based in various offices worldwide. Her first visit was to Bangkok, Thailand. Her Thai colleagues greeted her with the warmest hospitality she had ever experienced. They took care of her transportation, hotel booking and even her meal preferences. After work, they'd spend long hours at dinner cheerfully chatting. Sarah wanted to know her team members better, so she asked a colleague about her family. The Thai colleague smiled and giggled a little and started talking about the best spa centre in Bangkok.
A week later, Sarah flew to London to visit other colleagues. There were smiles and polite conversations in the office. Unlike in Bangkok, she had to make transportation, hotel, and meal arrangements independently. No one invited her to dinner after work. Instead, at 5 pm sharp, everyone packed their bags and left. On Friday, the whole office goes to a nearby pub for happy hour. Everyone was drinking, talking and laughing. After a couple of beers, she started a conversation with one of her colleagues. Surprisingly, her colleague, Diana, began to open up too, sharing about her work and family. The following days, Diana invited Sarah over to her home for dinner. She showed her different places in London that were meaningful to her. Their friendship continued to grow even after Sarah returned to her country.
Sarah began to wonder, what could explain the difference?
You might have encountered similar instances where people were warm and friendly but hard to get close to. While others were hard to know initially, they became long-lasting friends afterwards. The coconut and the peach are one metaphor that describes this difference in relationship building and friendship.
- Where Do These Fruity Metaphors Come From?
- How Do Coconuts and Peaches Perceive Each Other?
- How Can Coconuts and Peaches Adapt To Each Other?
- Are These Fruity References Still Useful?
- The Verdict: To Use, Or Not To Use?
Where Do These Fruity Metaphors Come From?
The coconut and the peach concept is attributed to German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin. However, this concept was popularised by Trompenaars Hampden-Turner in their book Riding the Waves of Culture. Since then, the fruity metaphor grew in popularity and was used to describe culture by many.
Coconuts are a fascinating fruit, some with furry brown husks, while others are smooth greenish-yellow. The word "coco" originated from an old Portuguese word, meaning head or skull. When coco travelled to Britain, the word "nut" was appended to create "coconut". This husked fruit is so hard that it has known to have killed people from its fall. After a few knocks with a machete, you'll find a clear and sweet liquid called coconut water.
People from coconut cultures can seem unmoving and cold initially. Smiles are rare. Small talk is limited, and it is hard to tell what they are thinking or feeling. They keep their private lives to themselves. They seem to have everything together, calm and collected. Yet, their tough exterior protects their sweet inner core or that which is most precious to them.
It may take a while to get past the hard shell to connect with them. Once you've made the connection, and with persistence, they will slowly open up and welcome you into their sweet liquidy centre. You've established a genuine friendship, become their friend for life.
The sweet and succulent peach can vary in shades of orange and red. While peaches can be found in many desserts and drinks, it has a long history with humanity. Archaeologists discovered that peaches were cultivated in China from as far back as 7500 years ago.
The outer flesh is soft and juicy as you bite into a peach. People from peach cultures tend to be warm and friendly when you first meet them. They encourage informality and readily share personal information, such as addressing each other with first names. You can quickly tell what they are thinking or feeling, and it's hard to ignore. Their openness makes them eloquent conversationalists. To peaches, strangers are friends you haven't met yet, right?
As you savour the fruit, your teeth meet a hardcore. The hardcore protects that which is intimate and private to them. While they can be open and friendly, some parts are reserved and hidden from others. You can have the most inspiring conversation with a peach person, and you feel a deep sense of connection. In the end, they wave goodbye without leaving a phone number or email or any means to stay in touch. And you wonder, were you ever friends at all?
How Do Coconuts and Peaches Perceive Each Other?
When there are cultural differences, there is a potential for misunderstanding or conflict. Nevertheless, you can avoid trouble when you learn to recognise when misunderstandings can potentially arise.
However, beware that these depictions are not necessarily accurate. If someone is perceived as cold or superficial, it does not mean they are cold and superficial. Perceptions are a matter of interpretations. You can change perceptions and aim for better outcomes.
How do Coconuts Perceive Peaches?
If you relate to being a coconut, let's imagine what it is like to meet a peach for the first time.
If viewed negatively, here are some possible impressions of a peach by a coconut. Peaches are animated and full of expressions, which makes them seem attention-seeking. Their enthusiasm in discussions and readiness to share their opinions makes them look flighty and indecisive. Their over-sharing in small talks may seem superficial, and you question their genuine desire for friendship.
If viewed positively, peaches can have a good impression on coconuts. Peaches are warm conversationalists. After one meeting, it feels like we have been best friends for a long time. They are open and trusting as they readily share their personal stories and thoughts. That's odd; why haven't they shared their contact details?
How Do Peaches Perceive Coconuts?
If you relate to being a peach, you can start to imagine what it's like to meet a coconut.
If the peach views the coconut negatively, here are some possible first impressions. The coconut seems cold and uncaring. Their neutral expressions make it hard to tell what they think and feel. They don't seem to like small talk. How rude!
If the peach views the coconut positively, here are some possible perspectives. The coconut is calm and collected and seems grounded. They don't talk much, but it could be they have standards or are in deep thought. It seems they have everything together. Even though our conversation was not as animated, they wanted my contact details.
How Can Coconuts and Peaches Adapt To Each Other?
People are inherently adaptable. Humanity has survived millions of years of wars and natural disasters because of our ability to adapt. Yet, adjusting ourselves can be challenging, especially when we're used to thinking and doing things in a certain way. While there are many ways to adapt to become coconut-ier or peach-ier, here are a few suggestions.
How To Be Peach-ier? (For Coconut People)
Smile. If you're not used to smiling, it can feel awkward at first, though beneficial in the long run. A study by Able & Kruger (2010) demonstrated that smiling helps boost positive moods, is linked to stable marriages and possibly lead to a longer life. Start small by practising your smile in front of a mirror. Slowly move towards smiling with loved ones, trusted friends or colleagues. With daily practice, your smile will begin to feel natural.
Make small talk. Small talk requires some preparation. If done well, it will allow you and the other person to know each other better. For the preparation, have a few self-introductions at hand; it could be long or short, formal or informal, witty or deadpan. Preparing a few types of introductions gives you the options in varying situations.
Following the introduction, prepare a few starting questions as conversation starters. The most common conversation starter is the COVID19, as almost everyone has an opinion or experience. Avoid questions that may provoke negative emotions, such as politics or religion.
Be Open To Share. For starters, you don't have to share your entire life. Share what is most comfortable for you. And so, consider beforehand the type of information or stories you'd like to share. You can opt to share about your favourite hobbies, TV series, or cuisines. You can share something you've read online or seen on social media. If you choose, you can share a simple anecdote from your life, a funny or novel experience. Whatever you choose, sharing can help to boost your confidence, strengthen your connection and leave a lasting impression.
How To Be Coconut-ier? (For Peach People)
Stay calm. Take a few deep breaths. Loosen up. Proceed mindfully and at a slower pace. Your coconut friends will appreciate your more neutral expressions, for it gives them clarity and time to digest all that you share.
Be humble. Being humble does not mean you need to be less. Instead, being humble is recognising that you are also continuously learning, growing and becoming a better person. Also, being humble means appreciating all the things you have and what others have to give.
Don't take it personally. Everyone is made differently, and people are brought up in different backgrounds and gain different experiences. The way they navigate the world and express themselves will be different. And differences can lead to misunderstands. So remember, a coconut's neutral expressions does not mean dislike or disinterest. Whenever you feel slighted by their cool expression, remember it is not about you; it is just who they are.
What About Authenticity?
Often, adaptability is pitched against authenticity. If you change yourself, wouldn't it mean that you present an inauthentic you?
Yet, humans are multi-layered and infinitely complex. We are more than who we think we are. Also, adaptability and authenticity need not be mutually exclusive. We need both to connect and build relationships in our globalised and interconnected world.
Just as the chameleon changes its skin colour to blend into its surroundings, it will always remain a reptile. To balance authenticity and adaptability, you need to be clear in your values, beliefs, and intentions. Be courageous enough to learn different ways of delivering your authentic self.
If you decide to practice some coconut skills, it does not mean you will shed your peachy self. Likewise, if you adopt some peachy skills, you will not lose your coconuts. The ability to become either coconut or peach, and the wisdom to discern how and when to use these skills, can be very powerful. With these skills, you can connect and build relationships anywhere, any time and with almost anyone.
Are These Fruity References Still Useful?
Everything is Relative
Coconuts and peaches are not rigid categories with clearly defined criteria. All cultural categories are relative, and their characteristics can only be defined by comparing them to something else.
Among coconuts, you might be the peach-iest. Among peaches, you might be the coconut-iest. An Australian is a peach in China but a coconut in Brazil. A German is a coconut in Egypt but a peach in Japan.
Within cultures, you find variations of coconuts and peaches depending on the situation and the interaction with different groups. You might seem like a coconut among your Gen Y peers, but a peach to Boomers. Or you might be the most coconut person in your Marketing team, but when faced with the finance team, you're most certainly a peach.
The Problem With Generalisation
The metaphor of fruits is a fun and accessible way to describe large groups of people and how they interact with each other. While these descriptions are relatable, they are, after all, generalisations. You might wonder...
What's the problem with generalisations?
Generalisations are superficial characteristics applied broadly to a group of people. Insisting on generalisations can do more harm than good.
When anything is applied broadly, there is a tendency to overlook individual differences. The beauty of diversity gets buried under simplified explanations. Subtleties ignored. Nuances dismissed. The very things that make each person unique from one another get overshadowed, and so, people get misunderstood and excluded.
The Verdict: To Use, Or Not To Use?
Whether to use these fruity metaphors is entirely based on your situation. To make this decision, you can contemplate the questions below
- Will using this metaphor help me understand another's culture?
- Will using this metaphor harm others or myself? How so?
- In using this metaphor, what information might be missing?
- Are there other models, metaphors or concepts that can better explain the culture I'm trying to understand?
To summarise this article, below are some main points we have covered.
- Coconuts are cultures where people seem cold and distant initially but warm up after spending time with them.
- Peaches are cultures where people are warm and friendly but difficult to get close to.
- Coconuts may perceive peaches to be superficial.
- Peaches may perceive coconuts to be cold and uncaring.
- Learning and adapting to each other can help with relationship building.
- Adapting each others' behaviours does not mean you are less authentic.
- Culture is relative, and it depends on the context.
- The fruity metaphor is a generalisation. Use it wisely.