Have you heard about the metaphor of peaches and coconuts?
The Finnish basic type is the coconut, while the American type is the peach. This classification is undeniably rigid but fascinating. This article is based on subjective observations of real life (written by a coconut called Miia).
Cultural differences affect interpersonal communication, but fundamentally, it’s about the individual. Peaches and coconuts usually live side by side, confusing each other at various social occasions at work, family get-togethers, housing associations or groups of friends.
If you’re a peach, people like getting to know you. You’re open and direct, warmly welcoming a new neighbour, holding their hand. At a new workplace, you immediately approach others and share essential information about yourself. You also expect others to do the same. But if your new neighbour or work acquaintance wants to become a closer friend, you put the brakes on. After all, there’s a limit to your friendliness.
If you’re a coconut, you are seen as reserved, closed-up, or even hard. You greet your new neighbour with a barely noticeable wibble of your lower lip. At a new workplace, you share only what’s absolutely necessary, preferring to observe others or taking care of your work without opening up otherwise. But when one day a long-term colleague turns to you and confides in you, you respond to his trust by fully opening up your big heart.
Do you recognize yourself? Or perhaps you’re somewhere between a peach and a coconut?
Two real-life examples:
Story 1: A coconut in a land of peaches
A Finnish man, Erkki, moved to the US on his own, to work in a small Midwestern town. Erkki attended a work-related gathering one evening. There, a colleague invited Erkki over for dinner, as his wife happens to cook amazing roast and Erkki must surely be in need of friends in this new neighbourhood. Courtesies were exchanged, and the men patted each other on the shoulder. Erkki admitted that he likes roast and that he’s feeling a bit lonely in a foreign country. So, the next day, Erkki called his new American friend and asked when he could come over for a meal. The friend was confused, “I… uh.. I’m actually quite busy for the next six months.”
Slowly, Erkki understood that the open invitations of his new acquaintances were only superficial. Hearty conversations were held at work parties, but he wasn’t really welcome in any homes. Pretty soon, Erkki glumly returned to Finland, his phone full of new contacts, hilarious social media updates and Facebook friends, without having made any real new friends.
Story 2: A peach bruised by coconuts
An Englishman, Brad, moved to Central Finland after getting married to a local. His wife’s family and friends responded to Brad’s sincere familiarity with silence. Conversations became stuck from the start: nobody asked any follow-up questions, nobody seemed to be interested in Brad, and Brad’s best jokes were met with a dull stare.
After a few months of endless loneliness, Brad became very frustrated. At his mother-in-law’s birthday party, Brad had a bit too much of the home brew and spent the rest of the night crying on her shoulder, “I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE, EVERYBODY HATES ME!” His mother-in-law was surprised, “Why on earth would you say that? We like you a lot!”
After that, Brad noticed that he started to enjoy being in Finland. Soon, he responded to questions without any thinking noise, with a delay of at least 15 seconds, thoughtfully and with consideration, without unnecessary small talk. Gradually, Brad became adapted to Finland even up to the extent that one time when a friend met him at a summer party, the friend said, “This Brad guy seems like a pretty gloomy bloke.” Needless to say, Brad took it as a compliment.
It’s definitely easier for a peach to mingle and network with other people. It’s difficult to chat to a coconut, but as the acquaintance progresses, its depth has no limits or obstacles.
Do you recognise the types?
Take a peach/coconut test:
Your friend got sick and you have to attend a big summer party all on your own. What happens?
A. Fantastic! Within an hour, you’ll be standing in the middle of a big circle, sharing information about the best available drinks and the bass player of the background band. You have 36 new Facebook friends and at least 10 LinkedIn connections in sight. Wow, what an opportunity!
[Right. Truly, what an absolute peach. Even 30 years ago, our Finnish schools were handing out special smiley-boy-statues for people like this.]
B. A nightmare! Parties like this are full of fake smiles and nosy people. You pick a quiet corner and stay there with a donut in one hand, pondering how long you can stare at the floor before medical professionals will come to check whether you know what day it is, or who’s the latest President of Finland you can name.
[HELLO THERE, COCONUT: This is no joke. If you answer the question with KEKKONEN, you will find yourself in a small padded room, and nobody will laugh, not even tomorrow.]
C. You’re a bit shy, but hey, instead of pointless chit-chat, you could check out if there’s any spectacular scenery, museum artefacts or historical literature in the attic of the venue. And isn’t that the very same violin case which was used to smuggle mutton to a great Finnish composer during the famine of 1917? You simply must have a closer look!
[hmm, enough of exotic fruits! You’re clearly not a PEACH, but you’re not a COCONUT either. Perhaps you’d like to work at Deep Helsinki. The team behind this website likes funny stories and research.]
Read more of peaches and coconuts:
Journalist & Storyteller