14 June 2014

Harvard Business Review: “One Reason Cross-Cultural Small Talk Is So Tricky”

A good way to prepare is to ask yourself whether the new culture is a “peach” or a “coconut”. This is a distinction drawn by culture experts Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner. In peach cultures like the USA or Brazil people tend to be friendly (“soft”) with new acquaintances. They smile frequently at strangers, move quickly to first-name usage, share information about themselves, and ask personal questions of those they hardly know. But after a little friendly interaction with a peach, you may suddenly get to the hard shell of the pit where the peach protects his real self and the relationship suddenly stops.

Cultural peaches and coconuts

In coconut cultures such Russia and Germany, people are initially more closed off from those they don’t have friendships with. They rarely smile at strangers, ask casual acquaintances personal questions, or offer personal information to those they don’t know intimately. But over time, as coconuts get to know you, they become gradually warmer and friendlier. And while relationships are built up slowly, they also tend to last longer.

Erin Meyer

Interesting way of looking at cultural differences. I’ve spent some time in Paris recently and France definitely feels like a ‘coconut’ culture. The more I think about it, the more I can find examples of myself acting either as a ‘peach’ or a ‘coconut’, although I’m not sure which one is predominant.

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