By: Patrick Horstmeier
When psychologists mix cultural differences and fruits
When you tell your family and friends that you will leave the old continent to visit the United States for a year, you are covered with more or less fruitful advice. Some seem coherent, others demonstrate more goodwill than real help. Still others surprise us in their originality...
A friend who had undertaken the opposite journey: from the West Atlantic to the East Atlantic, shared with me a metaphor that a trainer had suggested to her during a preparatory class for her departure. This metaphor compared Americans to mangoes, and Europeans to coconuts. Surprised?
No European visiting the United States can remain indifferent to the friendliness of the Americans. From the very first exchanges everyone is enthusiastic, everyone is adorable. Those who are not used to it will feel like they are best friends with the person they just met after only a few minutes.
This is where mangoes come into play: meeting someone in the United States is like eating a mango. Let me explain. Eat a mango and you will have immediate access to the best side of the fruit. However, you will quickly come across a very hard core. Few people continue to explore this fruit further than this core. Conversely, enjoy a coconut and you will come across an undesirable, dry and hard exterior. Drilling this first layer will not be easy, but once you have passed it, then the whole fruit will offer itself to you.
While as a European I have been used all my life to confronting people who were very hard at first, but whose confidence is quickly earned, the challenge has been reversed here. In comparison, people are much more accessible, but it is perfectly possible to stay in a cordial relationship under a friendly appearance for a long time. During my first few weeks, that surprised me: You may feel like you're dealing with dishonest relationships. However, the more time goes by, the more I think it may be the right way to proceed: Let's be nice to everyone, but let's only trust those who really deserve it.
Be warned American reader! If you were to travel to Europe, don't be surprised to suddenly be confronted with coconuts rather than mangoes...
That's how my first semester in the United States is slowly coming to an end. I will have already spent half of my time on the other side of the Atlantic. The previous story is no exception: I get used to - and enjoy - American culture. It's true: in my country of origin I could probably be accused of cultural violation for eating bacon and eggs for breakfast!
The icing on the cake of the American cultural experience? Thanksgiving. One more celebration I've never experienced combined with a long weekend? What more could you ask for...
I wish you all a great Thanksgiving break!