Take This Quiz to Find Out What Kind of Fruit You Are
Have you ever noticed how you smile and say ‘hello’ to strangers on the street? Have you ever celebrated a family tradition that’s been passed down for generations? Or, have you ever felt like you have shallow relationships? Chances are, you may be suffering from ‘what-kind-of-fruit-am-I’ syndrome. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with ‘what-kind-of-fruit-am-I’ syndrome, you may be entitled to cultural compensation. Please don’t wait, read this blog now for a free informational and cultural discussion post. ‘What-kind-of-fruit-am-I’ patients read now!
Beyond the physical, gastronomical, and geographical stereotypes such as loud conversations, amazing wine, and small coastal towns, American and Italian cultures also differ on a much deeper level. Before coming to Rome, I spent the spring semester abroad in Amsterdam, Netherlands and really got to immerse myself into some European culture and become more accustomed to European lifestyle. One of the most prevalent and interesting experiences I had while in Rome was comparing my interactions between Dutch and Italian culture to my classmates and reactions and interactions between Americans and Italian culture. In comparison to Italians, Americans are very friendly and open, and we always seem to have a smile on our face, whether it is genuine or not. This is synonymous with the idea of a ‘peach culture’ in which people have a softer ‘outside’ and are thus easier to get to know on a surface level, but in the middle, people have a hard pit of actual opinions and thoughts that is much harder to break into. In contrast, members of ‘coconut cultures’ have harder outside shells and are harder to engage with initially, but once their shell is ‘cracked’, they are soft on the inside and much more likely and willing to have more personal conversations. Members of a peach culture would include Americans and members of a coconut culture would include Dutch or Italians. Though the Dutch and Italians are both part of coconut cultures, the Italians, in comparison to the Dutch, seem to be friendlier and more open and also much more willing and likely to engage in a conversation with a stranger. I am coming to realize that even within the peach and coconut metaphor, at least with coconuts, there are some coconuts that have softer shells than others or are at least more prone to being split open. On a scale of peach to coconut, with peach being easier to approach and converse with and coconut being harder to approach and converse with, Americans would be at the far at the peach end of the spectrum. Americans would be so far towards the peach end of the spectrum that they almost cannot fathom that the coconut end of the spectrum actually exists. Of course, in the US we experience people who appear much less approachable and unwelcoming, but even those people may be created from our own pre-formed judgements and stereotypes (i.e. somebody with tattoos is scarier to approach than someone who is cleaner cut). But on the other end of the spectrum we have the Italians and the Dutch. But even within the coconut end of the spectrum, the Dutch lie further to the coconut end of the spectrum than the Italians. I would not say that the Dutch are rude or disrespectful or anything of that sort but compared to the Italian they tend to be even more reserved and private. That being said, coming to Italy, I am finding that people are much more open, and I have a much greater chance to having an interaction with a stranger than in the Netherlands. In this same context though, my classmates coming directly from America are finding that people are less outwardly friendly.
I actually find it pretty amazing how quickly a person can adapt to a new culture and the behaviors of others. I only lived in the Netherlands for 4 months, but even still, I quickly became accustomed to not smiling at strangers and, in fact, actually being on the receiving end of some scary stare downs. However, something that initially seemed so foreign and odd to me, in just a few months, had already become my new normal. With this new, but temporary normal I felt like I was in some sort of state of in-betweenness. Sometimes I noticed myself wondering why people did not smile or say ‘hi’ when I passed by, but other times I noticed myself wondering why someone is looking at me as if they might try to start a conversation. For example, the one day while walking to school, an older man walking his dog smiled and said ‘Buongiorno.’ Honestly, I felt somewhat bamboozled. I do not know what I was expecting from this random stranger passing on the street, but I was not expecting him to greet me. The Dutch ‘part’ of me was wondering why he bothered saying ‘hello’ when I know we will not see each other again once I leave. But, now knowing that Europeans tend to be more reserved towards strangers, the American ‘part’ of me was pleasantly surprised that this stranger was kind enough to smile at me and say hello.
Although this interaction with the dog-walking man was surprising yet enjoyable, my greatest and fondest coconut cracking escapades have occurred at the pizza store and cafe closest to school. My favorite parts of my day were easily seeing pizza man during lunch time and muffin man after classes. I am quite thankful for these visits because I was able to invest my time in trying to build relationships with the locals, thus making my experience here more intimate and personal. Cracking coconuts is honestly one of the most fulfilling things out there. When you first go into a store and the employees hardly even acknowledge your presence, it is a little disheartening. You already kind of feel like you did something wrong to get on their bad side or to have them not pay attention to you. However, once you start visiting a store everyday it is heartwarming to see the employees recognize you, smile, and greet you with a ‘Ciao!’ or ‘Buongiorno!’ It is amazing to see how interactions that I normally would not think twice about in my daily life back at home in Colorado have so much more impact and meaning here in Rome.
Pizza man and muffin man make my heart so happy. I genuinely looked forward to lunch and my after class muffin, not just because I get to eat food, but because I get to see some new friendly faces. Even in such a short amount of time, and with the language barrier, it is awesome to see how conversations evolved from being simple ‘hellos’ and smiles to asking how one another is doing and even making sarcastic jokes. At one point I even learned pizza man’s name, which is honestly one of the most groundbreaking things to happen since sliced bread. For the longest while, my friend and I had been trying to think of something else to say other than ‘ciao’ or ‘come sta?’ (how are you?). We had discussed asking the pizza man what his name was, but I kept pointing out that we did not know how to ask the question in a formal manner and I was just curious as to whether you can ask your cracked coconut what his name is after only 3 weeks. It kind of feels like saying ‘I love you’ to the person you are dating. Is it too soon? Should I have said this months ago? It is quite a complex process here. I am not sure if you can uncrack a coconut either, but I really did not feel like finding out. Anyway, in the end I just pointed to the plastic that they put the pizza in, and which has the store’s name on it (Pizzeria di Simone) and kind of pointed at him while I asked, ‘Simone?’ He smiled really big and pointed at himself and said something a few times in Italian before I finally realized he was saying, ‘Sono Mario’ and then told us how he works there with his two sons. Again, such a simple interaction that I would not have thought anything about in the States seemed so groundbreaking and exciting here. I know that asking pizza man his name certainly made him happy and made me happy. I even got to the point where the muffin man started calling me Mrs. Muffin and made a joke, saying ‘Quattro? Undici?’, about how many muffins I would order during this visit. It is so refreshing to have these daily, personal experiences and it is something that really makes me feel integrated into the Roman community. What is great is that the interactions do not have to be super deep and personal to still have meaning, which is something I feel is very common in the United States. To me, it seems that interactions with people tend to be all or nothing in the sense that they are all surface level conversations or all deep conversations about childhood traumas. It seems that there are not usually conversations or interactions at the in between level where you can tell each person is not just having a hollow conversation out of a societal obligation, but each person is not trying to learn each other’s darkest secrets either.
In the States, it feels as if a large portion of the population treats other people as a commodity, an easily transferable good. The population that is scared to spend their time forging a relationship is much larger than the population that is willing to invest time in creating a more sincere relationship. In short, there are far more people who are willing to sacrifice quality for quantity. Why have 4 friends who you have known your entire life when you can have 20 friends who you have met in a fraction of the time? For many Americans, it is much easier to spend less time developing a deep relationship and is much more rewarding to be able to ‘show off’ the number of people one knows/has in his life. But in Italy, things are opposite it seems. People are much more attuned to and aware of the fulfilling nature of a hard-earned friendship/relationship. To me, Italian and American food culture is a direct metaphor and consequence of our core beliefs and thus shapes our behaviors. For example, in America we have our fast food restaurants which were created for convenience, to speed things up even more. And even in our sit-down restaurants, the waiters try to get people in and out of the restaurant as fast as possible because the faster people are seated and eat, the quicker they can leave, and a new customer can come and spend their money. But in Italy, fast food hardly exists and when you go to a sit-down restaurant, you actually sit and enjoy each other’s company. Even from food culture, it can be seen how Americans value time and money the most while Italians value stronger relationships and actually getting to spend time with the people with whom we have those strong relationships. Thus, even though pizza man, muffin man, and I did not speak the same language, we could communicate through our smiles and laughs and that was enough to show our interactions with each other are genuine. Simply stated, I was not just returning for the pizza, but for the friendship/relationship. It was incredible to see how my two relationships with these men grew into something so friendly and intimate in such a short amount of time and that is the most beautiful thing about cracking coconuts. Time does not define the relationship; the human connection and emotion is what defines it.
About the Author
Caroline McPhillips is a Biomedical Sciences major going into her junior year at CSU. She hopes to become a trauma surgeon or a military medic in the future. When she is not drowning in chemistry homework, she enjoys traveling, photography, reading, listening to music, and being outdoors like a true Coloradan.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. “The Danger of a Single Story.” TED, July 2009, http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story
“Cultural Patterns and Communication: Taxonomies.” Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication Across Cultures, by Myron W. Lustig and Jolene Koester, Pearson Education, Inc., 2013, pp. 110–138.