The peach and the coconut

The Peach and the CoconutTravel broadens the mind, they say, so here I am in Vancouver. What kind of culture shocks should I expect? What culture clashes will open my mind and make me grow … again?

I was of course stunned by the wild landscape surrounding glass buildings, scattered in the downtown area right down to the water.

But being a Frenchie, I also stared, wide eyed at the pickup trucks zipping by on the large, crowded streets of the city. I was equally impressed by the enormous variety of fast food available and by the many sizes of coffee cups. I was discovering North American wealth.

Surprises only last for so long, so I quickly started to pay more attention to the strange way Canadians welcome people in their beautiful country. Here, waitresses wear short garments and offer you their best smile. Shopkeepers ask you how you’re doing as soon as you walk into their shop and the banker calls you by your first name.

Canadians are struck by the fact that the French do not meet the terms of their politeness. French people, on the other hand, are unsettled by so much friendliness and often see only the superficiality of this open and social way of being.

When French people don’t know each other they indeed keep a distance and are undemonstrative. For example, when I first went shopping, I rehearsed, in my head, how to ask the saleswoman for my size in some shoes that took my fancy, but lost my nerve when she came up to me saying: “Hi there! How you doing?” I gave her a nervous smile and left without a second glance. I felt disturbed by so much forwardness and my manners were put to the test.

Since I had come to Vancouver to discover new horizons and meet new people in the first place, I was never disappointed by the warm welcome of people. People here are easier to approach. It made me feel quickly at home and I found it easy to talk to the people I met.

Canadians are quick to engage in a conversation to help you find the public library, the closest Starbucks or simply to chat about the weather or last night’s hockey game.

However, establishing a “long-term relationship” doesn’t seem to come easily for them. Even as you feel that there had been an initial connection. Your new “friend,” when next bumped into, seems to have forgotten all about you.

In France, it’s more of an all or nothing kind of rule. The French mistrust people they don’t know and consider them as potential threats. But when they meet a person they finally decide to smile at and to whom they can relate, they need to build a stronger tie. And here comes the metaphor of the peach and the coconut.

My uncle, who immigrated to Canada, told me this story, and it illustrates the cultural differences between Canada and France.

He says that Canadians are like a tender, juicy peach, with a stone that is very difficult to open. Whereas the French are like the hard shelled coconut, offering more warmth once cracked open.

Now that I am familiar with this particular cultural difference and have braced myself, I feel fully adapted to this environment. I have opened myself to new ways of acting and feel that I’m growing as a person.

And honestly, between people in a bad mood all day long and people who ask you how you’re doing even if they don’t know you, the choice is obvious.


Translation Nathalie Tarkowska