Are You a Coconut or a Peach?: Austrian vs. American Friendship

“I remember your very first village festival here”, an Austrian friend said to me at the same annual festival in Upper Austria this past weekend. “That must have been really hard for you.”

“What do you mean?” I replied, surprised, not used to this level of empathy from my Austrian husband’s more devil-may-care friends.

“Because you were brand-new. And Austrians don’t really talk to people they don’t know.”

Well, you can say that again. My first few months in Austria were very hard for me. Not because of homesickness or the German language (although it did take me a long time to figure out what the heck people meant when they shouted Pfia di at me from afar*), but for another reason altogether: Austrians are coconuts. And I come from a land of peaches.**

Me at the Village Festival in 2019

Confused? Stay with me here. Imagine a coconut. A hard, brown shell on the outside, very difficult to break through (I speak from experience – I recently saw a waiter try and try to get the milk out of  a particularly stubborn coconut in Costa Rica – it didn’t look easy). But once you finally do make it through that hard Austrian exterior – after years of shared experiences, long conversations about non-personal topics, etc.   – you’re rewarded with a sweet milky center – or a true friend for the rest of your life.

And then there’s the American peach. While the skin of a peach is easy to pierce – meaning Americans are friendly to anybody and everybody – you still have to crack that hard inner pit to become our true friend. Just because we’re nice to you doesn’t mean we’re friends for life – which is hard for the Austrians to understand.

Let’s Talk About The Outer Barriers

In Austria, it’s very hard to get past the protective barrier – or the coconut shell – of a person. The Austrians are more closed off, more reserved, and not very interested in chatting up strangers on the street. Or a new person to a group, for that matter. When I was first meeting all of my husband’s friends back in 2011, my first impression was that they had absolutely no interest in me. Almost no one*** asked me where I was from, how I was liking Austria, how many siblings I had, etc.

Now, to be clear, not one person was ever mean or rude to me – as the girlfriend of one of their own, I was accepted into the group – but if I didn’t join in on the conversation myself, contributing my own two cents to whatever topic was being discussed (soccer, soccer, Obama, soccer), I wouldn’t say anything the entire night. That coconut shell is hard to break through.

Let’s cross the pond to the soft peaches of America. We, with our soft peach skin, let people in easily – at least at surface level. As weird as it was for me that no one asked me questions in Austria, it was the same level of weirdness for my Austrian husband his first year in America. He first met my family Easter weekend, when he came with me to my giant family party. And when I say giant, I mean giant. My mom has ten brothers and sisters (that’s why you need to ask people how many siblings they have, Austrians – it could be interesting!), and our Easter party consists of all ten of them, all of their spouses, all of their children, and their children’s significant others. 50 people, minimum. Now, that’s a lot of peaches for one Austrian coconut. Especially one who was just relearning English.

My family is known for being friendly – we are from the Midwest, after all – and they all wanted to make sure my new Austrian boyfriend felt welcome at our party. “How do you like America?” “How do you like St. Louis?” “What are you studying?” “Did you try the ham?” and of course “How many siblings do you have?” flew at him like arrows from all 50 members of the family, non-stop throughout the nine-hour family party. Needless to say, my coconut – who was not used to people he didn’t know asking him personal questions – was a little overwhelmed (but don’t worry family, he still liked you).

In Austria, people were trying to show me respect by not asking me questions – asking a person about their private life when you don’t know them simply is not done. You’re not through their outer shell yet, and they’re not through (what they perceive as) yours. Whereas in America, it’s the opposite – if you don’t ask a person questions and include them in the conversation, it’s seen as rude, or self-involved. Which is why I spent a lot of time whimpering teary-eyed to my Austrian husband that first year in Austria, wondering why no one was even trying to get to know me. I hadn’t learned about the peaches and the coconuts yet.

And The Inner Barriers

While the asking of so many questions may be overwhelming for Austrians, they do tend to – originally – think the Americans are kind and extremely friendly. An Austrian friend who had just made his first trip to America this year told me enthusiastically, “Everyone there was so nice! I was in a men’s bathroom – a bathroom! – and a guy next to me asked me how I was doing, heard my accent, and then asked me where I was from! He cared where I was from – a stranger in a bathroom!”

or, from others:

“We were lost in Boston, looking at a map, and three different people came up to us and asked us if we needed help. And we didn’t even know them!”

or, from yet others:

“We met some friends of a friends at a party, and they said, “Hey, you’ll have to come for dinner sometime!” even though we had just met them! So friendly!”

For Austrians, who are used to their fellow countrymen basically ignoring their personal lives or not issuing many invitations until they’ve breached the inner sanctum of the coconut, the openness and warmth of Americans is hard to believe – but they do like it. Humans are humans, after all, and most people enjoy when other people are nice to them.

But Then The Problems Start

Since Austrians wouldn’t be this warm and open with people until they’ve really become friends with them, they tend to think that, if an American says, “Hey, you’ll have to come for dinner sometime!”, they are now really friends with these Americans. They’ve breached the inner shell, and they are rather excited. A new friend for life – and in America, no less!

But when the American never calls with that dinner invitation, the Austrians are shocked – and extremely disappointed. They thought they had a new friend. And plans. That’s when they begin to think the Americans are superficial – friendly on the outside, but not really meaning it on the inside (you have no idea how often I have heard the phrase “Americans are rather superficial, aren’t they?” in Austria). And they begin to get disillusioned with all that friendly small talk that they find originally found so charming.

But It’s All About Expectations

So is one better than the other? Is it better to be a bit colder to strangers, but at least know that someone really means it if they ask you to hang out? Or is it better to be friendly to everyone, but take it with a grain of salt when people issue invitations?

For me, I think it’s all about expectations. I don’t agree with the Austrians that Americans are superficial. I see how it can seem that way, especially coming from a culture of coconuts. But for us peaches, we’re used to it. We know that when the cashier at the grocery store asks us how we are doing, she doesn’t really want to know – she’s just making conversation (and it’s actually proven that engaging in conversation with strangers, however meaningless it may be, does make you happier). We know that if someone says “Hey, we’ll have to get together sometime!”, it means something like it would be nice if we could get together, but it may not actually happen. We’ll see how things turn out later. It’s an inner code of language, and all of us Americans are in on the secret.

But for the Austrians, who haven’t grown up knowing this code, of course its disappointing when nothing ever comes of an invitation they were excited to receive. I totally get it. Just as I was sad when no one asked me questions upon my arrival in Austria, they are sad when Americans don’t follow through with what they suggested.

What Now?

That’s why understanding a culture is so important. If Americans in Austria know that the lack of personal questions is not because Austrians aren’t interested in them, but because they are trying to respect the person’s privacy, then maybe they wouldn’t feel as rejected as I originally felt. And if Austrians in America know that while Americans are friendly in nature, just because someone is nice to you doesn’t mean you have automatically surpassed all the levels of nurturing a new friendship, then maybe they wouldn’t think Americans are superficial – and they can take the American friendliness for what it is – kindness.

So, whether you are Austrian or American, remember that we all value human connection and friendship – the path to get there just looks a little different depending on where we grew up. Here’s to friendship and Freundschaft – for peaches and coconuts alike!

Footnotes

*Pfia di is an Austrian phrase meaning “Goodbye”. Definitely not the “auf Wiedersehen” I learned in school.

**This comparison was created by Kurt Lewin, a culture specialist.

*** Things were a little different with my husband’s immediate family. They did ask me questions and try to get to know me – as the shell with immediate family members seems to be less prevalent.

205 Comments

  1. I simply want to say I’m all new to blogging and site-building and really liked you’re web blog. More than likely I’m planning to bookmark your site . You absolutely have beneficial writings. Regards for sharing with us your web-site.

  2. I just want to tell you that I’m beginner to blogs and actually loved your web blog. Very likely I’m likely to bookmark your blog post . You certainly come with really good article content. Thanks a bunch for sharing your website page.

  3. Today, I went to the beach front with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to
    my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell
    to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her
    ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell
    someone!

    My site :: HeePGeoffrey

  4. An interesting conversation is worth remark. I believe that you ought to write much more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject yet typically people are insufficient to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

  5. Pingback: Google
  6. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz respond as I’m looking to construct my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. thanks|

  7. The next time I learn a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one. I mean, I do know it was my option to learn, but I actually thought youd have one thing fascinating to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you could possibly repair in the event you werent too busy on the lookout for attention.

  8. KAISERSLUST Plattform der Wiener Sex Scene Sex in Wien – Girls in Wien – Escorte Wien – Transen Wien – Hostessen Wien Escort Wien – Massagen Wien – Studios Wien – Laufhaus und Bordelle Wien Asiatinnen Wien – Sex in Wien – Kaiserslust – Der Kaiser hat Lust – Sex

  9. This is the appropriate blog for anybody that wants to learn about this subject. You recognize so much its almost tough to say with you (not that I actually would want?HaHa). You absolutely placed a brand-new spin on a topic thats been discussed for several years. Great things, simply terrific!

  10. There are some intriguing points in time in this short article however I don?t know if I see every one of them center to heart. There is some credibility yet I will certainly take hold opinion up until I check out it further. Excellent post, many thanks as well as we want a lot more! Included in FeedBurner as well

  11. Warning: Vernon Hills, IL and Libertyville, IL and surrounding 50 miles radius area is in active war zone ! Towns are held hostage by UK agents, Russian spies, Indian spies, Mexican spies, Chinese spies, and other Hispanic spies

  12. Natural Releaf CBD | New York CBD Store with locations in Murray Hill, NY | Upper East Side, NY | White Plains, NY Serving New York City, NY and Westchester, NY High Quality CBD Products With Lab Test

  13. An fascinating dialogue is worth comment. I feel that you should write more on this matter, it may not be a taboo topic however usually persons are not enough to talk on such topics. To the next. Cheers

  14. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove people from that service? Thanks!

  15. My spouse and I absolutely love your blog and find most of your post’s to be just what I’m looking for. Does one offer guest writers to write content in your case? I wouldn’t mind writing a post or elaborating on a lot of the subjects you write concerning here. Again, awesome web log!

  16. My programmer is trying to persuade me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the expenses. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using WordPress on several websites for about a year and am concerned about switching to another platform. I have heard good things about blogengine.net. Is there a way I can import all my wordpress content into it? Any help would be really appreciated!

  17. I have always disliked the idea because of the expenses. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve besn using WordPress on numerous websites for about a year and am anxious about swijtching to another platform. I have heqrd excellent things about blogengine.net.

  18. I?m pleased, I have to say. Really hardly ever do I run into a blog that?s both informative and enjoyable, as well as let me inform you, you have hit the nail on the head. Your suggestion is superior; the concern is something that not nearly enough people are talking smartly about. I am extremely pleased that I came across this in my search for something connecting to this.

  19. I in addition to my guys were found to be examining the best tips located on your web page then the sudden I had a terrible feeling I never expressed respect to the website owner for those secrets. Most of the boys came certainly happy to learn all of them and already have pretty much been taking pleasure in those things. Thanks for indeed being well considerate and then for picking out this form of important topics most people are really desperate to learn about. My sincere apologies for not expressing appreciation to you earlier.

  20. Online jewelry boutique specializing in custom gold and silver pieces. For the hippy hearted fashion lover. Known for its custom lotus flower hoop earrings and large collection of hoop earrings. Customers enjoy the classic and unique versatile everyday jewelry designs. Glamour hippy began is also known for its dainty gold jewelry pieces. Bohemian chic styles with modern fashion flare. Great prices and affordable. Everyday pieces to statement piece designs for special occasions. Glamour hippy is inspired by diverse world culture and it reflects into the ever changing designs. Its customer enjoys unique pieces and comfort in style. Glamour hippy wants to be a part of its customers wardrobe for many years and part of great memories where ever the customer takes their jewelry pieces. Glamour hippy is glamour and hippy all in one. Shiny pretty pieces, Unique, Glamorous, boho chic, one of a kind, dainty, but statement worthy.

  21. Aw, this was a really nice article. In suggestion I wish to place in writing like this furthermore? taking time and also actual effort to make a great short article? but what can I claim? I postpone alot and also never appear to obtain something done.

  22. Aw, i thought this was an incredibly good post. In idea I have to set up writing like that moreover – spending time and actual effort to generate a very good article… but exactly what can I say… I procrastinate alot and also no means often go completed.

Leave a Comment

Want the latest language laughs, travel adventures, and more sent straight to your inbox?

Don’t miss out. Sign up today.