More about peaches & coconuts, in the kitchen and in class


“Help yourself with anything in the fridge, I’ll be back in a minute”, said my host as he was strolling away passed his kitchen door. This was in America where in traditional rural areas the kitchen is part of the public space of the house, visitors come and go through that rear door, and so is the fridge as equipment there. And they mean it: do take that beer yourself out of the fridge! as good peaches with a large public space usually do.

In my previous column (April 2) I described the difference between the ways we relate to each other depending on how much public and private space we consider in our comfort zones. Closing or not closing the curtains at night is an indicator of the perception we have of what is public and private space, showing some differences, for ex. in the Netherlands.

The kitchen in the house is another one: a place to socialize, or not? In modern housing it has become more and more an open space where people gather for various social activities, not only cooking. The Dutch call it ‘open keuken’ and the French quite pointedly ‘cuisine à l’américaine’, as it has flown over from the States. In most of Europe and beyond, kitchens traditionally have a door because it is a private space where the real thing happens, just as personal as the bedroom.

Hence the kitchen seen as a coconut, a cocoon. In Holland, this ‘open keuken’ has gained much ground recently because the people are relatively good peaches, as shown with the curtain story. Restaurants seem to follow this trend: It is nowadays common to see the cooks prepare the meals in a relatively open kitchen. But the real chefs still shape up their gastronomic master pieces in a closed space. For the history of the kitchen, see this.

Speaking of peaches, let me reflect on the article Angela Daley published in the latest paper edition of Cursor (Nr 25 of 2 April) in which she describes what US American culture is about. Both Angela and her interviewee, my colleague Audrey, mention the prejudice about the so-called superficiality in relating of the US Americans at large. As shown in their example (a caring attitude from the teacher towards a student outside class), it is all about what peaches do in life, i.e. demonstrating a large public space in which being open, friendly, sharing (very) personal things on social media or in reality shows, and maybe sometimes appearing as superficial, but also cheerful, easy-going and helpful, is part of daily life.

Coconuts on the contrary may tend to divide these attitudes between their own public and private domains. Whichever the case, remember that in intercultural encounters you are sometimes the peach and sometimes the coconut, depending on to whom you are relating. Vive la différence!     

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