“You fat,” Teacher Lanpoon told me after I took a second helping of coconut candy, a specialty treat from one of the girls who recently visited Chiang Khan.
“I’m what?” I asked, thinking that maybe she used the wrong word, but knowing she didn’t.
“Fat. Like heavy,” she offered. “F.A.T.”
It’s something I both admire and loathe about Thai culture. They are blunt, and blatant honesty is something to celebrate. On the other hand, though, they don’t understand that other cultures would never be this forthcoming when it comes to something like body shape.
I try to be accepting of the cultural difference, and most of the time it rolls right off my back. But there are times when I walk into a store (or market stall, usually) and the owner exclaims, “big size! Have big size!” with all the excitement that a car salesman would have if you walked in with a long list of requirements for a Porsche 911 and he just happened to have your dream car sitting on the showroom floor.
But I wasn’t looking for big sizes. I was just looking for my size, and now I’m no longer looking. As soon as I hear that remark, I walk right back out. I can’t help it. I know he/she is just being nice, but I no longer want to spend my money on a “big size.”
I’m not fat by American standards, and to be quite honest, many of the Thais are my same size or bigger, but it’s as if my foreignness simply makes me fat.
It also makes me white.
Standing at our morning flag ceremony, Teacher Mai came over to practice her English with me. She held her arm out to mine, placing them side by side. She pointed to hers and said “black,” then pointed to mine and said “white.” When I looked at the two, I saw exactly the same color.
I’m not ashamed of being white, and it’s something the Thais admire very much (which is quite apparent with the overwhelming availability of whitening supplies – body lotions, sunscreens, face cream, shampoo, makeup…), but I can’t understand how, when looking at two things literally touching, one can see a difference that isn’t there.
I certainly don’t need to be informed that I’m white, nor do I need to be told that candy will make me fat. Both of these I already know. I can’t change my skin color apart from tanning, and I’m probably not going to stop eating candy.
“Where you from?” asked the woman behind the counter. Upon hearing my response, she replied with shock, “But you no big! Everybody I see from America is big,” and she held her hands away from her body to demonstrate just how much bigger Americans are.
“I’m big for Thailand,” I said with a laugh.
“Oh no,” she replied. “I think you same-same. Yes, same-same as Thailand.”
Well, it’s about time someone saw things clearly!
“Thank you! I’ll take two bags of candy.”