Weighty issues

Travel guides usually include a charming story about some foreigner going to Viet Nam, the locals look them over and promptly proclaiming them fat. The foreigner takes great offense until they are told that being fat is wonderful and a considered great compliment. ‘Just one of numerous, hilarious cultural misunderstandings you can expect in Viet Nam.’

This is bullshit.

Well I should say that this story is bullshit now. It was a compliment in the past; for many years, the average Viet person struggled to get enough nutrition. Only the wealthy and connected could afford to get plump and everyone else stayed thin. So yes, for a long time being a little husky was considered a good thing, but not now and certainly not in Sai Gon. People in Sai Gon, especially the youth, have been soaking in a heady mix of K-pop, Hollywood movies and Vogue magazine. Being lean is most assuredly ‘in.’ So unless you are somewhere particularly rural, poor or isolated being called fat isn’t the admiring comment it used to be.

Don’t get me wrong, foreigners will still probably be called ‘fat’ quite often. I was talking to a Vietnamese friend of mine about a mutual acquaintance and the conversation pretty much went down like this; “I know (that person), she is fat…oh yes, so fat.” The person in question is a little on the heavy side and my friend employed typical Vietnamese forthrightness and just told it how it was.

Now, this acquaintance doesn’t actually have the silhouette of a walrus with an underactive thyroid, far from it! But that is the tyranny of comparison. Vietnamese people are small in proportion; even the slimmest, western foreigner will usually look large  standing next to them. Hell, even the clothes manikins can’t zip up the Vietnamese-sized jeans they are modelling.

Maybe go up a size?

I should note that plump babies and children are still considered a very good thing in Sai Gon and everywhere else in Viet Nam. Parents want really chubby babies and there is much hand-wringing when a kiddy doesn’t have a good couple of rolls on their thighs.


2 thoughts on “Weighty issues

  1. I lived in Saigon briefly as a child. Moving from Pakistan to Cambodia. Stayed six months in Saigon. My little sister was maybe 4, 6 months old. And I remember my mother being somewhat shocked when meeting Vietnamese ladies to hear them say: “what an ugly baby”. “Pardon me?”. She was then told with a laugh that it was good manners to say so, to avoid envy from evil spirits. I also learned there the very usual concept of “macoui”. French spelling, don’t know how it’s spelled in vietnamese. 🙂
    Believe me: “macouis” are everywhere.
    Be good

    Liked by 2 people

  2. 1. There’s always a fight between my mom and my sister (living in USA) about my niece’s weight. My mom wants to let the little girl eat anything she likes as much as she can, even snacks and instant noodles. My sister loves to keep her daughter healthy, only letting her eat selectively and my niece is very skinny (but very very active and strong). I and my sister can’t find a way to get my mom understand the weighty issue.
    2. I’m 6 feet tall (182 or 183 cm) and I believe I have an ‘average’ body type. When I was in Australia, my friends say I was even a bit skinny and said that was fine. I felt good. But here in my hometown I’ve heard people calling me ‘fat’ so many many times that I’m tired of it. Sometimes I felt it was like an absurd insult.
    I’m not fat or big. It was ‘them’ too skinny and small.

    Liked by 1 person

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