“Mập quá!” (How fat you are!)

Go to Việt Nam, they said, you’ll be so thin and tanned.

A complete myth attached to living in a hot country is that you become instantly lithe and healthy; at least it’s a mythical concept for my body.

The longer I live in Việt Nam the fatter I get, and no one seems to be afraid to tell you your T-shirt is getting tighter either.

Coming from a country which vilifies the obsessively thin in one breath, while damning the overweight in the next, getting your weight right can be tricky.

Moving to Việt Nam, a country where your weight is suddenly open for discussion, can make things even more “interesting”.

One of the first pieces I ever wrote for Tuổi Trẻ News was about my love of Vietnamese snacks, how they were shared so freely in the office where I worked; maybe if I’d shared more of it myself I wouldn’t be in this situation.

The problem is, it’s not just Vietnamese food that is so accessible, there are tons of western restaurants at the touch of a button, all ready to deliver and, compared to prices at home, it would be foolish not to order twice as much, wouldn’t it?

Before Việt Nam, I never considered myself to be as overweight as I feel here, but after a few embarrassing shopping trips in the city and an eight year old student of mine poking my stomach saying, “My mommy says fat people are lazy”, I started to get the urge to exercise.

Body image in this country is such that even the slightest gain in weight can result in questions asking after your health.

A lot of the time it can just be a source of hilarity; I once worked with a girl who liked to pretend I was pregnant, cupping my stomach, waiting for the “baby” to kick.

It’s harmless and you get used to it pretty quickly.

“You look old today”

“What’s wrong with your hair?”

“Oh, you look fat”

are, believe it or not, the words of a concerned friend in Việt Nam, even if they are the words of someone about to get punched in the UK.

It wasn’t long before I figured out that commenting on physical appearance, even negatively, is all part of being friends here, even if it takes a while to get used to it.

A Vietnamese girl in my office makes constant fat jokes about a colleague who sits next to her and he, after being here a good long while too, gives back as good as he gets, and why the hell not!?

Of course there is a point where it stops being friendly concern and becomes a joke at your expense, but the intent isn’t always nasty, not by a long shot, and if it is, it’s not the first time human beings have been rubbish to each other.

Not taking yourself too seriously is certainly a very Vietnamese tradition, and though it’s difficult for me to remember that sometimes, exchanging a few backhanded compliments could even be a great way, oddly, to make a new friend or two.

 By JAMES ALLEN

Source: Tuoi Tre Online

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