Not Rude, Just Different

When I was a child, I was sitting in a casual restaurant with my parents who were minding their own business. But not me. At the next booth, there was an extremely large woman bordering on the obese. I had never seen someone that big and I kept staring and staring. I couldn’t figure out how she could fit in her seat or what she would have to eat to maintain that weight. Finally, she noticed and had had it with me after ten minutes of my eye-popping scrutiny. “Haven’t you ever seen a fat lady before?” she asked me. I turned beet red. I was mortified.

Looking hard at people’s differences and making comments about them is taboo in some places, especially in the west. You don’t make fun of the overweight and you certainly don’t make derogatory remarks within hearing distance. We try to pretend it’s normal, even when it isn’t. This isn’t the case in Thailand, for example. It’s a country I adore and I often do cultural comparisons with it to illustrate how unique it is. It is not backward or third world in the traditional sense. It can be quaint and it can be modern all at the same time. It is a wonderful place I recommend for exploration and discovery.

In this beloved country, someone could remark on your large status. It might be flattery or just an observation. It is not something to get pissy about in any case. People in Thailand are more open in a different way at times, so it is not considered rude to comment on weight. It is a way of noticing and describing a person and it can be neutral. It might be said in surprise, but is not meant to be negative or to cause harm. It is fascinating how the same activity or statement can be interpreted in vastly different ways across cultures. Thus, when traveling, it pays to know something of the place before you depart, and especially before you speak and respond to comments.

People in Thailand are very congenial and they exhibit their warm welcome to strangers and tourists alike. I don’t hear many complaints. People in the beach resorts gad about in very little clothing so one’s body image can be at stake. If you are self-conscious about your physique, you might stick to shorts. As a matter of fat, if you are that self-conscious you might want to hit the resort gym for a quick fitness and exercise program while you are on vacation. It might do you some good and who knows? You might like it that much that you decide to invest in a home gym machine when you get back!

But back to the topic at hand of cultural diversity. When in Rome as they say… you know the expression. If people comment on your appearance, then go with the flow. As a foreigner, you don’t have to imitate this practice, but you also don’t have to be surprised when it happens. Think of it as a cultural oddity if you will or just something to ignore.