You Look so Nice and Fat Today
Fat is in, baby. Here in Vietnam it’s the fatter, the better. At least that’s what I hope is going on. You see, size is an issue for me here. The scale of my life is quite simply bigger than the average Vietnamese. I need a bigger chair; a bigger dress; bigger shoes. It’s a bit like Alice in Wonderland, although the rabbits are less concerned with time. And size is a repeat topic of conversation between me and my Vietnamese friends.
In Vietnam you call it as you see it, and polite conversation has different rules. Standard greeting questions are, What is your name? Are you married? How old are you? Instead of beating around the bush like we do back home, they cut straight through the nonsense. No harm meant. Chit-chat also takes unusual turns. You look so tired! You look so much better last time! You should get married soon or you will be too old to have children. It takes some getting used to, but at least you know it’s genuine, and it makes the positive remarks all the more meaningful. On days when I’m told I look good, I strut my stuff knowing it must be true. On days when I’m told I look bad…well, it keeps me humble.
Compliments are just as surprising, particularly when it comes to size. What is taboo to say in public back home is sincerely well meant here. My Vietnamese friends smile sweetly as they tell me, Oh! You are so big! You are so wide! And the ever-popular, You look so nice and fat today!
Over an appropriately large and fatty Thanksgiving dinner, my expat friends and I exchanged some of our most special Vietnamese compliments. Apparently all of us girls are frequently asked if we are pregnant. One has a neighbor who speaks no English but likes to grab her love handle and nod approvingly. Another was recently told by a kind friend, You are even fatter than last time! It’s good for the soul, I reckon.
Fat aside, there’s something weirdly refreshing about a brutally honest society. There’s less room for snide remarks, fishing for compliments and, my personal favorite, passive aggression. Although manners are strictly engrained into Vietnamese life – it’s even impolite to frown in public – your observations are free to be told. Those burning questions about the new girl are answered in a few short questions and are forever out of the way. You know where you stand at all times.
So I’ll take my fat compliments in big, fat stride. After all, big is in.