Sometimes it’s funny to watch Western people look mortified when they are called fat by some Asian people, many of whom are notorious for being very direct when it comes to commenting on people’s weight.
When I came back to Siem Reap, I was walking to the market with a friend and she just turned around to me and said, “You look fatter.” I started laughing and asked, “How can you tell? From my stomach or my face.” And she said, “Your face.”
Just last week, I had the following conversation with my close Khmer friend:
Friend: “Do Westerners not like to be called fat?”
Friend: “Why?” I laughed.
Me: “When Cambodians say it, it doesn’t mean fat is a bad thing right?”
Friend: “No no no. For Khmer people, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. It can mean they look healthy or eating well. It’s the same as saying healthy.”
Me: “Oh ok. Because in our countries, when someone is called fat, it’s usually negative and associated with people being unhealthy or lazy.”
Being called fat by Cambodians is not meant to be an insult. Small talk conversation also includes asking about your age and if you’re married. It’s funny to me more than anything.
Even before I came to Cambodia, I never really understood why people take age so seriously. Aging is part of life and there is a natural beauty and wisdom that comes along with it. Plus, I know plenty of people in their 50s and 60s who are way more fit than me and people in their 20s that are dumber than some 14-year-olds I’ve met. Age is really just a number and I think there are more important things to worry about than our age.