Adapting to a new culture takes time and effort, sometimes a little studying, a few language lessons, immersing yourself in the local flavour (that’s easy… I love Thai food) and, above all, accepting and celebrating our differences. I was content to do that until the other day when an unexpected exchange left me hurt and wounded.
Just to set it up…
In the Western culture, thin is in (so advertisers would have us believe) and so many women are constantly battling their weight. I’m very fortunate that, other than the odd kilo here and there, I’ve never had to worry too much about that. Admittedly, I fall into the pattern that many expats do of gaining a ‘few’ every time a new move occurs or with each ‘home leave’, which I have just returned from with more than a little extra ‘fluff’ around the middle.I’m what you might call a ‘healthy weight’ but I’ve never considered myself ‘big’… but I recently learned that that is only true by Western standards. Here in Asia, I’m HUGE.
Here’s what happened…
We had made the semi-regular jaunt to Junceylon Mall in Patong to take in a movie and had some time to kill. I needed ‘under garments’ so was absent-mindedly digging through a pile of bras in a discount bin when I noticed three petite Thai sales girls standing nearby looking like they needed something to do so I innocently asked for help finding one in my size.
Two of them tried unsuccessfully to hide their broad smiles behind their hands while the other one, barely holding back her mirth, replied “no mam, we don’t have any that big… only Asian size” whereby they all dissolved into fits of giggles and walked quickly away, throwing furtive glances over their shoulders. I knew they weren’t being purposely malicious and didn’t mean to offend. But as I stood there, jaw agape, holding a tiny piece of material with thin shoulder straps, claiming to be my size yet wouldn’t have fit a Barbie doll, I was just a little hurt.
The same thing happened around the corner when I gave up the idea of shopping for ‘delicates’ and headed for the shoe sales. Going from a 7 ½ (Canadian shoe size) to 40 is always cringe-worthy but, hey, it’s feet, right? Well, seems it’s rare to find that ‘big’ a size in shoes as well and when the sales girl pulled a dusty box from the back, she held it up triumphantly pointing to the size marked on the box. I smiled back and slipped it on… it was long enough but way too wide. She shook her head sadly, said they had no more 40s and walked away.
It’s bewildering since tourism is huge here and there’s a decent sized expat community! I just downloaded a copy of the newly released The Emotionally Resilient Expat by Linda Janssen so I guess I’d better look to see how to recover from this ‘emotional upheaval.’ Really, I am honestly half joking! It’s pretty minor in comparison to the challenges that some face when adapting to a new culture. I’m not a big shopper so it isn’t devastating and I can wait until the next time I go ‘home’ to go bra shopping (so I don’t have to buy another 80D, which is my ‘Asian’ bra size)!
I haven’t delved into The Emotionally Resilient Expat yet but the blurb on Expat Bookshop website opens with: “Living abroad offers enriching experiences of growth, broadened perspective, enhanced cultural understanding.” It continues on to say. “…the key to successful transitions and beyond lies in emotional resilience to adapt, adjust or simply accept.” Amen!
I must say we have broadened our perspectives (and our waistlines ever so slightly), over the past two years and are thoroughly enjoying the Thai culture… the food, the beaches and the language; my husband more than me but I am thinking about taking lessons. We’re definitely here for the long haul so I guess I’m just going to embrace those differences.
Ahh the land of smiles… where I really am that big!
by Anne O’Connell.
A published author and freelance writer, Anne O’Connell, has been an expat since 1993 when she and her husband escaped the cold of Toronto, Canada and moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They enjoyed the sun and sand for 14 years, while she worked in the PR field, and then decided it was time for a new adventure. Heading for even more sun and sand, they moved to Dubai in late 2007 and then on to Thailand in 2011.
Anne has been working as a freelance copywriter and communications consultant since 2007, specializing in marketing, corporate communications, public relations, social media and website content. She and her husband have a passion for travel and that adventurous spirit has taken them all over the world. Anne grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia and has a bachelor of public relations from Mount St. Vincent University. You can visit her website at www.anne-oconnell.com or her blog at www.anne-writingjustbecause.blogspot.com.
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