Picture it: Me. A true lover of Anguilla arriving on the island for my 6th visit there. On my first night back, I had a great dinner with friends at the SandBar at Sandy Ground full of lots of laughs and just the right number of pineapple-infused vodka shots (Or was it rum? Hm. For some reason, I cannot recall…)
I woke up the next morning still glowing with the pure happiness of being back on-island, walking on air, and excited about the possibilities of the day ahead. I answered a friend’s phone call and he asked if he could stop by to say hello before he headed off to work. I told him that of course he could stop by and to come right over!
I met this particular friend on my first trip to Anguilla in 2009, and I always look forward to seeing him and catching up with everything he’s been up to since my last trip. We were both smiling as he pulled up in his car and walked through the front door. We gave each other great big hugs and exchanged all of the proper pleasantries one would expect after not having seen each other in a while. I was so happy to see him and just as I was about to begin peppering him with questions about his family and everything else, he says
“You look like you’ve put on a few pounds!”
I stood there. Frozen. I’m sure I was a little bug-eyed and my mouth was slightly agape as I struggled with exactly how I should respond. It was like a sucker-punch to my (apparently flabby) gut and I had suddenly lost that floaty-feeling that I had just a few seconds ago. Seeing my reaction, he quickly added
“Remember, you’re in the Caribbean. We don’t see that as a problem.”
and I saw a tiny smile slowly spread across his face.
Now, in my family’s Asian culture, I know that being called “fat” is generally seen a compliment, since it implies that you’re doing well enough to put plenty of food on the table. So, I could see how my friend’s statement was not necessarily meant as an insult. I, however, grew up in the States where “putting on a few pounds” is not seen as a good thing and you certainly don’t go around telling people they’ve chubbed up a bit since you last saw them. So, I had to decide whether to react as the open-minded accept-your-host’s-culture-traveler that I aim to be or as the ultra-sensitive and me-centered tourist.
I’m ashamed to say that I punched him. I just did it lightly in his upper arm while laughing but, yes, I did resort to mild violence. Looking back, I know that I should have handled myself better, but luckily, my friend understood and was laughing right along with me. My excuse was that it had been about 8 months since my last visit, and I had not yet had a chance to re-acclimate to the local way of thinking but, still, I should have handled the situation differently.
My friend and I laughed about it all again later on in the week. He said that he had learned his lesson and vowed never to speak of my weight ever again.
For the record, one other person said the same thing to me at another point in my trip (while a few other kind-hearted souls said I looked like I had lost weight) and I just responded by saying “Thanks” and smiling. Turns out, I learned something too. :)