“Pucha, Cam, estás gordita!”

It wasn’t really news that I’d put on a little weight in my month in Australia. It was a month of good cheese – very good, rich, fattening cheese, blue and brie and goats’, the kind I’d missed terribly in Peru. A month of wine and all those Aussie beers I love so much. Dinners out, desserts, birthday cake, Tim Tams. And a distinct lack of the exercise I get in Cusco simply by walking across town at 3,300 metres above sea level.

Image: vvaiting via flickr
Image: vvaiting via flickr

But I certainly didn’t need it pointed out so bluntly. “Geez, Cam, you’re a little fat!” And I really, really didn’t need it pointed out over, and over, and over again, until I finally told the boys that in Australia you don’t dare comment on a woman’s weight, and that I wasn’t seeing the funny.

It was one of the first things I noticed about Peruvian conversation when I arrived – its distinct lack of the niceties and political correctness of English-language chat. My best friend is always referred to, even to her face, as “negra” (black) or “gorda” (fat). A very close, male, gay friend is greeted with effusive shouts of “fea!!!” (ugly, in the feminine). And nicknames such as “cerdo” (pig) and “mono” (monkey, for his ever-so-slightly ape-like features) are common.

People here say what they think, and tell you the occasionally-ugly truth.

Until I was on the receiving end, I always thought it was healthy. And really, I suppose it is. Perhaps body image issues, with your flaws confronted so bluntly and as such a normal part of social life from a young age, become less of a problem. Learning to laugh about it is a positive way to deal with things.

It also streamlines those impersonal social interactions you have every day. Accustomed to the avalanche of “thank-yous” that accompanies every transaction in Australia (thanks for serving me now! Thanks for handing me your cash! Here’s your change! Thanks! Bye! Thanks!), I used to get some funny looks with the stream of superfluous gracias that I was handing over in the market. Here, you save your breath. Just one gracias will do, thanks, on either side. And if they haven’t actually helped you, they often don’t get one at all.

Read more:
School Days Around the World
Kumusta? and Other Filipino Greetings
Superstitions Around the World


About the author

Camden lives for long, uncomfortable journeys and dreams of the Trans-Siberian Railway. From hitch-hiking in Europe, through Asia by bus and boat, she has found herself in the Peruvian Andes, where she relishes the colours of the festivals, the warmth of the people and the hearty flavours of the soups. When she's not exploring her new home, she's studying politics by distance or writing for her blog, The Brink of Something Else, or as a regular contributor to Matador Abroad.