New Blog!

If you've enjoyed reading about my experiences in Tanzania here, check out the new blog I've started on Wordpress as of November, 2017. It's called "Back to Tanzania" and you can read it here. All new adventures in Tanzania from an older, wiser, more experienced expat.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Other F-Word

Life in Tanzania desensitized me to America's other F-word. Tanzanians use it all the time in a very light-hearted way. No shame. No character judgment. But for Americans, this word is taboo. I keep slipping and saying it. The listeners always cringe.

My latest slip? Last week I loaded my cross country skis into the Subaru and headed up to North Fork Park. In the summer it's a campground. In the winter, a local non-profit group, Ogden Nordic, grooms the roads for cross country skiing. When I arrived at the trail head, I discovered they'd made changes last winter while I was basking in the African sunshine. They've built a warming hut, added ski rentals, and changed the "suggested donation" to a user fee. I bought a season ticket. I'm not sure I'll ski enough times to break even over the daily fee (16 times!), but I wanted to support their efforts. As I was filling out the paper, one of the two gentlemen staffing the hut told me about ski lessons and workshop days. I've been wanting to learn how to skate-ski for a few years, so I said (in light-hearted Tanzanian fashion), "Can short, fat people skate?"

That's right. "Fat" is America's other F-word. Fat! Fat! Fat! (I occasionally use the original F-word, too, but we can talk about that another time.) One of my listeners turned away from me as if he hadn't heard. The other looked surprised for a moment, then said to the first, "Well, there's Marybeth." The first guy looked over his shoulder with an uncomfortable expression. I was just kidding, guys! I only brought it up because skating is very aerobic and most of the people you see doing it are long-legged and skinny. And I'm not.

Fat rises to the top of America's consciousness every New Year's Day. Many people resolve to lose weight. The gym gets really crowded. People eat cabbage soup every day for lunch. Or order hamburgers and eat the meat and leave the bun on the plate. And lick the grease off the fries, but leave the actual potatoes on the plate. Okay, I'm just kidding on that last one. I'm making fun of the Atkins diet. And the gym will be empty again by February.

My friend M (featured in a recent post about visiting the Giant Sequoias, and soon to be featured in posts about other national park visits) delights in taking unflattering photos of me when we travel together. Most are variations of my sweat-drenched head when I remove my hat after a strenuous hike. There was one in Costa Rica featuring chocolate smears around my mouth.

 Here's one she took in the sequoias. Nice!

And here's one she took in Arches National Park in October.

I'm not sure she intended this one to be unflattering. I think she was just placing me in the spectacular landscape. But when I saw it, my first reaction was horror at my fat ass. Especially since I just bought those hiking pants. That reaction means that I am settling back into the American mind set wherein "fat" is a dirty word.

But after a few minutes' reflection, I thought K2, being Tanzanian, might like this picture of me. So I emailed it to him. He replied with a nice compliment on how good I am looking here in America. This must be what they mean by "cultural relativity." Fat! Fat! Fat!


  1. I am liking that Tanzanian attitude!

  2. Hehehe ... great post ... you had me wondering what the word was and straining not to jump to the end ...

    Interesting ... perhaps I should drop the word in social media where I have American friends and see what happens ... do you think I may be shunned? ... :)

  3. Your American friends will unfriend you--at least the ones who are,, heavyset. But don't confuse those last two and call us heavyweight.

  4. Alexander McCall Smith, author of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency (set in Botswana), refers to "traditionally built" women in his series. I really like that term!

    I'm also excited you are taking up skate skiing as it is big fun! If I get down to Odgen this winter, I'll be sure to look you up with my skate skis. Carol

  5. They haven't done any lessons yet, because we have so little snow! Enough to get out and ski around, but you have to walk in a ways from the trailhead, and it's quite icy.

  6. Love this, as I am short and fat (at least by US standards...come to think of it, I'm an elephant by Korean standards) myself. Enjoy your snow - I'm in TX at the moment, depositing Son #1 at his institution of higher learning, and greatly enjoying the reprieve from the -11C temps in Seoul!

  7. Actually, you are curvy and adorable. So I don't think you fit the "fat" thing in the first place. Still, I think it's strange that "fat" is used by some cultures as a compliment. In China, it is a sign of success or wealth. But we do not call each other "fat" at home. (Only ourselves!) Hah!

  8. Thank you, Linda. I like to think of myself as curvy rather than fat. In TZ, if a friend hasn't seen you for awhile, they will often greet you with, "You are becoming fat." It took me awhile to accept that as a compliment. Also, after spending time in TZ, and with K2, I really feel more attractive than before, even though my weight has gone up while living there. They are much more generous in their appraisal of peoples' appearance than Americans tend to be! Or maybe my perspective is colored by my skinny ex-husband and his attitude...

  9. Coming from someone who, just ten years ago, weighed 197 lbs in my 5' 2" frame, I feel for all the weight impaired. (Yes, they make a size 18 petite!) Personally, I have earned the right to use that "F" word freely now that I am 65 lbs lighter. Americans are so caught up in the appearance issue. Once I realized that, even though I had loss the weight, I was still "curvy" and alas, I would never look like Charliez Theron, I could go on with my life. (It lifted a great burden.)

    And, yes, you can lick your french fries and eat them too!