by missfootloose on January 14, 2011 · 30 comments

in Culture and Customs, Expat life, Ghana, Humor

You love cocktail parties, don’t you?  If you’re an expat you probably adore the ones sponsored by embassies and big international companies where everybody has sold his or her soul to the god of networking.  Well, the working spouses have. If you’re a trailing spouse accompanying your partner to such an event, you are lucky because you can consider this an educational opportunity.  I’ve spent many an edifying hour standing around in my finery amid a gaggle of foreigners and listened to riveting honks about small ruminant value chains, the standard TSMA, gender-disaggregated data, and so on. This can be excruciatingly fascinating boring and usually we trailing expat spouses will find each other and discuss other matters such as fashion, breast implants, and potty training dramas. But one evening at a cocktail party in Ghana, West Africa, I met businessman Mr. X.  And he did not talk about business or politics or international finance.  Here’s what he did talk about:


Mr. X is a charming, sophisticated African with graying hair, a mischievous glint in his eyes and a story to tell.  He has a beautiful accent compliments of a PhD from Oxford and we are chatting at an outdoor cocktail party in Accra, Ghana. It is a dark and steamy night, the frogs are frogging, the drinks are flowing, and the malarial mosquitoes are zooming in ecstasy over the abundance of naked flesh.  The naked flesh being faces, arms and legs, just to be clear here.

His story involves a visit he made to my homeland of the Netherlands when he was a young man, a young man who had never left his native land of Ghana.  As an unworldly 20-year-old on a two-week business course in The Hague, he was excited beyond description to be in the land of cheese and tulips.  He had a wonderful time, at least until the last evening there when he attended the big goodbye affair with food, music and dancing. Dancing! Girls! Dutch girls!

Now, Ghanaians know all about having fun eating food, making music and dancing (and they learn young), so Mr. X was looking forward to the evening.

Tiny Ghanaian Dancers

Some of his study-course mates had been abroad before and shared with him their acquired wisdom relating to the treatment of western women, such as how to behave at the dance and how to make a good impression.

He was told that the women were expecting to be asked to dance and would not join in on their own.  He could make his own choice by looking around to see who looked available and willing and then go over and ask her to dance.

“Give compliments,” he was told.  “Tell a girl she looks beautiful.  That she has pretty eyes, a nice smile, that sort of thing.”

Not so difficult.  Young Mr. X was up to the task.

Older Mr. X smiles at the memory as he relates this story.  He takes a drink from his Scotch.

“So,” he continues, “when dinner was over and the dancing began, “I looked around and saw a beautiful girl with blond hair and blue eyes and I went over to her and asked her to dance.  She came to the dance floor with me and we commenced dancing and talking.  Then I remembered what I’d been advised about giving compliments, so I told her she was beautiful and then something went awfully wrong.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, spellbound by his story. What woman doesn’t want to hear she is beautiful?  “What happened?”

“She glared at me and took off.  Left me standing there in the middle of the dance floor. I was perplexed!  I was giving her compliments!  What had I done wrong!”

“She took off because you told her she was beautiful?”  I am equally perplexed.

Mr. X smiles, enjoying telling me his tale.  “Yes, I told her she was beautiful.  And so nice and fat.”


A Beauty in Ghana

Dear reader, do I need to explain?  In Ghana, as in some other African countries, the traditional view is that fat is beautiful.  The original cultural reason behind this is the thinking that if a woman is fat she obviously has lots to eat, which means that first her father and then her husband is prosperous.  Although many young Ghanaian women now have adopted the western idea of beauty and like to be thin, there are others who don’t. Just have a look at this picture.  Read more about this shot at EXTREME BEAUTIES, a post by my blogger friend Holli who domiciles in Ghana.  But do come back and leave me a comment, please!

* * *

What cultural experiences, or experiences with foreign men, have you had about body image?  About what you should look like?  How much you should weigh or what the size of various body parts should be?  Get some milk and cookies and think about it.

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

english man in moscow January 14, 2011 at 4:24 am

Simple: A Hoar in the bedroom and lady in public and a chef in the kitchen. OR…..they dream of this woman.

Sorry political correctness is a bible, I dont read.


missfootloose January 17, 2011 at 9:44 am

Let’s hope you got lucky…


guyana gyal January 14, 2011 at 9:20 am

It’s true, in some countries, a plump woman is beautiful. Stick-legs and arms are signs of malnutrition, deprivation.

In Guyana, just like in other parts of the West Indies, the concept of beauty varies according to the level of society you belong to.

But in some places, right in the Windies, a gal is a gal is a gal, some men just lust no matter what she looks like.


Miss Footloose January 14, 2011 at 10:30 am

It’s good to know there’s a place for all of us. Problem is, sometimes we don’t live in the right one.


Karen January 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm

This is soooo funny! OMG that picture is just hilarious. At least he didn’t tell her what a fat ass she has, that may have garnered a slap!


Miss Footloose January 14, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Poor girl, tough! She had no idea he meant well!


Mara January 14, 2011 at 5:09 pm

When I lived in England a girl I knew once told me she didn’t consider me a foreigner (being Dutch in England), since I wasn’t black. I thought that was very weird.


Miss Footloose January 14, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Yes, very weird!


marja January 16, 2011 at 2:52 am

Nog een zalig Nieuw jaar. What a funny story You are quite a storyteller. I love that picture with the little dancing children


missfootloose January 17, 2011 at 9:46 am

Hi Marja, nice to see you back here. I love to see children dancing. They are still so unselfconscious.


carolina January 16, 2011 at 8:29 am

Oh, poor man. And poor girl. She’s probably scarred for life 😉

(note to self: if diet fails, move to Ghana)


missfootloose January 17, 2011 at 9:46 am

I imagine she’s still telling this story, just like he is!


Rosa January 16, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Loved it! What a great story!


Welshcakes Limoncello January 16, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Love the story, Miss Footloose and I am investigating moving to Ghana forthwith!


missfootloose January 16, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Ah, but the local lemons aren’t great!


GutsyWriter January 17, 2011 at 5:39 am

At least he was smiling when he told the story. I remember listening to Oprah’s show on “What is considered a beautiful woman in different parts of the world.” Fat was liked in Mauritania. I posted about it and actually, that was one of my most viewed posts. Loved your story. P.S. I’m in Denmark right now where furniture is beautiful.


missfootloose January 17, 2011 at 9:50 am

I saw that Oprah show as well. It seems that in Mauratania the government is recognizing the health risks now and trying to do something about this custom of fatting up girls. But people’s tastes/customs are so ingrained, it will not be easy.

I love modern/contemporary furniture! It is much more popular in Northern and Western Europe than in the US.


missfootloose January 17, 2011 at 9:51 am

PS: Have fun in Denmark (it will be colder than California!)


Barbara January 17, 2011 at 11:24 am

I’ve had some experience with this here in Tanzania, too, where they also think fat, or at least plump, women are beautiful. When I said at one point, as all American women do at some point, “As soon as I get home, I’m going to lose ten pounds,” my Tanzanian boyfriend got very distressed and said, “Pleeeeze don’t lose ten pounds.” Which, of course, made me think I should marry him immediately.

More recently, I was shopping for a custom made dress and my also expat friend started bargaining for the labor price by pointing out to the tailor that I’m short, so the price should be cheap. The tailor told her the price had to stay high because I’m fat!


missfootloose January 17, 2011 at 1:05 pm

I love your stories! It’s so much fun to see the reactions from different cultural angles. I’d say, marry your Tanzanian guy and forget about losing weight!


Aledys Ver January 17, 2011 at 11:46 am

The poor guy must’ve felt perplexed indeed! 😀
This reminds me of a time I attended a party in a very small town in the middle of nowhere in Argentina. People attending were mostly farmers who do not have many chances of going out to pubs, dances, etc. and meeting strangers. A perfectly amiable guy asked me to dance and after exchanging a few words, it was apparently his time to make a compliment and he said that I had beautiful eyes: they were as green as a toad’s and my skin was as white as boiled chicken 😀


missfootloose January 17, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Oh, you had me in stitches with this one! Definitely a keeper and good for some party fun when you need a joke to tell!


Nancy Atkinson January 17, 2011 at 3:55 pm

This was great! I would so fit in there!


MartyrMom January 17, 2011 at 7:57 pm

OH GOODIE!! ***jumping up and down and clapping my hands!!**
I don’t have to wait for the famine and for all the skinny girls to die??? I can just go Ghana!!! YEAH!!!!


JoAnne Stein January 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I’ve blogged about the different perceptions of what’s beautiful before but I love this post! You got the point across very well with an incredibly amusing story and the link to Extreme Beauties is interesting as well. Thoroughly enjoyed reading!


Aly January 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Hahaha, this is like the time an ex-boyfriend told me he liked my stomach because it “looked like cookie dough” and he liked cookie dough. Needless to say, I started doing more crunches.


Lady Fi January 27, 2011 at 1:16 pm

I lived in Fiji as a teenager and the ideal beauty was pale and fat! (The opposite of our ideal…)


missfootloose January 28, 2011 at 9:42 am

The human mind is a marvelous thing. Pale and fat is beautiful in Fiji. Hey, why not?


The Dropout February 1, 2011 at 3:22 am

In Vietnam, thin is in. Anything above 2% body fat makes you “fat”.
My Vietnamese friends know that foreigners are fat and that calling a foreigner fat is insulting. So thankfully I’m exempted from the long and torturous discussions about who’s fat and who’s not. Exept when people mention that my husband and I are “a perfect 10 couple”. He’s the 1 and I’m the 0. 🙁


missfootloose February 1, 2011 at 11:25 am

As long as you are a perfect 10 together, you’ve won the battle. When I lived in Indonesia I felt about as elegant as a hippo in spite of being short and having a respectable size in the West. There’s just no competing with the Asian women.


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