"Thank you," I smiled through gritted teeth, trying in vain not to take offense.
"Has Black arrived yet?" asked my husband (referring to his dark skinned cousin). "We are waiting to take him to the farm with us."
"Here I am!" answered dark-skinned Paul, not batting an eyelash. "Are you ready now Skinny?"
There is a popular television soap in Ecuador called, "There is no paradise without boobs." It is set in a town in Colombia where the vast majority of women have plastic surgery to augment their assets, as big is considered beautiful.
The same holds true in Ecuador itself. Conversations such as the one above are perfectly normal and not at all offensive. If someone is fat they are called “fatty”. If they are thin they are nicknamed “Skinny” or “snake”. If someone is dark-skinned they are called “Black” and if they are pale, “White”. People just tell it how they see it and mostly it is simply the truth. Being thin is not seen as a good thing - a thin person is thought to be malnourished and poor. Being fat, on the other hand, is seen as indicating health and prosperity. Women want to have curves. I have yet to meet anyone suffering from anorexia or bulimia in Santo Domingo. Women are much more likely to have plastic surgery to get bigger boobs or behinds.
I think there is something healthy in the frankness and lack of racism inherent in people´s remarks, but my own inhibitions and political correctness are so ingrained I cannot bring myself to call anyone by their nickname, even if they are a good friend. Perhaps I will be able to hear the words, "You are looking fat," one day and feel complimented, but I fear my own culture is so indelibly inscribed in my emotions that such a day may still be a long time coming.