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. (Please don’t write me about how insulting this is. And yes, I know some trailing spouses are male, and they discuss deep philosophical matters.)
However, one evening at a cocktail party in Ghana, West Africa, I met businessman Mr. X. And he did not talk about politics or international finance. Here’s what he did talk to me about:
Beauty and the Bad Boy
Mr. X is a charming, sophisticated Ghanaian with graying hair, a mischievous glint in his eyes and a story to tell. He has a beautiful British accent compliments of a PhD from Oxford and we are chatting at an outdoor cocktail party in Accra, the capital of 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.
Also to be clear here, the title of this tale, What Men Want is . . . well, a cheeky generalization. After all: Which men want what, where, when, why? But that would make the title a bit long, don’t you agree?
So onward with Mr. X’s story. His tale involves a visit he made to my homeland of the Netherlands when he was a young man, a young African 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.
Some of Mr. X’s 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.
What women want
He was told that the women were expecting to be asked to dance. 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. I was charmed! Then I remembered what I’d been advised about giving compliments, so I told her she was beautiful and then something went awfully wrong.” The glint in his eye is unmistakable.
“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 stormed 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,” he says, taking another sip of his drink. “I told her she was beautiful. And so nice and fat.”
Dear reader, do I need to explain? In Ghana, as in some other African countries, the traditional view is that being fat is beautiful and desirable. The historical 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. Many young Ghanaian women now have adopted the western idea of beauty and like to be slim. However, there is still a trend that favors wide hips and big bottoms and you can buy pills and potions to help you to become gorgeous.
And do check out these beauties here:
What men want? You tell me.
* * *
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.