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Guest Post — My Foreign Body: The Geophysical Characteristics of a Population

Grumpy, Sneezy, and Freezy by Zuzu Arbus

This piece originally appeared in the expat+HAREM, October 2010.

When I first arrived in Prague I was a size 7, had an acceptable C-cup and chocolate colored skin. Three years later I’ve become a size 12, have an overbearing DD-cup and skin the color of weak tea from so little exposure to the sun.

My metabolism has slowed considerably, and aging plays only a small part: My tropical sensibilities have been assaulted by the sub-zero temperatures in which I live for 80% of the year. Even the summers in Prague come with a chill, the temperatures equivalent to winters in my former homes of Spain, India, Thailand and California. Watching my previously lithe figure fill out first caused discomfort and anxiety. I had to completely change my style of dress and how I saw myself. Now, I’m beginning to appreciate my more womanly curves.

Almost like they take a cue from this inhospitable weather, the Czech people are notoriously unfriendly. Part of this has to do with their experience of life under Communism and a general distrust of foreigners. However the reason behind their general reserve is also cultural, similar to what Scary Azeri describes in her post “Smile You’re In The West”. Here in the Czech Republic it is almost unheard of that a Czech person will invite anyone but family into their home. If they want to meet friends they will congregate at local pubs and bars, a reason why in the evenings and weekends these haunts are packed to the brim.This is a far cry from what I remember of life in warmer places like India and California, where it’s customary to invite a virtual stranger over for dinner or drinks, to have guests to your home for parties or even to just hang out and watch a film.

Smiles are evoked from natives of these tropical places with far more facility than here in the frigid Czech Republic. I recall each and every time I’ve received a smile from a Czech stranger and can count those events on two hands. In the warmer places I’ve lived it’s the opposite: I am more apt to recall the unfriendly or rude people, because they were so few and far between.

Since living in Central Europe, I’ve been forced to eradicate my broadly smiling public aspect of myself lest I look like a tourist. Now, like the Czechs, my friendly face is reserved for private time or friends. It took me two years to develop a customary frown, and now I have new lines on my chubbier face to prove it.

Do warm places make warmer people? How has your body changed in adapting to a foreign place?