Political Correctness?!?! Or Lack Thereof
A reflection from Colombian Daddy:
As a kid growing up in Colombia, I spent a lot of time playing outside with friends. One of those friends was a blondish kid whose face would turn beet red after a few hours in the sun and therefore responded to the nickname of Tomate (tomato). I was also friends with Largo (Long or Tall) Bayona, Tatoo Pérez (he was short), Enano (Dwarf) Higuera, and Flaco (Skinny) Miguel. At school I also knew, Gordo (Fat) Germán, Cara-de-Mico (Monkey Face), Pajarraco (Bird-looking), and Azteca (A Native American-looking kid). At home, I lived with El Loco or El Viejo (My Dad) who was good friends with El Chulo (The Vulture) down the street.
Receiving a nickname, as a sign of being accepted into a group, may not be a uniquely Colombian thing. I think this is akin to what happens in the military or in other close knit groups anywhere. The difference is that in Colombia, without the constraints of political correctness, people tend to get labeled based on how they look, or worse, based on their noticeable physical defects, or should I say physical challenges?
Thus, a word that describes the physical ailment becomes the describer, the qualifier before the name, the de-facto first name. The amazing thing is that we have single, short words which make this really easy to do. Examples are Gordo if you're a little Chubby, or Flaco if you're blessed with some ribs that show, Tuerto if you're missing an eye, Manco if you're missing a hand, Calvo if you are bald, Chivo (goat) if you wear a goatee, Cojo if you limp or are missing a foot or leg, Ñato or Chato if you have a flat nose, although this could also be applied sarcastically to someone who has a big nose, Mueco if you lost a tooth or two, Muelón or Conejo (Rabbit) if your front teeth are long. The list is long, and also includes descriptors for skin color.
Yet, the unspoken rule seems to be, "no offense intended, no offense taken". I have seen tears in the eyes of many a young American girl when her Colombian friends called her Gordita (you little Chubby you) as a term of endearment. The truth is that no offense was intended, and taking a defensive or hurt stand will just confuse people who thought they were being nice. Just last month, I was happy to report to my very Americanized niece from Colombia that after seeing the photos of her that I had sent, my mother (her grandmother) exclaimed: "She (my niece) looks great, all chubby and pink (gordita y rosadita)".
So keep this in mind: When in Colombia be prepared to hear the most preposterous compliments about your looks. Smile, and remember, you were just told that you are accepted.