Sunday, May 18


Rewind three months.

On a beach somewhere in Phuket, surrounded by Posipeople I strip down to my bikini, ready to jump in the sea. But as I hang my shorts and suntop up on the spokes of a nearby sun umbrella a man I recognise lowers his glasses and looks me up and down.
Ma sei malata? Are you ill?” He asks, wrinkling his nut brown nose at me.
“No”, I sigh, knowing full well what is coming next.
“Well why are you so white then? You look like a mozzarella. Get a bit of sun on you, why don’t you!”

Something in me snaps. I’ve heard it all before, many times in Italy. They can’t seem to understand why I am whiter than them. Normally I shrug it off and ignore them but the way this man looked me up and down, over his lowered sunglasses was quite offensive.

“OK, I’ll try to explain it for you, maybe you’ll understand.” I talk loudly so that any other person nearby that may be offended by the colour of my skin can listen and learn. “I am from England, which is much further north than Italy. It doesn’t get as much sun and most people born there have naturally whiter skin than people born in the Mediterranean. No matter how long I sit and bake in the sun I will never ever get as brown as you are, and frankly I wouldn’t want to look like an old leather bag.”

I think he flinched so I carried on.
“Let me ask you something. Do you believe that if you lie here roasting for long enough that you will become as brown as an African?”
“No, I don’t believe that.”
“Well why do you think that I should be as brown as you then? If you can understand that your skin colour is different from that of an African person, why can’t you accept that my skin colour is different from yours?”
“I just thought..”
“No!” I cut him off, “you didn’t think, you offended me. I am already aware enough that I stick out like a sore thumb amongst you tanned people, and I don’t need you telling me I look ill or comparing me to soft cheese.”

He started smearing another layer of baby oil over his wrinkled body.
Mio Dio! Have you people never heard of skin cancer?” I asked, imagining what would happen to me if I coated myself in oil and sat in the sun for eight hours. I shuddered.
“Don’t worry, this is protection,” he said, waving the Johnsons bottle at me, truly believing as many of them do, that the application of pure oil or Nivea cream would save his skin from wrinkles and tumours. I left him to it and went to sit in the shade...

Back to Positano, mid-May. I know that sunbathing is a national past time here and having a tan is of the utmost importance. But, in my case it just isn’t going to happen. A couple of ‘white’ friends have already had brushes with skin cancer and I am not willing to take the risk. So to avoid being compared to mozzarella, this year my tan will come out of a bottle, smooth, golden and streak free, thanks to St Tropez. I will feel confident and colourful and hopefully the old-leathery-baby-oil-smothered locals will be appeased and refrain from name-calling.

21 comments:

  1. Brava! I'm sick of the mozzarella comments every summer too. Why are Italians so obsessed with getting tan? Even if they don't get skin cancer, they end up looking old before their time - leathery and wrinkled.

    I guess my kid will be the only one at the beach wearing a hate SPF30 and a sun suit but so be it.

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  2. I love the way you recount stories :) It makes me laugh everytime. I can't believe he said "mozzarella!" But, yes, last year I began covering up a bit more and this year I'm adding a huge straw hat to the mix. I'll check out the tanning creme you mentioned :)

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  3. OK. Now take all you said and transfer it to me: a native Positanese...whiter than white...with freckles.
    'Nuff said.

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  4. Good for you, although I must say my husband hails from Sicily (prov. Agrigento) and not one of his relatives are obsessed with getting a tan. They all have the "mozzarella" look (including us although we live in Belgium presently), we all go to the beach together in August but they do not go to get tanned. I must say I do like to sunbathe just to get a glow. I simply hate the tanned skin that looks like a crocodile! Changing the subject I really enjoy reading your blog - please continue.

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  5. Mozzarella, no... peaches and cream, absolutely, and it's beautiful!

    For the record, some natural oils such as sesame oil and shea butter actually do provide some UV protection (about SPF 2-4). Johnson's baby oil, which is 100% mineral oil, only helps to bake and burn the skin even worse.

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  6. We live in Southern California and have very fair skin and when my daughter was in junior high kids used to call her albino and she would be so upset. I would tell her to tell them that you are fair skinned and proud of it. Now as a 17 year old it doesn't bother her at all. Fair skin looks so much more beautiful than the old leather bag look, any day!

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  7. Amen Sister! After literally hundreds of ‘you are so white’ comments, my mantra after 18 years in the tropics is very simular to Cathi's advice to her daughter, ‘pale and proud of it’. Apropos given that my last name is Paley.........

    Once I tried the spray on tan and it was an eye opener. I looked like an orange freak and it made me appreciate my pale freckled self even more. Though I confess to moments of two faced gloating when I see someone whiter than me, saying to myself “at least I’m not that white”!

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  8. Forget the spray on tan, white skin can be just as sexy as dark one.
    Faccia smorta figa forta... they sayin Veneto.

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  9. I personally don't like the baked tan look. I'm as pale as they come and have never liked baking in the sun. I'll be joining you in the pale skin brigade!

    Good for you for speaking up!

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  10. Rosa (something)May 19, 2008 at 8:26 AM

    I protect my young kids by having them wear a t shirt in the sun, and a special sun swim suit in the water as well as the lotion. People at Positano asked me why, and when I explained it to them they actually laughed at me.

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  11. Cammar mi fai morire dal ridere!
    (you crack me up!)
    I believe only I could pick up that joke...

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  12. Nell said,
    Dear Niki my own Sicilian relatives mocked me when I traveled there they said I looked like a biaciacta in the sun. Blinding due to me paleness. I am native born to Sicily but unlike my lucky younger sister who has a lovely olive tone , I was born blond and blue eyed, 3 brothers dark hair and born along with my sister they all tan nicely I don't tan but burn.Good for you for letting him have it , that prune.

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  13. I have a post in the works called "Pale and Proud"...and you can bet I'll be linking here.

    Mozzarella legs...UNITE!!!!!!

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  14. I am exactly the same...I have an Irish mother and a Maltese father, look like my father but have the Irish colouring!!! I do use fake tan, but that is only when I have to wear a skirt in the summer..I would like to have just a "glow" ..

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  15. lol

    my boyf is averse to sunscreen and i tell him all the time he's going to end up looking like a leather bag... his roots are british and french-canadian, yet he tans so very very well. people think he's italian, and he loves it.

    i can't believe that man called you a mozzarella.

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  16. That was quite funny. Actually now that I moved south it is too hot to sit out. I am whiter now than when I lived in the Northern Hemisphere.

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  17. I'm totally with you on this and especially being of celtic origin. I never go out without Factor 70 on all exposed parts year round, the irony is I am still getting some colour but safely. In Oklahoma they scorch themselves too and when the suns not out they use tanning beds. No wonder I am always getting asked how I have so few lines!

    I am hoping one day the great beauty of Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett will finally have an effect on the masses!

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  18. well done you. i hear a lot from the italians about being white too but even more about my freckles. my defense strategy is to laugh about them before they do but iim getting tired of it.

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  19. Brava tu, I'm glad you told him. My dad had malignant melinoma and I inherited the gene that makes me more susceptible. Whenever Argentines ask me why my skin is so fare, I just say my dad had skin cancer from the sun and I'm not interested. That usually shuts them up. Actually, a lot of the men here think my "pale" skin is sexy and exotic and I get compliments! ha. (it's not that pale - I do get a bit of color just from being out and about, but oh my the leathery women and men here... ay yiyi...)

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  20. You go girl! I'm in the shade with you. You, me and my bottle of 'Holiday Skin'. Ciao Amanda x

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