Keep Your Seat, I’m Not Pregnant

Posted on July 15, 2015 by Vivi in VIVI'S VIEW

By Vivi Rathbone.

The first time someone asked me if I was pregnant on the subway, I was embarrassed.

Claire and I were standing near the doors in the B line.  In between the Carlos Gardel and Pueyrredon stations, a homeless child, who was juggling balls for spare change, came up and addressed me while pointing at my stomach.  It was my first month in Buenos Aires, and I couldn’t understand his Spanish.  I was confused as to why he was speaking to me, and a young man jumped up to give me his seat.

Estas embarazada?” (Are you pregnant?)  The young man asked me.

No.”  I responded in shock.  “No, no.”  I shook my head, not my finger.

He sat back down.  Claire comforted me.  “It’s a flowy dress, you don’t look pregnant.”

The second time someone asked me if I was pregnant on the subway, I was impressed.

It was 14:00 on the dark E line during winter.  The Independencia Station was crowded, and I didn’t get a seat.  A man stood up and asked me loudly if I was pregnant and tugged my elbow gently to sit down.

I shook my head and smiled: “I’m not pregnant, pero, gracias.”

He nodded and sat back down.  I couldn’t tell if he was relieved to be relieved from his chivalric duty.

‘Does this coat make me look fat?’  I wondered to myself.  

The third time someone asked me if I was pregnant on the subway, I was devastated.

My first year living abroad was a whirlwind of powerful emotions, and on this day I was feeling particularly low.  It was 20:30 on the D line, I was in transit to meet my amigas for dinner in Palermo.

Estas embarazada?”  A seated young man asked me quietly.

Que?” (What?) I couldn’t hear him.

He jumped up and asked it louder this time.  “Estas embarazada?”  Everyone looked at me.

No.  No estoy embarazada!”  (No, I’m not pregnant!) I said, and my emotions got the best of me.  Hot, angry tears spilled out of my eyes.  I felt terrible about myself.  I was so sensitive about my appearance.  I had lost twenty pounds since I had arrived in Argentina, and apparently I still looked fat.  I couldn’t stop quietly crying.

A woman looked at me, sympathetically.

‘She probably thinks I’m crying because I WANT to be pregnant.’  I thought to myself.

That was not the case.  I just wanted people to stop implying that I looked fat.  The man who had offered me a seat looked very uncomfortable, and avoided eye contact when he got off at the next station.   

Once I was in a crowded bus when a man quietly offered his seat to a woman next to me.

She sat down and pulled out her phone.  The bus was crowded, I was tightly packed between several people.  I could easily read the messages this seated woman was sending on her blackberry.  I read them because I’m a verified voyeur with an insatiable curiosity.

‘A man just gave me a seat on the bus because I look pregnant.  I’m never going to eat again!’

It was all I could do to stop myself from putting my arm around her and telling her I understood.  How dare that bastard use chivalry to imply his thoughts on her weight.  The worst part was that he was sincere!  Of course I remained quiet, only because I didn’t want to admit that I had read her private text messages.  

The last time someone asked me if I was pregnant on the subway, I was wearing my green raincoat.

It was misty outside, and my skin was dewy and my hair was frizzy.  I stood holding the rail facing the seated passengers.  A middle age woman caught my eye.

Estas embarazada?  Te queres sentar?”  (Are you pregnant?  Do you want to sit?) She mouthed to me, and made a hand motion to offer me her seat.  

Do I look fat?”  I asked her, making my expression clear that I was teasing her.

Nooo, nooooooo.”  She smiled at me.  “Your skin is glowing, and I couldn’t tell what was under your coat.”

Aaahh por supuesto. Sos un amor.”  (Oh, of course. You’re a sweetheart.) I winked at her.  


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  1. Hey. I really enjoyed this post. After three years here I understand. There are many times where we just hit our limit on our world or self-perception in the midst of people behaving in a way that completely collides with our own understanding of things. Partly people here are not as sensitive to our perception of our weight because they tend not to be self-loathing/punishing as we gringos are in terms of the issue. (I find the same around alcohol – they tend to neither be as judgmental or as drunkenly as we are). Not sure if you noticed, but when referring to a guy you don’t know well people often call them ‘flaco’ but if they are somebody close like a good friend or cousin, they call them ‘gordo’. Its a term of endearment. Can’t imagine where calling somebody ‘fat’ in the US would ever be seen as OK. There are body issues here, but I find most normal folks are a lot less judgmental on people’s weight – maybe because with so many other serious struggles in life, they keep a pretty good perspective on what it really important. I am sure that offering a pregnant woman a seat would take a lot greater priority over the possibility of offending someone by accidentally implying they are carrying a little weight. To start with, a lot more pregnant women here have to travel by bus. I love that had such a sweet connection with the woman that last time. Also, you are in Argentina. Life without dulce de luche is a life half lived.

  2. lol vina. this is a good post.. happened to me once, makes you want to melt into a puddle and slide away. xoxo

  3. GREAT POST. This happens to me constantly thanks to my impossible-to-shed paunch.

    Sometimes I say, “YES, oh thank you, I must be just starting to show!” and take the seat as I brace my lower back. Because ya know what? I’m tired and you offered, so if you assume I’m preggers or fat enough to be, I will sit thankyouverymuch.

    Other times, as not to abuse, I will graciously reply that no, I am not pregnant, but I have just consumed mucho mate, that usually gets a laugh and I have an excuse for being bloated.

    And once, on the crowded D line, I was struggling hang on to the rail between businessmen, and an older man got up and offered me his seat. I of course protested, as he was clearly a senior citizen, but he insisted and said, “Sit, POR FAVOR, I can actually reach the bar and you clearly are too short to hold on.” I sat.

  4. Ah! I love this post. When I went to Costa Rica I was evidently a sight to behold because of my curly hair, blue eyes, and tall stature. Strangers came up to me and, well to put it simply, gawked. They touched my hair and got extra close to my face, one woman even touching my freckles. That was nice. A stranger’s fingers poking my cheeks.

    In Russia women of child bearing years are not supposed to sit on cold surfaces, so I was constantly being shoo’ed off perfectly comfortable sidewalks in the shade by well meaning 70 year old babushka’s with their walking sticks. So, I would politely stand and smile while my friends got to lounge about. It has me thinking they may have thought I WAS pregnant based on their vehemence.

    Sum it up? I feel ya. Americans are too uptight, and traveling is a hilarious opportunity to see yourself as you’ve never seen yourself before.

  5. You’ve hit on some universal emotions that I think every woman can relate to… and some situations that we’ve all been in! Thanks for sharing this wonderful post!

  6. Ahhh V, I needed this. I’ve been sick recently, feeling down, and know exactly what you mean about those “whirlwind of emotions.” Sometimes life here gets really hard and it’s difficult to not compare myself against the beauty standards of the women here.

  7. I went to Buenos Aires when I was pregnant, 5th month so it was already slightly visible, but it happened that because of my thick winter coat some people next to me in the bus didn’t seem to notice…And when I shyly asked if I could get a seat because I am pregnant, the person sitting next to me got SO EMBARRASSED for not having offered me a seat earlier, and he just kept excusing himself all the way. I think Argentinians want to avoid that kind of embarrassment, and just to be on the sure side, they would ask.


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