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To Nigerian folks, to make much of manners…



As an honorary Nigerian, I love most things about my adopted culture… The swag, the confidence, the go-getter grit, the drive, the hustle, the spirit, the ‘no go carry last’ attitude, the humour… There is still so much I can list about Nigerians I admire so much I can carry on and fill up this week’s column with the rest of my list.

Having been adopted into a culture, however, brings with it a cultural minefield; put a step wrong and years of acceptance may just blow in your face. It is often when sitting around with Nigerians to criticise what is not working well and ought to be working better with the country and its structures, I catch myself saying things only a Nigerian can get away with and remind myself to tone it down just so I get to keep my honorary Naija membership pass.

Hence, I tread with caution, when I have to turn the spotlight on Nigerians’ failings, the biggest of which has to be manners. With infinite swag comes the humongous sense of entitlement. Which may be one of the top reasons why many Nigerian don’t often realise they are suffering from the foot-in-mouth disease. What for a fellow Nigerian may be a most natural pattern of query for the untrained non-Nigerian may break the boundaries of what is acceptable friendly banter.

Before I begin to tread on any toes, a quick disclaimer: I have at one point or another have been on the receiving end of the all the following lines of questioning. Dear Nigerians, upon reading this list, I implore you, if you find yourself asking a non-Nigerian any of the following, you are likely to be met with amusement at best, outrage at worst.

How was your night?
To the unsuspecting Nigerian, this is simple manners. However, if you have never spent time in Nigeria, this question sounds like the ultimate assault on your privacy. “How dare you ask me that?” was the bewildered response of a Nigerian friend who had returned home after years abroad and, in her IJGB (‘I just got back’) frame of mind, had simply thought her gateman was asking about her private life. The whole time I spent in Lagos, I just couldn’t help cracking up each time someone asked me this question. In my mind, I was answering, “Uneventful, except of course I got up twice to go to the bathroom, then tossed and turned to get back to sleep and got bitten by a relentless mosquito.”

When are we meeting your girlfriend/boyfriend?
While I haven’t had the misfortune to be on the receiving end of this question, I have heard many a niece and the occasional nephew lament their parents’ shameless prying. “All through school, they said, ‘Focus on your books. No girls/boys, no partying, no dating…’ Now that I have graduated they are asking to meet girlfriend/boyfriend! Where was I supposed to find one if I wasn’t allowed to dig my head out of books?”

So when is the wedding?
Thank goodness, I was very married by my first visit to Nigeria. However, I always hear friends complain about nosy family members, acquaintances and neighbours forever hinting at distant wedding bells. Next time you find yourself put on the spot, smile politely and in your mind, respond with, “When are we seeing your nose out of other people’s business?” In your mind o!

Have you added weight?
While I am often told by my other half and Nigerian family this is indeed a compliment, for a woman who spent most of her teenage years dieting to be the perfect 10 (This was a decade before size 0 became the in thing!), it is anything but… Each time I hear this question, I feel like responding with, “Wetin be your own?”

No babies yet?
If you are married for over a year and there is still no pitter patter of small feet in your house, worse still, no sign of a baby bump, the question you are likely to get repeatedly is the big baby question. To my amusement, the most random line of questioning I found myself up against was from a shopkeeper at Murtala Muhammed Airport as I was shopping for some souvenirs. Upon learning I was married to a Nigerian, he queried about our plans to procreate, before ominously cautioning, “Don’t leave it too late o!” The answer in my mind? “Oga, abeg, don’t concern yourself with the comings and goings of my womb!”

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