You woke up last Friday morning feeling happy ...it’s a sunny day. You walk to the communal kitchen with a happy jaunt singing ‘it’s Friday, Friday’ ala Rebecca Black.
Alison is sitting on the dining table with her eyes affixed to the morning paper.
Ditto for Steve whose face is buried in his bowl of cereal.
Tyler and Perry are chatting. Their conversation does not miss a step as you pass by.
Liz who hugged you yesternight saying she missed all week, stares with utmost fixation at her cup of tea as you pass.
Hugo passes by you in fact your eyes actually meet but it’s as if he didn’t see you. (actually he hasnt 'seen 'you in th epast 7 months).
Samantha who has exchanged a hundred Hellos with you and once in a while 5mins of chitchat, flashes a smile and walks by.
Peter says a quick hi, waves his hand and walks by.
Daphne who shares a cupboard with you says a quick hi and continues with her cooking. She finishes, transfers the food to her plate and says bye as she walks off to eat her meal.
Following these encounters, your song dies in your throat, your sunny mood is a bit dimmed, you feel slighted…you wonder if they are being racist?
No they aren’t, dear. Welcome to Oyiboland where self is king and these are typical British friendships , take it or leave it.
(You might wonder why I didnt say hi myself…and I would say ‘the other person must at least concede your presence before that exchange can take place’).
Sometimes I can almost swear that if I come into the common room with my eyes red and tears streaming down my bloodied face, either people will look away or walk away and generally pretend they didn’t see me. Maybe they will kindly call an ambulace when safe in their rooms.....
Jutta, an anthropologist and blogger who lived in Mali thinks it’s a habit born of western laws of efficiency whereby Westerners try to maximize use of time rather than spend it in chitchat. Hmmmm.
She goes on to explain that westerners often divide people in these three groups and treat them accordingly.
- The “scenery people” are for example those that we photograph during our vacations. We see them as decoration or objects on display, not as real people.
- The “machinery people” are those that we expect to function in a certain way, but again we do not see them as real people. For example, the gas station attendant or the cashier. On a good day, we might see them as people and connect in some personal way, but most of the time we treat them as “machinery” not as people.
- The “real people” are the small group we have a relationship with and care about. We see them as people with individual personalities, emotions, opinions, gifts and needs. On bad days we might expect even people in this group to just function and not require any “maintenance”: such as the burlesque husband coming home from work in the evening who expects his wife to have a meal ready, as well as the newspaper and the slippers, and be left in peace to watch TV by his children because he is tired. In this case he does not see his wife and children as people and does not treat them as such. They are not allowed to have needs.
Whom we expect to just be “scenery” or function as “machinery” is often culturally defined. And that is where culture shock often comes as a natural result.
Now let’s contrast the above to Nigerian culture if not African culture where time spent with other people is never considered time wasted.
In Nigeria, my singing would have been viewed as a FB status inviting likes/dislikes, teasing comments like ‘froggy voice’ ‘what bit you this morning’, ‘yes o TGIF’, ‘somebody is happy today’.
If I am cooking or about to eat and a friend/acquaintance is near. He must partake of my fare. A spoonful, forkful, sip, a helping from the pot. It would be rude if I didn’t offer even if we all know he’ll say No.
I cant think of any situation or person in Nigeria that is culturally treated as a tree or machinery. Be it the security guard, the driver, the cashier. ok maybe the Policeman :). You must greet or acknowledge his greeting. You must ask after his health or his family’s health. You must treat him as a living breathing man.
Hi is not a greeting in Nigeria. It’s a pre-fix. An entrée to the main meal. I may say ‘Hi’ when I pick the phone but it is quickly followed by the ‘proper greeting’: ‘Good morning/Good afternoon/evening if its someone older. I guess here in UK, it would be considered as a double greeting. (I confess to double greeting my lecturers. Its unconscious though. E.g. Marge, my HOD passes by and goes ‘Hi Ginger’ and I respond ‘Hi Marge’ quickly followed by ‘good morning’. Most times she responds but I notice she has this suspicious look…lolss).
With mates/friends, it is Hi Honeydame (yep, you know the name use it!!!) followed by variants of ‘how are you today’, ‘How was your night’, ‘How has your day been’ ‘Did you have a good day’. The beauty is when you ask the afore questions, it opens up conversations. It’s gives the other an opportunity to unburden/share their day (‘You won’t believe what happened to me today’). It creates bonds.
And If a housemate comes into the common room with eyes red and tears streaming….you are going to get hugged and fussed over by random strangers who will pray for you, curse out whoever made you cry (lol) Give you a hanky to clean your face before getting down to the juicy bit of what made you cry(gossip!).
When I compare Titi of North of Lagos’ experience of friendship and community in my Alma Mater, University of Ibadan and my experience in Durham, this difference in culture is so glaring.