Thursday, June 2, 2011

This is Oyiboland - Where Hello is a complete greeting

You woke up last Friday morning feeling happy’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.


  1. That's the UK for you, but I totally find it's different in the least some parts of the South are quite friendly and receptive. A simple hello just won't do.

  2. And then there is the half-grin, which I can't quite differentiate from a smirk.. Sigh..

  3. Frankly, Darling, I may be mostly African because I certainly do not have the British reserve. I like to touch, to hug, to laugh, to cry and to breathe in our humanity! Just keep being you! And Dad and I will make you feel like you are in Nigeria when you come to visit. We'll pry, we'll pester and we'll hug you constantly!

  4. @Mom - Awww..that sounds wonderful!! I love being pried and pestered and most especially hugged :)

    @Rustgreek - I know the half grin you speak of. And it disappears quite as fast as it appears.

    @Mamuje - I believe you about the States. My American classmates are the bomb! And their bloggers too...

  5. You know, i think this is pretty sad- it takes On Your Own (OYO) to a whole new level. You are sooo right about the double greeting lol!


  6. Hi to you too..... Hope you are gingering your swagger and vice versa. I already gave up on the greeting differences a long time ago.

  7. thats how it is my biggest challenge was greeting my elders/lecturers 'hi'....i felt it was disrespectful

  8. I totally agree that the UK is cold.
    However, I have told/ warned/ advised my kids that 'Hello' is for pets and their friends.
    Whenever we meet other adults (black or white), I insist they say 'Good Afternoon, Morning or Evening'
    Sorry, but that's the way I want to bring up my kids. You think say Prince Charles dey greet im mama 'hello'?
    Their Headmistress also insists on proper greeting. It is a life skill to be able to get people to open up to you - and a casual hello does not cut it.
    Surprisingly, I cannot tell you how many times people - especially old people - have come to me and said 'How refreshing to see kids who greet properly nowadays'

  9. It was a culture shock thing for me when i first arrived in greet and no one answers...I have gotten used to it.

    We are so totally different.

  10. We've become such a narcissistic society. I've never read about people in categories like that, but you're absolutely right. Although, I live in a smaller community that's really quite friendly. The grocery store clerk, may be next to you in your gym class, then behind you at the post office. We're just friendly to everyone here.

    I'm with Linda. You just keep being your open friendly self and eventually you'll wear them down. ;)

  11. Very interesting article. About Americans generally being more friendly, I concur, have worked with both groups and the difference was clear.

  12. there are differences everywhere.

    Its in our best to adopt them
    as saying goes
    "When in Rome do as Romans do."

  13. @Honeydame - I am gingering my swagger indeed, and i have been accused of Seriously. A housemate met my classmate and said Ginger bullies me..well jokingly. Another house mate commented on fb that she misses my bullying. That's how my friendship by force has been interpreted. lol.

    @Sisi Yemmie - me too. Remember in Nigeria, you will add Sir, Lord, Oga etc lol

    @NaijaMum - More power to you. We really meed more Nigerian Mums like you here. when in Rome pick the good habits of the Romans. :)

    @Lara- I am surprised to hear that about India. I thought they were very friendly people. Shy maybe but definitely friendly. pele.

    @Jayne - I do my best M'am. I do my best.

    @Mimi - hi Mimi. Welcome here and thanks!

    @Jyoti - Hi Jyoti. Welcome here!! I hear you, but I'd take a raincheck on this particular culture. I think it leads to a lonely existence.

  14. I live in the West [US] and we have actual conversations. With strangers. It's expected. The East Coast was a whole different story. Cold. Very little interaction.

  15. You are so right...coming to Nigeria, I was like, why are these folks asking me so many questions about my night and my family. I really had to learn how to slow down and speak to folks.

  16. I always try to treat the "machine people" like people, they are people, and when they act like machines and don't respond to my conversation I just feel weird. It's not me, it's them I know, but still, it's weird.

  17. Hi Ginger!!
    It's like you write these informing posts for me! May I share that, when I came, I didn't feel as much culture shock when I first arrived here, but I'm feeling it a lot right now (after 8 months-- weird) probably because I have gotten a more 'insider' view to Oyibo thoughts and behaviours. Freaky stuff.

    Like how POLITE they are (as in, I have always known they are really polite, but didn't quite know HOW polite-- if you are standing in their way or walking too slowly, they dont say anything at all.. just quietly wait for you to waka.. they dont express their vexation too... woo, so many little-little things.

    Anyhoo, thanks for the posts!

  18. interesting post..if only it was the same in nigeria.. there's too much protocol and ceremony regarding greeting here

  19. @Mary - thank you for the warning Mary. Definitely heading West wehnever I come to the States :)

    @Murayo - lolsss. we do poke nose a lot. But its all love babe. All love :). Welcome here!

    @Madge - that is so true. Some people love being machines. It can be!

    @Northern Chica - chuckling. We are still going to talk about that politeness. I am real glad this posts have been of use to you, to any one reading.

    @MsInfamous - A contrary view; I like! I guess half and half would be just perfect :). Welcome here!!

  20. nice post as usual ginger, really loving your "this is oyibo land" series. I remember when i was puking on the metro and no one even paid attention to me :(

  21. Well written Ginger. Saying hi to elders is a no-no for me too and I always do double greetings with elders here. People over here in my little corner of NY are too friendly. They want to know every.

  22. UK people are cold in general. After years of living here and being met with half grins that disappear almost before they appear, one tends to keep one's smiles and greetings to oneself, and the cycle continues. Sad, but true. Anyhoo, loved your post, very apt. Like Naijamum, I tell my kids,'no hellos to aunties, uncles, grandmas or grandpas'.To be honest, some aunties and uncles don't even notice because their own children do not even greet at all. I'll be back to read more of this your oyibo series.

  23. LOL,i remember i would actually kind of kneel down to greet my prof in my 1st yr of college and they won't even answer or would give me the WTF its just hi maam/ times i like it but most times i don't because i think i'll feel better to know someone cares and things like that.Nice post miss :D

  24. *proudly carrying last*

    Yes, this does come as a shock to me. Especially the hi/hello thing. I'm used to greeting people 'good afternoon', and sometimes, here, they look at me weird.

    In Manchester (dunno about other parts of UK), many people would say 'you alright?' in place of a hello/hi; especially service people. I found this weird until I realised it was their version of a 'hi' or 'can I help you?'



Related Posts with Thumbnails