“You’re Very Nice”

Nigerian Communications Commission building Abuja, Nigeria. Photo Credit: African Press Club

Dateline: Maitama, Abuja, Nigeria

By Chiogor Constance Ikokwu

I was planted in the middle of the road under the raging sun in Maitama, Abuja, capital of Nigeria, waiting patiently for a taxi. It was intensely hot!!! Ninety-four degrees Fahrenheit is no joke. Accordingly, my left hand turned into a weapon shielding my face from the heat.

Before departing Barcelona, Spain on this trip, my doctor had warned after a series of medical tests that I was deficient in Vitamin D. “If you don’t want to suffer Osteoporosis when you’re 80, you need to do something about it,” he blurted. “Don’t worry, I’m traveling to Africa,” I chimed with the biggest smile.

Within a week, I was sweating profusely, squinting my eyes for lack of sun-glasses and melting under the brutal heat. It was uncomfortable. Inwardly though, I was delighted to be receiving the real thing as opposed to a bottle of multivitamin pills earlier proposed as a quick remedy.

A nice car bearing tinted windows pulls up, moving slightly ahead to my left. I catch a glimpse of the occupant gazing at me from the side mirror. A tall, bespectacled lanky young man in native attire alights from the vehicle.

“Which way are you going?” “I’m going to Transcorp Hilton. I’m waiting for a taxi.” “Oh, ok. I’m going to Wuse 2.”

For a second, I think he waited for a cue from me on whether I would like a ride. Then he walks back to the car, looking shy. “Thank you,” I uttered belatedly.

Shortly, a taxi takes its place in front of me. The driver, a middle-aged, average built man thrusts his head forward in my direction. He is very jovial. “Aunty, where are you going?” “Transcorp Hilton.” “Ok, let me drop you naaa.” “How much is it?”

There are no meters in Nigerian taxis. Therefore, one has to haggle to an agreed price before the transaction takes place. Instead of making me an offer, the driver behaves typically.

“Aunty, just enter shaaa, let me just drop you. You can give me anything you like.” Aunty? Of course, I’m in no way related to this man. But in Nigeria, strangers address one another with titles such as uncle, aunty, daddy, elder, mummy, madam, merely out of respect.

I sat down and made some comments about the weather. “It looks like you’re just coming into town. Where are you coming from?”

We prattled all the way. He accepted the money that I offered without any question. We bade goodbye. The banter continued with the gatemen and the receptionist at my destination. Everyone engaged with me as if there’s an existing relationship.

Welcome to Africa!! The incident reminded me of the differences between Europe and Africa. This would probably not happen in Barcelona.

In Nigeria, it’s not uncommon to strike up a conversation with random people everywhere – on the road, in the supermarket, street corner, bus, taxi, train, etc. It’s regarded as normal behavior. People are generally open, nice and accommodating particularly to strangers.

In Europe, the culture is different. Talking to strangers seems abnormal, at least from my experience. I recollect riding the train every day. Everyone is glued to a phone or minding their business. People freak out if you say hello to them on the streets. You look like an absolute weirdo throwing unsolicited greetings around. It is assumed that you want something.

I remember attending a social event in Barcelona. The venue was humming with guests. My eyes strayed to a man probably in his late 50s, standing alone, looking bored and lonely. I dredged up the courage to go talk to him. He was British. We chattered till the end of the event.

This man said to me severally with a grin: “you’re very nice.” He appeared genuinely flabbergasted by my gesture. I, with a stupefied face, replied meekly: “thank you.” I did not understand why it was a big deal. I was only trying to be humane.

The differences in culture are glaring. Growing up, my mother used to tell us (my siblings and I) to greet strangers on the street, to smile, to be nice and respectful to everybody. I’m sure that my peers in Nigeria will confirm similar home training. It’s the way it is.

As I round up this piece, I am sitting on the edge of my bed, close to the window soaking in the hot morning sun. It feels awesome!! I’ll probably have an overdose of vitamin D before returning to Barcelona.

What are your experiences on the subject? Do you still come across random nice people? Have a good week!

Maitama, Abuja, Nigeria

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  1. Yup! Engaging everyone and anyone in the market place, on the bus, in a taxi, while waltzing through the aisles at the supermarket … anywhere, even when you know you will never see then again is our culture here in Africa. It’s not regarded as ‘nicety’ though. It’s also not just normal but is almost expected. To do otherwise is to attract disdain from others, especially senior citizens. Others will think you’re just plain snobbish. Yup! I’ve also experienced the reactions outside Africa. In the US for example people are wary, though not always rejecting of randomness. There are also places where it is quite acceptable. In the salon for example, ladies warm up to each other very quickly and can be even very chatty!Or while walking your dog, a fellow animal lover will chime back a greeting! I think it has a lot to do with your approach at times.

    Then of course you will come across the racist types, like I did once in a store in Dubai. She wouldn’t even look up from the handbag she was perusing. I had asked the lady what she thought was a better choice between two items I was considering. Still oblivious at such apparent rudeness, I lifted my voice an octave and repeated myself to the hearing of others. Madam She was unfazed! But that’s life. Some will respond and others will not.

    For me though it’s more than cutural. I’ve come to understand that these random acts enable us loose the tension that inadvertently comes from just living. It feels good to tell an unknown chic at the supermarket that her hair is truly gorgeous( only if u really think it is though, flattery is not cool and can get you into trouble). The instant reward of a big rainbow smile from an otherwise stern face, for me is priceless and makes me smile back. The benefits of the ‘feel good’ hormones released into our bodies when we smile, laugh or otherwise experience the joie de vivre are well documented. You look better and feel better. Plus you never know what longlasting benefits your openness might bring you. Met one of my now closest friends at the airport as I stood behind her in a queue. She was taller than my 6’1′ and I complimented her. The rest is history! I recommend it any day, plus it’s free!!!!

    1. Uzo, thanks for sharing your experiences. Sorry for that encounter in Dubai. It happens. The dog walking and salon aspect is interesting. Plus, yes, there’s a benefit with regard to losing up the tension in life!!

  2. Being nice and politeness ought to be natural. As it is, the world is fraught with challenges. If being nice dents the tedium and alienation people feel, so be it. What does it cost to be nice? Nothing. So be nice.

  3. Love your encounters with the locals in Abuja….brings back such lovely memories of my time there, many moons ago.
    Would love to see more images in your posts if possible 😘

  4. I enjoyed reading Uzos comments however the use of the word “chic” would be pounced on by the politically correct here in the UK and definately would lead to a cascade of objecting tweets were he to say it there. Any opportunity to trash the tweeter is pounced on by some. The word chic, coming from the US in mid 20th century I think, is well out of date and and antiquated in today’s “me to” environment. More than that many women now find it offencive and I totally agree. Being a male I don’t take it personally but it does raise questions about who is the man using it and what is his attitude towards women.
    I really would like to here from Nigerian women here as to their opinions cos so far no one has brought it up. Is the feeling you are well able to handle it or your used to it as the normal or what?

  5. It’s phenomenal in Nigeria to be nice to people. Our backgrounds informs us to be respectful to strangers and the likes. Makes one be at peace with a stranger.

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