Nigerian Cultural Norms

The morning that I arrived in Abuja, my luggage did not arrive with me. I left Baltimore with two suitcases and one carry-on. However, I arrived in Abuja with just the carry-on to my name. So, I filed the necessary claims (sans one of my luggage claim receipts) and proceeded to begin my new life with my ONE piece of luggage. Initially, I thought it’s cool, I’ll have to wait maybe a couple of days. Well, what I thought would be a two-day wait actually turned into two weeks. That was two weeks wearing about 5 of the same outfits and two pairs of shoes TO WORK. Needless to say, I was super excited when I received the call that my luggage had finally shown up to the airport. So I go to the area where the luggage is being held with my happy, excited American self and say “Hello. I received a call that my luggage has arrived. Could you please tell me where I should go?” The man looks at me with disgust and says “If you’re going to be here, you need to learn the proper way to greet us. It’s ‘Good morning’ and then you ask a question!” He continued to fuss and I drowned him out with “Good morning. Good morning. Good morning.” He waved me off in a general direction and I eventually got my luggage.

Even though his delivery was quite unpleasant, he wasn’t wrong. I did, in fact, need to learn the cultural norms of Nigerians if I was going to live here. There are so many, but three in particular have affected me personally. For instance, one of the things I learned was just how important a greeting is in this culture. And no you can’t JUST say hello. You must say “good morning”, “good afternoon”, or “good evening” whichever is appropriate. I haven’t asked why and it doesn’t really matter, it’s part of their culture. And if you really want to show that you’re a caring human, follow your “Good morning” with “How was your night?” They will love you!

The day some of our colleagues and I went to pick up our driver’s licenses I received another lesson in cultural norms. I was about to take my photo for the license and had to give the attendant a form. My right hand was full and so I handed it to him with my left. He then asked me to put down the items in my right hand, put the form in my right hand and to then give it to him. When I tell you I rolled my eyes so hard that I gave myself a headache, know that I am not exaggerating. I was super annoyed. Now, this is one of the cultural “norms” that perplexes me only because it is inconsistently adhered to. For instance, when I am in the market, the vendor will give me my purchase and I will grab it with my right hand (my dominant hand) while simultaneously giving them the money with the left. No one has ever balked at the money I’m giving them because it is in my left hand. Nonetheless, I try my darnedest to be conscious of it, but still after nearly a year I struggle with this one.

However, I think the hardest thing for me to get used to is the no PDA in public. There’s no law against it like in the Middle East, but because Nigeria is ultra-conservative it’s just not something couples do in public. You will see the occasional hand holding, but snuggling, caressing, hugging, or God forbid, kissing you just don’t see. Me being the American that I am didn’t even notice because my fiancé and I are very affectionate. However, one day in the Fish Market while waiting for our fish I noticed that we were the only couple sitting extremely close and being touchy feely. I expressed my observation and his response was “Yeah it’s not a part of our culture.” I was shocked because he had never protested my PDA and even returned in kind, so when I asked why he shrugged and said “You’re American and I don’t mind.” Well, thank God for that.

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