So November marked a year of living in Lagos and naturally I feel totally equipped to give expert (HA!) advice on living here. There’s definitely a new wave of young people of Nigerian heritage who have moved to this side of the equator, after having spent most-if-not-all of our lives so far living elsewhere. There was a lot that I didn’t know before moving and a whole lot I still don’t know. A wise person (Obi- Wan Kenobi?) once said ‘Each one, teach one’, so in that vein, I give you my 10 Things You Might Want To Know Before You Land at Murtala Muhammed International Airport
1. Numero uno. However culturally astute you are, however in touch you are with your Nigerian side, whether you’re a champion pounded yam and egusi soup eater or fluent in the social norms associated with your cultural group, you will still experience culture shocks…frequently. Maybe ‘shock’ is too harsh a term, it might be a tremor, but still expect to be awed by phrases that your syntax can’t compute, and expect modes of operation that leave you bewildered. This can range from the manner in which ‘observations’ are thrown at you (ex: “see your teeth, yellow like paw-paw”), through to being chastised over communicative misunderstandings (note, do not tell someone “It is a shame” without expecting a rebuttal of “how dare you define this as a shame?!”
2. The Lagos that you will love, y’know…the one where there are endless parties, Polo tournaments, big cars, champagne-a-poppin’, beach retreats and fine(ish) dining, makes up about 0.01% of the reality of Nigeria and Nigerians. You’ll have fun. You will see opulence and wealth like never before (unless you’re just accustomed like that), but please remember that this bubble is small. Tiny. And the more you gain perspective, the more likely you’ll be able (heck, even cognisant) to make a real difference in aiding the progression of this potentially great Nation.
3. Racism is prevalent here. Yes, I know you were feeling all Marcus Garvey about your return to the motherland and the possibility of encouraging African success stories. The reality is, having a foreign accent in Nigeria, often equates to preferential treatment (or sometimes the adverse), because you’re seen to be better, richer and smarter than the rest. So, keeping that reality in mind will help suppress your horror to discover that favouritism and prejudice of this nature is greater extended to our Caucasian counterparts. Yes, in Nigeria, the white man is the ultimate trump card and symbol of reverence and praise, particularly in the business-world where the token white employee (high position occupying of course) is a commodity sought by just about every business owner in Nigeria. It’s odd. Coming from the rationale that inadequacy has various shades and accents, the hailing of all things Western in the very place you expect it least, is a bewildering reality.
4. You will meet the most amazing people you’ve ever met. Our humour, richness of spirit and social flair is unbeatable (ugh I know this is suuuuch a generalisation, but whatever). In Nigeria you’ll be fortunate enough to meet some of the most interesting personalities you’ve ever encountered. The spectrum is wide. We’re talking: quirky, odd, hilarious, intrusive, knowledgeable, haughty, fiery, comedic, insightful…all with that extra Naija spice that just sets us apart. Being the most populous black nation in the world and with a brevity of cultural influences, it’s no wonder that there’s such a wider palette of black people than one would find in say, Woolwich, South London. It’s a beautiful thing, and if you love us, you’ll love it.
5. Driving / being driven in Lagos will drive you mad. Everyday on the roads, it’s a tiresome game of ‘who’s gonna induce a near-death experience first’. I mean, it’s ridiculous. Thankfully, you become desensitised to the outlandish driving and lack of adherence to road rules after a while (I’ve started thinking that Lagosians must be the most skilled drivers in the world…how else do we not have like a gazillion accidents daily?!). So buckle up, take your stress ball along for the ride and try and set a good example, with little stuff like actually using your indicators, lane disciple and applying right of way. Drive like you’re supposed to, in the hopes that your teeny contribution will help save someone’s bumper from diving into a tow-truck. You’re welcome.
6. Laaaaadies, the men in Nigeria are not down with subtlety. Know this. There is no such thing as ‘she’s too good for me ‘this might not be an appropriate time to chat her up’ or ‘should I call her 52 times in a row’. No decorum. They will hunt you down in the supermarket aisle, church pew, workplace… wherever, and this is irrespective of whether you are with your farther, pastor or gynaecologist. If he likes you, he’ll tell you…loudly…with grand rhetoric like ‘God told me you are my future wife’, before he’s even asked your name (no, really though).
7. You will be inspired. By people who started from the bottom, now they’re HERE. By the tenacity that you see everyday because everybody, absolutely everybody is striving for more. You’ll be encouraged by the numerous stories of people succeeding in their dreams because many business markets here aren’t as saturated as some other parts of the world. You have a better shot of making that dream reality here, because everything is within reach if you have a few resources in your arsenal. Yes. You. Can
8. Customer service will leave a sour taste in your mouth. Because you rarely get service with a smile and complaints fall on mute mouths (please note, if you draw attention to the fact that your order was delivered incorrectly, the most you’ll get as a response is a deflated “Sorry”. Siiiigh of a thousand sighs.) Fact is, Nigerians don’t care about your satisfaction. The manager of any business may decline seeing you on request, because he or she can’t be bothered. Advice: Lower your expectations, or befriend at least two employees in each establishment who will forever ‘have your back’ if you need more than nonchalance.
9. Tips, Tips, Tips. We’re not talking advice here. I mean, everybody, wants something from you. This isn’t specific to manual labour like the guy who helps with your luggage at the airport. I mean, everybody. The policeman that stops you, the person who helped you get a business contract, the lady who sells you phone credit….everybody wants you to ‘dash’ them money, even if they haven’t provided any direct service to you. It’s like this, because quite simply, money is the most fluently spoken and rapidly adopted language in Nigeria. Period.
10. Lagos is expensive! Mate, if you want to uphold that sushi-eating, boutique-outfit-wearing, internet-surfing life, please note that the prices here are super inflated compared to the GBP or USD. A simple lunch outing involving a club sandwich and mocktail could set you back 40 quid. And it won’t be the best you’ve ever had. There’s very little in the way of happy mediums, so it’s usually either exuberant prices for basics, or you’re settling for something 20x cheaper but arguably more questionable in quality- this applies to food, houses and internet service providers.