Whether or not you’re Nigerian, you may have interacted with an older Nigerian who was not particularly tactful: they told you what they thought regardless of how it might make you feel (I guess older people, regardless of culture, tend to be a bit more plain spoken). I’ve talked about tact among Nigerians before, and a particular incident involving my grandmother’s neighbour and my weight. Generally speaking, Nigerians aren’t shy about speaking their minds, but for all that bluntness there is a lot of politeness and respect when it comes to greeting people.
Most cultures have the usual pleasantries: good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good night, I’m sorry, please, and thank you, but Yorubas have taken it to the another level (maybe all Nigerian groups are like this? Please tell me!). Aside from the equivalents to what I just mentioned (e ka aaro, e ka san, e ka ale, o da aaro, e ma binu, e jo, e se), you can greet people in several other ways, depending on the situation (unfortunately this blog post will be riddled with Yoruba errors as my written Yoruba is self-taught):
E ku afoju ba: greeting to someone who has just welcomed a visitor
E ku afoju sana: greeting to someone who is expecting a visitor and anticipating their arrival
E ku ewa: recognition of someone’s work in the beauty field (usually to hairdressers)
E ku idele: said to someone who has lost a loved one
E ku ijoko: greeting someone (usually a guest) who has been sitting for a while
E ku ile: the greeting a visitor would say to the people he or she is visiting upon entering their home
E ku iro le: this one makes me smile—it’s not good afternoon or good evening, and it’s not good night, it’s a greeting you say just before evening!
E ku ise: recognition of someone’s work
E ku imura si le or E ku ipa le mo: greeting said to someone who’s preparing for an occasion or future event, such a packing for a trip or for a move to a new place
E ku isimi: greeting to someone who is resting or chilling, hanging out
E ku inawo: recognition of the financial resources someone has invested in an occasion, or praise to someone who has just finished an event or occasion
E ku owo lomi: said to a household that a baby has just been born into; “owo lomi” literally means “hands in the water”, presumably from bathing the baby
E ku wahala: kind of an apology for the stress or trouble someone has been put through
Those are the ones that I’m aware of; please let me know of any other phrases that fit the “E ku ______” pattern.
If you’re a fellow immigrant from Nigeria, this may have happened to you before: you’re talking to somebody in your new country, let’s say they’re a colleague, and they mention something bad that happened. You say “sorry” and they reply with “It’s not your fault!” or “No need to be sorry, you didn’t do anything!” Showing sympathy is very much a part of, dare I say, Nigerian culture, with phrases like “eh ya” or “pele” among the Yorubas and “ndo” among the Igbos being very common. Pele and ndo are powerful words because they can be used as a show of sympathy in many situations. We tend to translate pele as “sorry” in English, though maybe “I feel for you” is more accurate.
Generally speaking, although we don’t usually have a problem apologizing for something that we were not responsible for, but it sounds odd to people in a society like Canada’s that celebrates the autonomy of the individual. So instead of saying sorry, I now say “sorry to hear that” because the person I’m talking to understands that phrase to be an expression of sympathy rather than me trying to take responsibility for something that I had nothing to do with in their opinion.
- Does your culture have specific greetings for specific situations?
- Have you ever had a situation like the “sorry” one, where something is lost in translation due to cultural differences?