On sharing your culture

A lot of my friends are oyinbo (white) but I have friends from other cultures too. One of my closest friends happens to be Serbian and from the moment I met her over 12 years ago, she has always gotten me involved in her culture: at dinners her family would host, they would have just as many Serbian dishes as Canadian dishes. I hate trying new food sha so I would generally avoid the Serbian dishes. There’s a certain celebration called slava they celebrate and I am invited every year and expected to greet them with Srechna slava! or “Happy Slava” when I see them. I have absorbed/learned a few Serbian words from hanging out with my friend. Since they follow the Orthodox calendar when it comes to holidays, their Easter and Christmas is always a week behind the current calendar and this is something I know.

When she got married, I was the maid of honour and I said five words in my speech in Serbian: “Unfortunately, I don’t speak Serbian”, and the crowd went wild that I was able to speak that much.

(I know what you’re thinking: is this a Serbian blog or a Nigerian blog? I’m getting to my point though, I promise!)

I am the opposite about sharing my culture with my friends. When I go to Nigerian parties, I never invite my friends because I think they’ll find the concept of Naija time lame (it irritates me sef, why would someone else put up with it?!), they’ll hate the food and they’ll find the event too loud, crowded, and disorganized (maybe this is just how the events we’re involved in are here o! I’m not saying Nigerians can’t throw swanky affairs!). Their senses may also be assaulted by folks who bathe regularly but don’t believe in wearing deodorant.

(And yes, I went there. Is it only me who notices this? I know for a fact that Nigerians are very clean people: as children if you didn’t properly bathe yourself you had to go back into the bathroom and do it again but wearing deodorant regularly? This is not yet a habit of all Nigerians. I think it should be.)

Back to the topic: basically all my friends know about my culture is:

  • GNG is Nigerian
  • GNG goes to these “Nigerian parties”
  • GNG (and others) eat a lot of food that is deep fried
  • Nigerians are generally loud (I think they have made this assumption because when they call my house it always sounds like there’s a war of words going on, even if people are just asking each other how their day was)

and I feel bad about it because I am responsible for their lack of knowledge. I love being Nigerian and I know the culture is very rich. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a lot of it, but I love:

  • how Yorubas show respect for their elders (kneeling, dobale)
  • the music
  • people’s names and how full of meaning they are
  • the naming ceremony for children when they are a week old
  • dancing, and how so many of the women our mothers’ age can dance the entire night away while I’m begging for mercy after 15 minutes

Only once have friends of mine witnessed some of my Nigerian culture. When my mother turned 50, we held a party for her. It wasn’t a strictly Nigerian party, but there were a lot of Nigerians there. I didn’t want to tell any of my friends about the event, but finally I told the Serbian friend I mentioned above. She was so excited to be invited and she and her fiancé were happy to come. They had a great time—loved the beautifully patterned clothing the Nigerians wore, the music and they enjoyed the food too. It was funny because the girl kept asking how to make certain things (chin chin, dodo, akara, puff puff), and each one had the same basic instruction (deep fry it!).

The problem is that I have always compartmentalized these two aspects of me: the North American part and the Nigerian part. I do my “Nigerian stuff” with the Nigerian community, and when it comes to hanging out with my friends, I keep my cultural background out of it. When asked, I’ll talk about Nigeria but when it comes to bringing Nigerian food to potlucks or parties that are oyinbo, I never do it. When it comes to sharing the latest Naija track that I can’t get enough of, I hesitate. Even though my parents regularly share aspects of their culture with people and have only received enthusiastic responses.

I think this separation that I have imposed between things I do that are Nigerian or not may be why I feel like I’m caught between two cultures instead of blending into that person who easily accepts both sides of the coin that is her.

For those of you living where Nigerian culture isn’t the reigning culture, how do you share your culture or introduce your non-Nigerian friends to your culture? Is doing this a priority for you? Have I overthought the matter?

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15 thoughts on “On sharing your culture

  1. GNG how body? its been a while.

    I am actually not shy about my culture and nigerian stuff.
    I must correct the impression that its a nigerian thing not to use deodorant, back in my secondary school it was essential to have and use one.
    Not all 9ja food are deep fried. maybe the small chops, like puff-puff, akara and chin-chin, are but others are not. I only use my fryer for plantain, and only eat puff-puff, and chin chin at parties.

    You should be free to talk about your culture, and not feel that other people might consider it strange, absurd and weird. People will initially not embrace new things, it takes time. But talk about it, you'll be surprised.

  2. You'd probably be surprised at how much your friends might enjoy those events/experiences. I LOVE (and no, I'm not inviting myself, lol) going to events with very different music, food, clothing…it's a whole new world. Share it with them, I'm sure many would be honored to experience what is truly you!

  3. my circle of friends is the "UN" so, it's been very easy to share my culture.( i actually make it a point to dispel all the negative stereotypes and misperceptions about naija)

    whenever there' a naija party i usually tell my non naija friends to arrive 2-3hrs late and carry a supply of painkillers for migrain sufferers.lol

  4. @Oluwadee, Sherri & Shannon – Good responses on the issue. I'll refrain from commenting on this one; i have been warned not to. GNG definitely does not want to hear my take on this. So I'll sit it out on the sideline…

    nuff said

  5. lol @ a war going on when they call your house…but abeg we 9ja peeps dey loud o..i feel you a bit abt beign cut up in two cultures even us that lived in 9ja and have moved here feel that way….i dont go about carrying the nigerian flag or wearing gele or talking about nigeria all the time!!!but everything i do reflects that i am from a diff culture..even the way i talk to my boss sef,i am so respectful…..i really dont know why our parties are always disorganised..wo i dont blame you for not inviting your frends to your naija parties jo!!!!lol…i mean i was at a 9ja party a while back and then it was time for food o..it was a buffet thats how all d 9ja pple jumped up and started running to get in line and making noise…i just saw the oyibo ppel shaking their head i was so ashamed….but babes u can make jollof rice,fried rice even pounded yam and efo to potlucks now!!!!

  6. Hmm, Nice topic
    I am so into involving my culture with my everyday life. Everyone at work/school knows i am Nigerian. I bring naija food to events, play my music, wear naija shirts…I guess i just like being different!

  7. you will be amazed at what our friends do not notice that we ourselves are overly critical of. I'm with you on the naija time. I've invited friends out to events and they'd come early only to have to wait hours on our naija people. So now I gve them a later time.
    The first time I took my fella to his first naija party, I was so embarrased and ashamed of the cleaniless of my uncle's house, the overcrowding, the comments by those perverts agbayas and the way the food was displayed. I took him to my uncle's room to go eat because there was no other space to eat and the only thing he thought odd was my uncle's porn collection sitting right next to his sanctuary and holy figures.
    I think our non naija friends have a better understanding of our personalities when they see us in our culture. I think the only thing that might put them off is exposing them to our culture in an overbearing way. You know, by constantly speaking the language without regard for who is around you, making people pronounce names properly (lol, I couldn't resist) when we sometimes have difficulty pronouncing names ourselves (like asian, indian etc) or just being overly boisterous about not wanting to adapt to the country you are in simply because you are different.

  8. I love this topic, while my friends mix 50/50 (naija and oyibo/asian) I don't have a hard time bringing up my culture with either groups. If anything I'm actually trying to get my naija friends (the ones not born/raised here) to beleive that I'm 100% naija. They always call me akata naija because I've lived in Yankee for too long. For my non naija friends its not a priority for me to introduce my culture to them with the exception being if they have had a negative POV placed on them then I feel I need to explain what is true and what is false.
    Please GNG dont feel bad about it, your arent responsible for their lack of knowledge regarding your culture. Its great your Serbian friend has introduced you to her's but you arent obligated to do the same. I got a Vietnamese friend that has introduced me to everything Vietnamese, she invites me to vietnamese resturants ALL the time but not once i've i taken her to a naija joint, if she asked i would sha.

  9. I kinda agree with Abbie here. I live in Naija, so this has never been a problem for me.
    I'm glad though that this bothers you enough to the point where you seek help. It is commendable.

  10. I think this a feeling that is not unusual with Nigerians that did not grow up in Nigeria. The 'not too keen to share our culture' bit.
    I've been about quite a bit in the past few years – within Africa and beyond but live in Nigeria.
    Truthfully, Nigerians are LOUD. Within Africa at least.
    But, have you been to Italian/Irish/Hispanic parties?
    No way we can compete with them on the noisy tip.

    I think it comes down to the educated/professional and uneducated/villager(country people as it is called in the west) divide. You'd notice that hanging around with these 2 different crowds provides a case study in the differences in communication techniques.

    You will get both types with Nigerians and other peoples of the world.

    I'm eagerly expecting the report on your impending visit to Naija soon, GNG.

  11. Funny enough, consciously or unconsciously we share (by expression in our attitudes & habits) our culture. 'tis inherent.

    What hails thee, GNG?

  12. I have quite a diverse group of friends like someone said the UN, lol!… I am eager to know about other folks' culture down to the food, dancing, festivals, history…etc… I am a self-proclaimed couch anthropologist… :)

    I understand how it can seem difficult to share one's culture especially when we didn't grow amidst said culture. But having a critical eye on our customs should not prevent us from enjoying the beauty of it… Do I make a conscious effort to share my culture, not necessarily but it's part of me so it will come up eventually…

    If you were able to see the beauty of your culture, trust your friends to be able to see the same things… The search for perfection is a futile one.

  13. I guess it's an issue for u cos u were raised here. I don't have non-nigerian/africa friends (it wasn't a conscious choice) so i don't really the problem u do. But if i did, i don't think i would have a problem introducing them to nigerian culture. When one of my sister's fiance (african american) came down for my graduation she made him eat pounded yam with his fingers. I felt a little bad for him cos we had a full house and we were freaking loud.

  14. I have grown up in the States with friends of all sorts of cultures. I guess it is just a given with a friend that I want to know about their culture and them to know a little bit about mine. I know not to invite them to the parties on time — tell them the start time, but let them know when the food is supposed to be served since that is the time most people will get there. I love for them to see the clothes, to hear the music, and to see that we are civilized people and don't come from a jungle or live in trees (seriously, I have had young and old people ask me that). I think that if you are friends with someone, they should know YOU. Maybe not all of you, but if your culture is important to you, they should know a bit of your culture. Just as you should know a bit of theirs.

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