By Donu Kogbara
I LIKE to think of myself as a student of human nature and, having travelled widely, I can confidently say that there is a level on which most citizens of the world are fundamentally similar – identical, even – regardless of their racial origins, nationalities, financial circumstances, spiritual convictions, etc.
For example, most mothers would die for their children, whether they are impoverished African villagers who believe in juju, Croesus-rich Arab princesses who are staunchly Islamic, unemployed Americans who are great fans of Christianity, Japanese housewives who have Buddhist shrines in their homes, Antipodean professionals who describe themselves as atheists, Indian factory workers who pray to Hindu deities, Caribbean Rastafarians or whatever.
However, while the bigger picture (profound, unconditional love for offspring) is exactly the same on the maternal front across the globe, the smaller picture (attitudinal and behavioural details) differs from society to society.
So while a typical Pakistani mum insists that her teenage daughter wears long demure gowns, covers her head in public, never hangs out with males to whom she isn’t related and doesn’t go anywhere unchaperoned, a typical European mum will allow her adolescent girl to frequent nightclubs dressed raunchily, and may even let her share a bedroom with her boyfriend in the family residence.
The European mum doesn’t love her daughter any less than her Pakistani counterpart. Her existence is simply governed by a different set of rules.
I find such cultural differences absolutely fascinating and have decided to highlight a few significant differences between the average European mindset and the average Nigerian mindset in this week’s column.
The story that inspired me to focus on this topic revolves around Mary Berry, a distinguished British cookery expert, aged 77.
Mrs Berry, who has written 70 cookbooks and has a daughter called Annabel, was interviewed by a UK newspaper earlier on this week and said:
“One of my proudest moments was making Annabel’s wedding cake [when she got married in 2002]. I was thrilled that she asked me to do it – and very nervous, of course.
But…the cake was very well received.”
I shook my head in bemusement and amazement when I read this article.
Imagine a Nigerian mother who is an immensely successful chef being almost pathetically grateful because her daughter “kindly” invited her to bake her wedding cake AND being nervous while she was performing the task!
In Britain, it is normal for mothers to be diffident around their kids. When I was married to an Englishman and had just had a baby, his mother came to stay with us for a few days to help me with the new arrival; and she would humbly seek my permission every time she wanted to take something from the fridge.
Though I grew up in London, I was reared by Nigerian parents; and I was therefore accustomed to slavishly kow-towing to the older generation and was very embarrassed by the deference that my mother-in-law (a fellow graduate) lavished on me; and I kept begging her to regard her son’s home as her domain.
But she would gently but firmly inform me that it was MY home, not hers.
OUR culture is a different ball game. Firstly, fear of your mother-in-law is the beginning of wisdom in Nigeria because, nine times out of ten, she will be mega-domineering and eager to tell you how to operate, even if she is an illiterate.
Secondly, the average Naija mama would (even if she didn’t possess Mrs Berry’s sophisticated gastronomic knowledge) be ready to land a hot slap on any daughter who was saucy enough to dare to imagine that anyone but her Mum should totally control all matters pertaining to wedding catering!
Another major cultural difference: Adverts for advance funeral planning and financing abound in British print and electronic media outlets.
I’ve seen several such adverts recently – in which the elderly are politely reminded to organise and pay for their own burials before they drop dead, to save their families the hassle of having to undertake the responsibility.
Nigerians are so allergic to contemplating their own demises that they hardly ever get around to making wills before they shuffle this mortal coil. There is an almost superstitious dread of discussing the inevitable.
My Dad was completely outraged when my sister suggested that he made it clear, in writing, what he wanted us to do with his properties if he passed away before we did. And he died intestate, despite being an educated man who should have known better.
Can you imagine normal Nigerian parents summoning their nearest and dearest to cheerfully tell them the type of headstone, coffin and church service they want?! Or paying for the ceremonies while they are alive?
Impossible! Abomination! God forbid!
ANTONION, an Italian great-grandfather aged 99 is divorcing his wife aged 96 because he has just discovered that she had an affair over 60 years ago.
The couple have been married since l934 and Antonio’s wife has not been unfaithful since that one lapse. But the people around them seem to understand his decision and are not pressuring him to forgive and forget. His lawyer said:
“Antonio feels betrayed and unable to carry on with the marriage…”.
Imagine a Nigerian lawyer agreeing to handle a case like this in the first place!!!
Imagine a Nigerian geriatric being given the impression that it makes sense to become a divorcee and live alone on the verge of your l00th birthday!