Understanding Nigerian Culture Through American Eyes - William Drake

Understanding Nigerian Culture Through American Eyes

By William Drake

  • Release Date: 2018-12-29
  • Genre: Africa


Nigeria is an exciting, vibrant country that also happens to be full of hidden cultural traps that this book will help newcomers see and avoid.

Many of the frustrations experienced by Westerners new to Africa have to do with unseen differences in how time is perceived, valued, and used. A common observation made by newly arrived Westerners goes something like: "Nigerians sure do spend a lot of time just waiting around doing nothing."

The core Western cultural assumption hidden in this comment is that time has value in itself and therefore should not be wasted by doing nothing, or by doing something insignificant or of little value while time, which has intrinsic value, passes by unused for materially productive purposes. The Westerner's use of words like "waste" and “spend” to describe what they believe they see Africans doing speaks volumes about the belief systems behind such comments.

The economic value of time is an American/European concept, and is not a part of traditional Africa culture. Ignoring time as it passes violates no important cultural rules anywhere in traditional Africa and many places in modern Africa – in stark contrast to core values regarding time and money that permeate all Western cultures.

From the African perspective, which does not value time as a thing in itself, “doing nothing” while waiting for some event of actual value to occur is not a waste of time. In fact, what the Westerner sees as doing nothing is, for the Africans, doing many things that all have significant value. Since the event is valued and not the time it takes for the event to arrive or occur, time can be spent doing nothing or just talking with others. "Hanging out talking and joking around with others - that is definitely wasting time", says the Western observer, confirming his opinion of Africans and completely unaware of his own assumptions and hidden beliefs about what is valuable about time, and why.

By the way, the fact that Africans enjoy "wasting time" in discussion with each other can be understood better if the Westerner sees that talking, laughing, and arguing are all culturally rich events - not wasted time. While waiting for the next truckload of equipment to arrive the workers don't seek out other tasks to occupy the time. Doing other work would interfere with hanging out with each other, and that would indeed be a waste of time. Now, talking with each other, maybe some clowning around, perhaps a heated political argument - those are good things to do while waiting for the truck to arrive, because these kinds of activities are intrinsically valuable, culturally relevant events. Therefore the time spent doing nothing but talking and fooling around waiting for the truck isn't wasted; it is used to engage in relational activities, which are critical to a productive working environment.

Try that reasoning on a newly arrived Western manager if you want to see a disbelieving and probably disgusted expression. Then check back in a year – he will either still be there and much wiser, or he will be gone.