9 Nigerian Societal Norms That May Be Irrational


Nigeria, like every other society, has a number of social norms that guide the way its people behave. The need for people to conform to these social norms is quite understandable. These norms provide order in society and create a sort of predictability in social relationships, making it quite easy for people to understand each other’s actions.

While these social norms – strongly influenced by traditions, culture, and religion – are accepted standards of behaviour, some of them do not really make sense.The world is changing; people know better and are starting to embrace their uniqueness better…and when you think about it, there is no justification for why people should necessarily conform to these social norms.

Wearing Different Clothes Every Day “Oh! I wore this yesterday; I can’t wear it again today.”

Who cares? Why is there so much pressure to wear a different apparel every day? What difference does it make? How does it make the world a better place? I mean, if you like a fabric and a certain style, why can’t you wear it every day for a week or even a month, as long as you are able to keep it clean and well ironed. Why is this even a norm? You have people at work giving you the weird look, or shaming you for wearing the same dress 3 times in a row, maybe even starting a gossip chat about you…why?

The Right Hand Syndrome You must greet people with your right hand, you must take things from elders or anyone really with your right hand, you must also eat your food with the right hand or you are seen as disrespectful, ill-mannered or just rebellious. The left is a part of the body created to just chill and make the right hand feel like it is not alone in this cold and wicked world. Why? Why is the right hand the “chosen”? Does passing an object with the left hand rather the right hand really change its quality or outlook? Does eating with the left make the food taste any different from what it originally tastes like?

Sitting While you Eat Who invented this norm, really? As a child, you are made to sit while eating and automatically you grow up only feeling comfortable to eat when you’re sitting. Eating while standing, walking or even lying down is frowned upon; people look at you like you are challenged mentally or they make comments that imply that you are now well-trained. Why do we have to sit?

Responding to people with the same language It is an unwritten rule that you respond to people in the same language that they have spoken to you. Doing otherwise will present you as cocky, disrespected or even crass. If someone speaks Yoruba to you, you respond in Yoruba; you do not respond in English…who do you think you are? Better than everybody else? If you cannot speak the Yoruba, you are expected to fetch a translator or respectfully smile and nod all through the conversation…especially if it is a superior, or an older person. In the case where you understand, but are not fluent in speaking, you bite your tongue and respond in the best way you can. You cannot just respond to the person in another language and continue the conversation with two languages. Should uniformity in language used in communication matter, if understanding is being achieved anyway? Why is this even a thing?

Offering visitors food or drink When you have guests visit you in your home, you are expected to offer them drinks or food, otherwise you would be considered inhospitable. If the visit was not planned and the person just popped in, or even if your pantry is empty, you are obliged to go buy and offer a drink…at least. This norm dates as far back as when people had to offer Kolanuts to their visitors and the visitor was also obliged to accept it to show that they had peaceful intentions. But does this make sense? Why should your choice to offer or not offer food or drinks determine how homely or welcoming you are?

Not burping or farting in public There is an Ibo adage that translates: “farts have no toilet”, but in spite of that knowledge, you are looked upon with disdain when you fart in public. Also when you burp while eating in public, you are considered to have bad manners when in reality you are just succumbing to a natural body process. People stifle farts and burps and endure extreme discomfort to avoid being shamed. If we can leave with people breathing in public and even sneezing in public, what makes farting and burping different? They too are spontaneous body reactions. Why can’t we stop being pretentious and be real humans?

Men can’t Have Handbags or Wear High heels Handbags and high heels are foe ladies and if a man is seen wearing any of the two, they are condemned and tagged gay or too feminine. They are expected to either carry back packs or briefcases, even when the accessories do not suit their dressing or if it is not convenient. A hand bag basically is for carrying items you’d like to have with you day-to-day…why does a man carrying one make it worthy of derision? Also, why do women get to wear high heels, but men can’t? Wouldn’t it be more flattering for short dudes if they could? Why are they considered strictly feminine?

Not Talking to strangers “Don’t talk to anyone you do not know.” Almost everyone grew up with their parents singing the song in their ears. Sure, they were much more concerned about your safety as child…but as an adult, should this norm really still apply? We ignore everyone else so easily, and never question what others are up to or interact unless predetermined or necessary. We end up only interacting with a select 20 or so people in our daily lives. How do we meet new people then? How do we learn about other people, cultures, and life in general? How to do we socialise? How do we share ideas and move forward? How is this norm helping us move forward as a society?

Being Nice in Public It is not proper to display any kind of negative feeling in public or wash dirty linens. You cannot shame anyone or even yourself when in public, you have to be proper and pretend to care for the person or be okay with their actions as showing anger, frustration, or impatience is unacceptable behavior. Shouldn’t we be able to express exactly how we feel at all points? Isn’t that part of what makes like interesting? Why the façade?

Can you think of any other social norm people our society conform to but does not make any sense?

Photo Credit: Laurin Rinder | Dreamstime

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