The moment someone finds out that you’re more foreign than you appear on the surface, it usually marks as the beginning of an interesting conversation. Being a Nigerian-born individual is no exception. When talking about it with some Americans who ask where I’m from, it is so cool to hear about their experiences going to Nigeria or their relatives and/or close friends who have been there. It serves as a great reminder that the world is smaller than it seems. I also like that there are those who are genuinely interested about Nigeria and Nigerian culture, asking really good questions like, “What’s the relationship between Nigeria and The States when it comes to foreign relations?” But then, there are certain questions that leave you wondering, Wait…did he just ask me this? Some of the following questions used to bother me but being a cross-cultural person is frustrating enough, and, sometimes you have to make light of the crazy questions. I have found that some of these questions are a reflection of how Western media portrays Africans so that is often all they know. And then there are other questions that…well…read on and you’ll see what I mean.
- “Did you wear shoes?”
- “Did you ride on the back of a cheetah?”
- (After telling a friend of mine I was going to Nigeria) “Oh, so you’re going to sleep in a tent?”
- “Do you speak African?”
- “Oh you’re Nigerian? Oh wow, I never would have guessed. You don’t have an accent!” (I get what they mean but, in reality, everyone has an accent. I find it amusing that people equate not having a foreign accent to not having an accent at all.)
- “Say something in African.”
- Classmate: “Wait…you’re from Nigeria?”
Classmate: “Oooh, I thought you were from Africa!”
- “Did you live in a hut?”
- “So do you guys talk like this?” *He starts clicking his tongue*
- Friendly Stranger: “Where are you from?”
F.S.: “Nigeria…that’s in Jamaica, right?”
Bonus moment brought to you by my middle school: I was required to take an ESL listening placement test to prove my English skills since I was listed in their records as a foreign kid born in Nigeria (whose official language is English) who moved here from Canada (whose official languages include English). While I was flying through the thing, my proctor was confused why I was being tested in the first place. She also admitted that she heard no foreign accent when I spoke. We laughed intermittently throughout the testing session because we both knew we were wasting our time.
Which one of these questions do you think is the most outrageous of them all? Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a cross-cultural faux pas?