September 22, 2004

African Formality

Yesterday, we were all prepped up to receive the honorable Ambassador to Nigeria in Senegal. And I mean prepped: we had huge flowers, flags of the US, Senegal, and Nigeria made by tailor, catering by the poshest place around, pamphlets and speeches printed out and everyone wore their nicest outfits.

At 11:00AM, a mad rush for the conference room starts up and I am summoned to put all the little food canapes on trays and whisk them off to the car. Imagine this: 15 people panicking to pack all of the flags, speeches, foods and drinks and staff in three cars to go to the Nigerian Embassy. Why? The rather hefty Ambassador could not climb the 30 some stairs to our office. So, as our country director said: "If the king cannot come to you, you go to the king".

What followed were profuse apologies on behalf of the Ambassador (she did not realize what we had prepared in anticipation of her visit), formal speeches, lots of smiling and shuffling around, and dead silences punctuated by meager attempts at making polite conversation. Each staff member had to stand up in turn, state his/her name, country of origin and job title. After each introduction were bursts of applause. It felt like the Oscars. I was also asked to lead us in prayer, a task I quickly relegated to a more religious member of our staff, under the guise of being too bashful to talk (whew! I go away easily this time).

While this exercise in civility was nicely executed, I cannot stop to wonder: did we really have to be so formal? Wouldn't it have been easier --and a great deal less embarrassing-- for all those involved if we had had a nice, relaxed conversation over tea?

Ugh, cultural differences.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i forgot your email address! well i got a new computer and didn't import my address book, and on top of that i forgot it. but glad to see you are getting the full experience over there! drop me a line so i get you back in my address book : michellehucher @ hotmail