When relocating to another country, you become so pumped up with excitement to lead a new life, experience a new culture and to literally see the world through a new lens, you totally forget to take a breather to think about this ‘new place’ you are going to. You forget to ask yourself questions like; will I fit in? Will I be accepted? Will the culture be totally or slightly different from mine? How hard or easy will life be in this new place?
As I am writing this, I’m reminiscing old memories, and I realise those were the questions I forgot to ask myself in my eagerness and excitement to begin a new life in the UK.
Settling into my new home has been surprisingly difficult, I have always perceived myself to be versatile, able to quickly adapt to a new environment just as easily as an indigene would. Maybe I am blending in well because everyone around me (my family and the “few” friends that I have been able to make) seem to think that I am doing really fine but I think otherwise or at least not at the pace that I want (then again maybe that is just me setting the bar too high as usual and being hard on myself as well). Coming from Nigeria, a country where saying a casual ‘hello’ or ‘morning’ to a complete stranger is not just the norm, it is appreciated and expected. In London, the norm is completely opposite because saying a casual ‘hello’ or ‘morning’ to a complete stranger is not only seen as being overly friendly but intrusive and unwelcomed.
I had to learn ‘how things are done around here’ the hard way. I remember, my first month of being here, how I was still trying to find my way around, especially from Potters Bar where I live to the University of Hertfordshire where I am currently studying. Sometimes, I would miss my way going home or I miss my bus and I would have to wait for the next one (I had not learnt the brisk London way of walking). On this funny day, I had missed my bus as usual, (I call this day funny because I had an interesting encounter with a stranger) but this time just by a minute. Thinking back now, I think the driver might have seen me and chosen not to wait because I was literally running and panting to catch up with the bus as soon as I saw it move. I guess today is not my lucky day I said to myself as I sat, d trying to catch my breath I consciously looked around to see if anyone witnessed my unsuccessful attempt to catch up with the bus, to share a laugh with them if they did.
It was going to be a long forty-five minutes to get on the next bus. I had only sat for about a quarter of an hour when a young man around my age came along being the Nigerian that I was eager to share a laugh with the stranger, I turned around to tell him my tale of missing the bus by a minute and all I got was an awkward ‘hmmm’ as he hurriedly put on his headphones. I got the message he was trying to pass across loud and clear.
Even now as I remember the stranger and his awkward reply I am laughing really hard because I know that if this had happened in Nigeria it would have turned out differently. The stranger and I would have had a good laugh or the stranger would be sharing a similar story of him in the same situation or that of a friend who had been in that situation as well. My encounter with the ‘stranger’ made me confirm that the ‘heads down and hands typing away on the phones’ and the ‘headphones on’ culture that I have noticed while waiting for the bus or sitting inside the bus every time is a subtle message which I now understand to mean people do not welcome or appreciate ‘overly friendly chat with strangers’. A culture I will soon come to imbibe myself.
Do not get me wrong I am all for learning and embracing a new culture, after all, they say ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’. The question is should you lose yourself or what makes you ‘you’ in trying to fit in? One thing I have noticed since being in London is the way some Nigerians in the bid to fit in or blend in lose their ‘Nigerianism’ (that’s what I call those things, for example, your name or accent that makes you Nigerian). These Nigerians in the bid to fit in make their names sound English or outrightly drop their Nigerian names and adopt an English one. Well, I do not blame them as that is the way they know how to handle being different coupled with the notion of having one’s name being mispronounced or the ‘what’? And ‘I’m sorry what’? the reaction that follows when you say your name coupled with the feeling of excitement when somebody finally pronounces your name right or makes an effort to.
I mean effort; actual genuine effort is all it takes to make a fellow human feel ‘seen’, feel accepted and that’s the reason I tell myself that it is not my responsibility to make my name sound cool enough or English enough for you to pronounce. It is your responsibility as well as mine to make an effort to pronounce peoples names right, as you do not know what meaning you take out of the names when mispronounced (Nigerian names are known to be unique and descriptive, so when mispronounced the meaning is lost as well as the story behind the name). I get it, I really do, I understand the need, the urgency to desperately to want to fit in and belong in a world where your difference is seen as clear as day. So, I get it, but I really do not understand why those Nigerians will give up their Nigerian names for an English one but I see it as giving up without putting up a fight in this battle to be relevant, to be visible, to be heard and to be acknowledged as an equal although different but yet unique, because the difference is an identity, a badge, it is what makes that Nigerian ‘Nigerian’ (so to say).
Now coming to accent or identity, as I will prefer it. Well, excuse me if I do not speak English like the English, after all, the way I speak is a reflection of my heritage, of my culture and of who I am as a person. I should not be resigned to hide from that or choose to become a reticent version of my usual chatty and outspoken self, like some people who speak different like me have been resigned to. One of the ‘few’ friends I have been able to make is a Chinese girl in my class who at first I thought was a ‘ quiet and reserved Chinese girl’ who smiles a lot. On getting to know her, I realised her real self is the direct opposite of this quiet and reserved façade that she has created in response to the reaction she gets when she speaks English, in the way she knows how to with her unique voice and an accent that reflects her heritage.
Another is my Ugandan classmate who has resigned to being quiet and not letting her voice be heard just because she speaks differently. There’s also my Pakistani classmate who has resigned to quietness, which is the direct opposite of her real self. I will not be resigned to creating a dual version of myself: a reticent version shown to those who see my difference and the real me that I show to those who see me as I am; the Nigerian girl who speaks English in her rich and unique Nigerian accent. No, I refuse to create a dual identity. ‘I am who I am’ and I will not apologise for that. I wear my accent as a badge of honour, that is a reflection of where I am from and who I am.
For now, I have decided to acknowledge and embrace my new world with its rich culture but I wouldn’t make my heritage any less while embracing it.
Written by Oredola Akinniranye for Diaryofanaijagirl
Image from: Shutter Stock