Tact and the Nigerian

I’ll be going to visit Nigeria in just under two months and I’m really looking forward to it. I haven’t been there in over a decade, and I certainly haven’t been there as an adult, so I’m wondering what my aged eyes will think of the dear country when we land there.

One thing that I will not be looking forward to is the comments that family members will make about my size. I am no skinny chick, and I haven’t been since my age reached double digits. When I was last in Nigeria, I remember family members telling me repeatedly that I was fat, that I had a lot of flesh. It wasn’t a lie sha. I was often compared to my father’s older sister and my mother’s aunt, two very…substantial women, and the commenter would laugh and I would give one of those fake laughs too. I’m sure the first time I was called fat I was probably inwardly surprised at their bluntness but then again, these are the same relatives that always called my sister the “fine one” when we lived in Nigeria when I was very very young. Here in oyinboland, this sort of thing would be discouraged by child psychiatrists because you don’t want to give the child who isn’t as pretty as her sister a complex, or because self esteem is a precious thing that we have to nurture in our daughters so they don’t end up looking to the wrong things to validate their worth as women.

I noticed that with both family members and even neighbours who had never met me, there is no sense of political correctness or tactfulness: if someone thinks you have put on weight, they will tell you so bluntly. They do not care who is in the audience. Then again, this might just be my family…

…though that isn’t true. A friend told me that her sister went to Nigeria and this sister had apparently gained weight while she was abroad. A couple of her friends came to visit her at home and actually told her that they came to visit because they had heard she had gotten fat and wanted to see it for themselves! Are you serious?

Now, while I think some Nigerians are severely lacking in tact, generally speaking, I don’t think their comments are mean spirited in nature. Some just have a bad habit of sharing facts (that don’t need to be shared) without first thinking of how it will be perceived by the person the comment is being made to—or about.

Have you been the recipient of tactless comments by Nigerians, especially family? How do you deal with them?

33 thoughts on “Tact and the Nigerian

  1. Firsssssssssssssssssssssstttt

    The most common one is the fat one..

    Followed closely by the “not married?” one.

    It’s not even that they say it but how they say it with a disapproving look…

  2. Your last paragraph said it all.

    However, some of these statements are not intended to harm and most of them are even perceived positively or not negatively at least by the culture of the person telling you that. In Africa most people these days would like to get slim but may not make a story if you qualify them as fat persons.

    Some cultures qualify , indicate or call on people with their defects; The Hausa person does not think twice in calling a lame or limping person "dan grugu" or "mai idi daya" for a one eyed fellow. No offense intended nor perceived by either sides.

    You will certainly have fun in Nigeria and remember men still go more for girls with a bit flesh than those without.

    It is coming back in vogue even here in Europe

    Good morning from Rome.

  3. Even your fat aunty will be the one saying how you have put on weight. Its just the way Naija people talk.

    @ Afrobabe: that "not married?" one always makes me cringe and wanna hide in a corner.

  4. It's not just your family ohhhhh! It's all Nigerians who do it. I don't think we necessarily thing of it as an insult because being fat doesn't have as much stigma over there like it does here. I still remember telling one of my older sisters that she was fat back when i was still in naija but she had been living here for over 10yrs. I noticed she was kinda upset but i had no idea why. I was just talking. Now, i understand why cos i've lived here for a while.

    I was 115lbs when i got here and i have put on weight since i've been here, and trust me my friends do not hesitate to tell me i'm fat or i'm getting fat. My bestfriend even asked me "where u dey fat go?" I'm not sure how to translate that in english correctly. Somebody help. All of them have commented one way or the other about my weight gain. One even told me not to come home without losing the weight make people no go talk say na food i go eat for America.

    I don't get upset really. That's how we are. Yes, nigerians are very blunt. If someone says something to u, either ignore it or tell them that's not nice. I would ignore it.

  5. You said, "I don’t think their comments are mean spirited in nature…" hmmm… Sometimes, they mean it oh. Diplomacy in speech is something we need in Nigeria.

    A family friend of ours said, "If Rita, the ugly girl, can marry, then any other woman can marry…" I ignored her. I left my mother and sisters to deal with her and she ended up having a bad day…

    Wishing you a lovely trip back to Nigeria…

  6. Mmmm…I've received calls from people who "heard" that I had "added" a lot of weight. Some of them said they were calling to find out if it was true, and to tell me to lose it…Beans??? If it was that easy I would have lost it ages ago abi? So I ignore it. Developing thick skin is not easy, and frankly, people will pull you to the side of the road to "tell"/"advise" you to lose weight…Expect this if you go to the market, and if you walk around with your family. Simply push it to the back of your head, and don't allow it to complex you at all… Its not worth it.


    I am by no means fat, infact some people think I'm skinny, but the last time I went home a lot of people kept telling me that I have gained weight, and they kept saying it without tact.

    Same thing with the marriage thing, dont expect them to be tactful about it.

    most times they are not mean-spirited comments, but people just are not considerate of the other person's feelings.

    just don't let it get to you, or better still come up with a witty answer urself

    Aunty: "gng you've put on weight o, what are u eating in that America/"

    GNG: "aunty, you've gotten FATTER yourself, even though u're in nigeria!"

    …ok, maybe not that rude sha!

  8. When u say lacking tact ehn, not in a small way o.

    You see, when it is family, i can understand, because as Nigerians, we don't really see it as a biggie to call someone fat, as opposed to our western counterparts.

    What really gets my goat is ppl who are not even close to you, making such stupid & tactless comments.

    Even while i was in naija, whenever anybody tells me i've added weight, i smile and say thank you, as far as i'm concerned you could not have meant it in any way other than as a complememnt.

    But really, for most ppl, it's also cuz they do not know any better so and they don't really mean any harm.

    But if we r not tight, don't come saying crap to me, cuz u sure as hell will get it back.

  9. i agree with everything in this post… everything…

    most comebacks you can give will not only label you as fat… but as rude… so not only will you be that fat girl.. you will be that fat rude girl with no home training or whatever whatever

    there should be a worldwide lesson on tact in nigeria…. lead the way… I will watch from behind :-)

  10. LOL>.i think Nigerians are like that generally..they talk before thinking..sometimes I do it too..and am sure a lot of us do it…lol..

    but i feel u o..even for the skinny ones like me..they will talk and say.."are they starving u in that london"

    other examples..

    why are you not married yet?

    When are we expecting the twims..ur tummy should be out by now..

    my dear, pls just try to enjoy ur stay in Naija…how long r u gone for?? Have loads of fun!!

  11. My nigerian in laws complain instead that their half oibo nieces haven't got enough boom boom to be appreciated in Nigeria.

    My husband comes from an area were girls used to be fattened before marriage and I hear some people still do it……

  12. Funny story…, once i had gone home for my sisters wedding, and i was the maid of honor, while walking down the aisle…in front my my sister, the dashing bride….women were pulling on my cheeks hollering burger!!! burger!!..i wanted to slap them women oh…ahah at least wait for the ceremony to end now….

    Cool ure going to naija. I usually go home once a year…i hope u enjoy it oh cos it can be either way, but if you have a ridiculous open mind…. you'd have a blast.

    The more crazy things that happen to me when i go..the more i want to go back

  13. @Afrobabe

    You were first by a longshot Madam Afrobabe! Hmm, the last time I was in Naija I was a teen, so I've never had to deal with the marriage one. That means I have two things to look forward to!


    To be honest, I don't think the observation that I am fat has ever been said in a positive way but you're right, there is the chance.

    I am really looking forward to being in Nigeria again! And hello to you in Rome.


    And out of respect I won't be able to say anything! What a shame. Now you have me worried about being asked about why I am not single. I think I can use the excuse that Naija men here are few and far between!


    I would tend to ignore the comments too because I truly do believe it's one of those cases where this is the way Nigerians are. I still can't imagine you being considered fat though.


    Oh, I think they mean what they say, but I don't think their intention is to crush your self esteem or make you feel unattractive or ugly by telling you you're fat (I may be wrong sha). But yes, diplomacy is always a good quality to nurture.

    Ok, so clearly I'm going to have to watch for comments on marriage! "How rude!" was my immediate reaction to what your family friend said.

    Thank you for the good wishes. I am really looking forward to the trip.


    I can understand that people gossip, and that they might talk about who has gained weight and who hasn't, but receiving a telephone call where the caller tells you that they are calling to confirm that you have indeed gained weight? I don't get it!

    I don't have the thickest skin around so I better start praying for a miracle diet…or develop that thick skin kia kia!


    Ok, so I have a lot to look forward to ehn? Pray for me!

    I do want to come up with a reply, something along the lines of "Yes, Canada has been good to me!" or something. But that might just make my relatives think they can be greedy and demanding.


    lol I love your response! Maybe I'll try that one…it's a good way not to get in trouble.

    @Diamond Hawk

    You're so right. The last thing I want is someone commenting on how my parents raised me (especially since I think they did a dandy job!).

    Look at this wimp, wanting me to stretch my neck out while she hides in the background! Thanks for nothing!


    lol you can't win: too fat is a problem, too skinny is a problem! It doesn't help that everyone has their own definition of what is fat and what is skinny!

    I'll be going for a month and I fully intend to enjoy myself!


    Another Italian—hello!

    Is it the Calabar region that has the fattening rooms? I always wondered what they do with girls who are already fat to begin with—do they get slimming rooms? :)

    @Femi B

    I don't believe it! This was during the wedding? lol @ "ah ah at least wait for the ceremony to end now…" it's true though!

    You go home once a year? Ok o, I need to come to Auntie Femi B when I need to buy a plane ticket.

    I hope I have an amazing time. In an upcoming entry I'll share what I can expect though…nothing too wild and exciting, let me tell you, though I intend to have fun

  14. My sista, if they comment about your size, tell them to thank God that you can eat well! If they comment on your clothes tell them that is what God has provided and you thank Him. If they talk about your skin tell them God has taken care of it for you. Everytime they drop a semi-criticism, turn it into an opportunity for them to thank God. You know Nigerians will never insult God on purpose so you can shame them (old and young) into shutting up, lol!

    Hope all is well.

  15. LOL…SSD I like your solution…For real girl, tell them ohh, its the Lord's mercies ohh, and they should thank Him if anyone makes any of the " not married" or no fat comment. LOL…I'd like to see someone's face when they hear you say that.

  16. pastor B officiated linda's wedding 2years ago,. So when he was minsitering at our church this past sunday. He said good job choir and i see linda is now fat. he said this on the pulpit, while laughing

    how embarrasing,,,,, I am sure the girl wanted to hide.

    I was extremely shocked at his comment.

    have fun in naija.

  17. Hey GNG , I hear you on this post, I remember I ran into an old family friend one time at grocery store I recognized her so i greeted her, the woman looked at me and asked me if i was pregnant. When i said no she asked me why am I so fat then. I was so hurt but I couldn't cuss her out.

    So you have bought your ticket, I haven't I'm not ready to go back, I told my mom I bought it sha.

  18. Oh, goodness.

    Don't get me started on Naija people and tact please. We simply suck @ it!! Naija people will say whatever whenever however wherever. What about when they say crap like, "they have epilepsy running in their family" Am I the only one who finds this very offensive??

  19. a lot of nigerians are just stupid and mean!!!some say it to make fun of you…some are just tactless and dont realise you have feelings too and say offensive things…last xmas it was all abt "when r we coming to eat rice"..meaning "wen r u getting married' ..i swear the next time any 9ja person says nonsense to me i will get really smart with them

    Gng dont worry u'll be fine!!jst ignore anyone who says shiit!!are u going to lasgidi(lagos)…have fun o!!!

  20. oh yes nigerians often compare siblings..that is simply horrible…"ur sister is finer than you".."ur bro is the only fine one in ur family".."where did u drop from" !!as in seriously..that thing can destroy a child!!

  21. lol, the things you get used to as a person from a different culture…lol

    Probably the reason why sticks and stones really don't hurt me, of course Nigerians lack tact according to the western standard, which is why raising my son in the western culture as allowed me a bit of balance. I don't sugar coat stuff to him or tell him how wonderful he is, at the same time, I don't belittle him to hurt his self esteem. I'm not going to lie, it took a while to get there because I couldn't understand why he was so "sensitive" lol, then I realized, I not he was the problem, my upbringing de-sensitized me.

  22. I for one tend to despise "tact"… I equate it somewhat to dishonesty. Once somebody has thought something, I would rather the person say it to my face rather than just whisper it behind my back… because trust me, that would be the alternative.

    And you're right that it's generally not mean-spirited. And my motto is, if I get offended by it that must mean that I find it true on some level… So what am I doing about it?

    I think in the west, parents/psychologists etc..etc.. have baby-ed kids so much that there not able to deal with reality sometimes. So I find the "tact-less" of our societies quite refreshing.

  23. @solomonsydelle

    lol I really like this plan o!


    I'm sorry you're having trouble. I hope it's working now.


    I promise to try this…I hope I can pull it off convincingly!


    Wow, that's just plain rude! It was not the time or place (if there ever is one) to comment on somebody else's weight in such a public arena.


    I think I'm more likely to be taken aback too, and not have the response I want to give at hand, even though I know I should expect these comments.

    Ok, stop slacking jare and buy your ticket! You need to go before your Orika man in Yankee starts occupying all your time and you can't find a moment to go back!

  24. babes

    how come you are not married is the first thing outta their lips

    then they ask how come you are so thin?

    a sarcastic laff

    a frown or i ignore the person

    then i am labelled the rude one

    so what can a girl do

    just smile

    it puzzles them

  25. Who cares what they say as long as you are happy with yourself and your weight is not a danger to your health. In life you cant pls every one but always remember to pls first God and your self You are beutiful no matter what they say no words should bring you down ok

    Right now on africa wth style we are doing a six week lose weight/ fitness quest for all who are interested I am sure you would love is Join us

  26. lol. this post got a lot of people sha. does it mean we don't ve plenty lepas on blogville? kidding

    me, i confess i am guilty of that o. just yesterday, my friend annouced she was off to france for three months, and i said first thing you do when u get there, register in a gym. u need to lose weight.

    dont mind me jo.

    but i get your point. it can be very annoying and embarrassing. but if i do it, its only to people i am really very close to, like when i quarrel some of my female cousins that there stomachs are just too big, and i think it's cos i care, which is why i botther to say something.

    and they do it to me too! uzezi, dont you ever put on weight? no belle, no yansh. dont you know u are getting old, wont you go and get married?

    enjoy naija please. we rock

  27. Good Naija girl, I am not Nigerian but if it's any consolation, I have experienced the Turkish tactlessness on many a trip back home where I was welcomed by questions along the lines of, 'Has your ass gotten bigger?' 'It must be all the ready-made food in England…' 'Your hair is too long/short/rough/blonde/dark(choose as appropriate) 'Has she over-plucked her eyebrows again?' (Mind while I was in the same room…)

    No escape sha, I guess it's a trend in developing countries to be so brutally blunt with one's relatives. :)

  28. Apparently when I was born, some relatives saw my baby picture and predicted I would be fat.

    There was this one aunt, not blood related, that would tell me, every time i can home from uni, that I had lost weight since the last time she saw me. That I was not as fat. It used to make me upset until I realized that according to her theory, I should have eventually been a stick.

  29. I am a first time poster and am not from Nigeria, but rather from the United States. I had to comment on this thread. I read this blog from time to time and think it is great.

    I think that the fat comments are common to blacks all over the world. I am from the southern United States and there it seems we have retained many folk ways from our African heritage. When you meet the old folks at a family gathering they tell you "Gul, you sho' is done got fat!" They would always tell me, "You tryin' ta get big as yo' grandmama ain't cha?" But this same aunt, if you remark about her size (gently), will tell you, "Naw, gal, I'm falling off (losing weight)."

    We are the same the world over. Oh, and yes, they asked me repeatedly, "When ya getting married?" "Aint no single mens in yo' city?"

  30. Tact is something very alien to Nigerians….In fact in my native Yoruba language I don't think there is a word for tact.The whole concept probably carries with it a culture that very strange. Anyway we tend to tell it as it is…….and something that resonated with me was that you said about being surprised at the bluntness of your family in telling you you were fat.

    I had an uncle who made it his job to tell me I had a big head………I mean every time i met him its like he thought i had forgotten i had a big head and it was his duty to remind me….Up till now i don't know if he was trying to get me pissed or just making a honest observation……..But seriously I don't think there is anything honest about telling a 7 yr old boy he has a big head repeatedly.But I came to live with it as time went by…..This Uncle of mine practically stripped in the middle of our family house to show me where a bullet was hidden under his skin.

    Just goes to show……family can be a very funny thing.

  31. Naijas lack tact and a lot of other things, but we won't go there. I seemed to have the opposite problem, everyone commented that I was too skinny after 3 kids, even though I weigh 125 pounds. It used to bother me before, but now I don't give a damn, cos I know I look fly :-). And the admiring looks I get from men don't hurt either :-). My sis-in-law actually told me that my mum-in law would be upset because I was soo skinny. Whatever, I didn't come to this world to please my in-laws. I've thought about giving snippy retorts like 'ah you are soo fat oh, se you know the dangers related to obesity', but I think I'm just too polite. Anyway, I just might, depends on what kind of mood I'm in. My advice, you are fabulous no matter what size or shape you are, rock what you've got. This isn't a dress rehearsal, you've only got one shot at life! If Naijas comment and do it without malice, then I'm sure that they won't care when you don't take what they say to heart.

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