One of my earliest memories of getting into big trouble with my mother was being caught peeping at what the person sitting next to me (mostly in public vehicles) was reading, which would mostly be a newspaper. She would pinch me hard and give strict orders, “Look in front!” Embarrassed; I would ask myself, “How could just stretching out my eye to read a catchy newspaper headline possibly be a bad thing and make me rude?” I was then just another curious child eager to read. Not too different from the adult I became, just that I now buy my own books, newspapers and magazines and happen to get really pissed off when a stranger sitting next to me in a public place brings their head so close to my bosom, in the name of co-reading my newspaper. I also never understand what makes guys (strangers) in the matatu keep trying to vibe me with their mumbo-jumbo talk while they can obviously see that I am engrossed in reading my book. I would actually ask you to shut the fuck up but wouldn’t that be too harsh or even rude? My point is simple—how you were raised determines a lot on how you handle and view certain situations.
We are obviously living in an unruly society just from the look of things even before interacting with a lot of people. Look around you and you won’t miss to spot a dozen people openly spitting on the streets while walking down one, grown-ass men (not street urchins but fathers and husbands to respectable ladies) peeing at undesignated public areas, with clear notices like ‘Usikojoe Hapa’ or annoying preachers in the bus in spite of caution stickers like ‘No Preaching or Hawking.’
And Nairobi isn’t wholly the kind of city where you can stick your head out marveling at moving scenery. You will most probably be hit smack in the eye by flying bananas peels and snack wrappers thrown out from moving vehicles. If none of that happens, make sure you don’t wear your favorite gleaming shoes into a matatu. People mostly push into and out of matatus (puzzlingly as hey—didn’t you already get to your destination? So why not alight in an orderly manner?), and in the process will step on your shoes. Most shoe-steppers will never apologize, if anything they will realize what they did, turn back, look at you mockingly and leave. This is the one reason why I need a license to carry a gun in my handbag. Without a reservation, only a handful of restaurants will promptly show you to a table. And after ordering and having your food, it will probably take you ages to get your check yet the waiter will later still raise an eyebrow expecting a tip. Didn’t we learn anything from the British reputation for manners? Or how did we get to such uncouth levels?
The disregard or total lack of any type of courtesy breaks down further to individuals. Those ‘xaxa’ and ‘hae’ texts messages and Facebook inboxes still keep coming. On a personal level, it’s always courteous to introduce yourself to new people especially at public events, a formality and passing pleasantry in the name of manners. By your third sip on that glass of wine, you will hardy remember any names of the people you met. However, first impressions last way longer than our fish memories. A lady will remember the guy who kissed her hand, ‘Enchanté’ to the man who blurted out his name while chewing cashew nuts off his monstrous teeth gnashing the poor nuts like it’s the eve to the Apocalypse. On the other hand, men will recall ladies who hold conversations like their glasses, carefully and sensually. They will remember tidbits like perfectly-manicured nails to ordinary names like Mary, Jane and Shiro.
Most recently while at a concert, I locked eyes with a familiar-looking man, who called out my name even though we hadn’t met before, “You are Anyiko, right?” He then asked to talk to me in private about “something”. Thinking it would be a business proposal or a favor I pulled him aside to a less noisy area where instead of first introducing himself, he blatantly muttered, “I want you to interview me in your show [Grapevine].” Awkwardly, even shyly, I said, “Errrm, why? What do you do?” Turns out he was a semi-famous comedian, who expected me and the world to recognize him. It obviously didn’t end well; you can’t approach a lady like that, be it concerning a personal or professional matter. Even after trying to salvage the discomfiture by asking for his number, he still didn’t tell me his name, so I saved his contact as Comedian Man. I would get up the next day to find a missed call from Mr. Comedian Man at 3.40 a.m yet he never texted/called later to explain why he was calling at such ungodly hours. Who does that?
Another recent instance was last Sunday while at the movies to watch Man of Steel with my buddy Chimano. After booking our H9 and H10 ticket seat numbers five hours to the 10 p.m. flick; we found a group of three ladies (or so I thought) and a man occupying our seats, just as the movie had began—great! At first, we were polite about it pointing out the misunderstanding and asking them to show us their ticket numbers. But two of the girls were beyond rude. “Tulishatupa risiti zetu” and “tafuteni place ingine” were some of the things they said to us.
I immediately foresaw a movie starting even before the main feature as I wasn’t going to sit at any other place. If I had to, I would walk out but not without a refund of our ticket money. The rest of the people sitting behind us in the cinema started jeering at us for blocking them as that pack of fools refused to be moved. So I had to call an attendant, who intimidated by the unwavering crew asked to get us other seats. Of course we declined. After the attendant threatened to throw them out, their tickets indicating G-numbered seats suddenly showed up—those people probably even can’t recite the alphabet right. They eventually had to move as civility somewhat saved day. Think about some of the most effortless words to use like ‘Sorry’, ‘Nice to meet you,’ ‘Please,’ ‘Excuse me’ and ‘Good day’. Don’t they mostly rub us the right way? Irrespective of whether whoever said them meant it or not. I think if courtesy had a price, many would wish to buy it but unfortunately, couldn’t afford it.
BONUS: “Considering your effect on others is vital to any civilized interaction,” Dr. Brooke Magnanti.