I can’t claim to be a Lagosian but I have experienced my fair share of “Lagosness” these few months. Amongst other things, Lagos is famous for its traffic jams, crazy drivers and very coarse conductors. To adapt and survive, many tend to develop tough skins fortified with thorns. The mantra on the streets is an eye for an eye! Lagos life no be beans!
If you, like me, get around by public transport, you will see this acted out every day at the bus-stops, parks and in the buses. The traffic jam is enough to drive one crazy and really the drivers and commuters at times seem to have gone so. With everyone on the edge, normal courtesies and decorum are flung out of the window. So it is very common to see fights at bus stops and a lot of verbal abuses in buses. In fact, it’s the norm. It is taken for granted that the conductor will scream at you and you scream back. Na wa o! Coming from a relatively calm Eastern Nigeria, I had a big shock seeing well-dressed, supposedly gentlemen and women spew offensive words at conductors who are never lacking in response. Everyone seems to talk on a high pitch and the rather strong Yoruba accent does not help matters. Well, as these things happen, I also began to see them as normal: I had begun to develop tough skin. I surely would have gone on to screaming at conductors but for one incidence.
Usually I am not one to struggle for seats or jump buses especially when I am so tired at the end of the work day. On that day, a conductor saw my plight and saved a seat for me in that mad rush. I was very amazed and as a sign of gratitude; I gave him my best smile and a “thank you very much sir” .The effect this had on him was jaw-dropping. His face lit up and he had this smile on his face and was noticeably more civil to passengers. I learnt a lesson; a practical lesson, and a trick. “Good manners are contagious.” Who would have known, right?
So I made the 3 magic words my anthem en route to work. Just in case you are wondering, the 3 magic words are Please, Sorry, and Thank You. My! What results it produced! I said ‘thank you’ to conductors when they gave me my change; I thanked the drivers while alighting; always with a smile and a nice voice. I started questions/made requests, with ‘please’. The response? Well, some gave me this funny look, many others nod and smile, while some actually thanked me back. A few others added, have a nice day! I remember one very angry driver, and his anger was very contagious. I was tempted to just give him my fare and storm off with a loud hiss. On second thoughts, I gave him a smile and a thanked him. Lo and behold, this screaming-all-morning driver, turned, flashed me a big smile and said ‘have a nice day’. Boy, was I shocked! And he drove off with a smile. This incidence gave me the much needed encouragement because I was beginning to give up. It seemed like some people are just bent on being ill-mannered no matter how nice you treat them.
Just in case you are thinking this way, I don’t do this for the smiles and kicks. No, I was doing this because it is what should be done. Simple! To accord to these drivers the dignity deserving of a human. Moreover, good etiquette has never been out of fashion.
Another thing I learnt was to try and greet people a lot in the bus and on the streets with a smile to go. One would think that this is expected but I can count the number of times someone said ‘good morning’ to me in a bus. Sometimes people give me this blank stare or a barely audible grunt as a reply. Other times, I get a rather surprised look, especially from the elderly, and a cheerful ‘good morning’. Some actually add a ‘thank you’. This alone has put a smile on a fellow’s face. I remember one elderly man who was so pleased that he told me, “people don’t like to greet these days, thank you”, and he paid for my fare. Like I said, I do this because it is what is normal and should be done and also to show good example.
We are the salt of the earth and if we lose our taste, what shall become of the earth? Death. Now when people complain of Lagos drivers/ conductors, I tend to smile and say, “Have you tried to show them otherwise? Have you not been ill- mannered to them as well?” Of course this does not justify their actions. Eko o ni baje o! Lagos cannot spoil! Our society should not be bereft when there are Christians all over the place. Have we lost our taste? Ask yourself and do your best to get your groove back on, one step at a time.
These details of etiquette and courtesy are definitely not restricted to drivers/ conductors. They are for everyone, everywhere, every time. Let everyone you meet be left with that flavor and aroma of a believer.