A part of colonialism was the imposition of the European way of life on Africans, the idea being to get Africans to replace their culture (rituals, habits, etc.) with what the colonizers saw as the more “superior” rituals, habits, pastimes. The French were probably the most extreme at this, and sought to convince the Senegalese, Ivorians and people in other countries under French control that they were now French. As a result, many African countries are still governed by norms that derive from European culture. Why do African high court judges wear those odd wigs?
Today, most Africans have an open attitude towards European culture, not only because of this legacy, but because we grow up saturated with – and entertained by – it. There’s also the troublesome issue of buying that “superiority” argument for so long. But no matter how open we are to European culture, there are some things that we look at with a raised eyebrow, or, to be blunt, there are things Europeans do that we just thing are plain crazy. And it works the other way round, too. There’s enough weirdness on both sides to keep each other amused. We are sure you can think of at least 5 crazy oddities off the top of your head, and, if you do, add them to the comments at the bottom of this piece, so here are just a few to get you going.
Note: this is just a bit of lighthearted fun, so don’t start getting your knickers in a twist about generalisations and stereotypes, OK?
Crazy oddity #1: autoerotic asphyxiation
If you haven’t heard of this, it’s the deliberate restriction of oxygen to the brain in order to enhance ones orgasm. Basically, choking yourself just as you start to come. It’s not the sort of thing you put on your CV, so the first time you’ll learn that someone does it is when they miscalculate and, well, die, as was the case with INXS singer Michael Hutchence and actor David Carradine, best known for the 1970s TV series Kung Fu, and to a younger generation from the movie Kill Bill. Bill, how could you?!
Most Africans are fine with your garden variety orgasm, so you won’t find many gaspers in the Motherland.
Crazy oddity #2: skydiving
Establish a skydiving business anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa (except, perhaps, South Africa), and you better hope the city you’re in attracts lots of European and American tourists, because if the plan is to sell Africans on the thrill of jumping out of airplanes, you’re might as well file for bankruptcy right away. This has nothing to do with it being an expensive bit of fun, either. Death will come to you sooner or later, so why go looking for it?
If there’s ever a report of, say, a Nigerian dude having a skydiving accident, you can bet the response of most other Nigerians will be, “Well, who told the idiot to go skydiving anyway?”
To most Africans, I doubt there are greater expressions of white people’s madness than skydiving and autoerotic asphyxiation.
Crazy oddity #3: the concept of family
Europeans still scratch their heads when they find out that that lady people call “aunty” isn’t a relative at all, and that “uncle” is just someone’s dad’s friend. But not only is the idea of family in Africa a much baggier concept, the obligations to ones extended family are still relatively strong. So if one member of the family becomes rich, everyday in the extended family gets a share.
This has its downsides, the most obvious of which is that people expect any family member who holds high office to be able to do a lot more for them than is possible on that person’s income, which can lead to acts I don’t want to go into here. But no matter the weight of expectations, Africans generally find it hard to say no to other family members who have less, and are astonished that you can have a wealthy European nuclear family who don’t feel at all guilty about not sharing some of the wealth with their poor-by-any-standards, brother or sister’s nuclear family, only inviting them to the annual Christmas party as if to rub their noses in it (it’s quite common to hear Europeans talk about how they only see members of their extended family at annual occasions, such as birthday parties). Africans also find it odd that Europeans put their parents in old people’s homes. The African sense of family obligation, and respect for elders, means it is accepted that you look after your parents until they die.
The system of family in Africa is starting to change, though. Technology, urbanization and changing socioeconomic factors are seeing to that, and many in the top layer of the growing African middle class are caught between the traditional system that advocates for solidarity and the modern system, which is characterized by individualism.
Crazy oddity #4: “dealing” with your kids
When Africans see a European or American kid talking back to their parents, or even calling them by name, they don’t think, what a healthy relationship! They’re like mates! That child needs a flogging, is what they think. African upbringing is characterised by physical punishment for any infraction; the rod, not hugs and kisses. “White people hug and kiss their kids and see how that turns out. No respect!” So it’s quite normal for children to respond to elders with “yes ma” and to say “please” and “thank you” all the time, even if they’re grinding their teeth while saying it. African parents don’t even need to get physical; the side-eye is enough warning. Miss the side-eye and the next thing you know you’re squatting in a corner while holding your ears. Anyone who grew up in Africa can tell you about their parents’ “favourite” punishments. Meanwhile, Europeans see African parents disciplining their kids and think, my God!
Which presents a bit of a dilemma for African parents in the diaspora, particularly those born abroad. How to instil discipline in your kids when corporal punishment is against the law? Europeans discipline their children by grounding them, or giving them chores to do, but these aren’t considered punishments by African parents. These are things the kids do anyway: stay home at night and clean the house. In some cases, social services have intervened and separated kids from their parents because the “disciplinary” methods won over.
Crazy oddity #5: superstitions
No room #13 in hotels because that’s an unlucky number; knocking on or touching wood to ensure continued good health or fortune; walking under a ladder brings bad luck; having a black cat cross your path is ‘t just bad luck, it’s VERY bad luck, practically an omen of doom; if you spill salt, throw a pinch over your left shoulder to keep the devil away, etc. Europeans pride themselves on their secularism and belief in science, but haven’t entirely rid themselves of the suspicions that sound odd to Africans. Apparently, two-thirds of British people can’t get through the day without some kind of superstitious gesture.
But Africans can be even crazier in this respect. OK, the African salt-related superstition – use water to dissolve salt that spills on the floor, otherwise it’ll cause a fight – is as benign as the European one. And the one about a hat on the bed causing bad luck is also mild. But the one about not cutting your baby’s hair before their first birthday, otherwise he/she will be prone to sickness? Or the one that says if your pregnancy bump is high, it means you’re having a girl.
Turns out the one about not putting your purse on the floor (it’s either bad luck or you’re inviting poverty) is believed by Europeans and Africans alike. Perhaps we’re just as crazy as the other.
Right, we wanna hear your examples of European and African crazy oddities, so get busy in the comments field.