Monday, 23 April 2012

No Culture Shock, please!

Less than 100 days to go to the summer Olympics, it is important for Londoners who come into close proximity with foreign visitors, athletes, delegates and people of other cultures to be sensitive and as much as possible be aware of  acceptable and unacceptable norms. The most Innocent of gesture in the wrong company, could be misinterpreted as rude, unacceptable or taboo by other cultures. 

It is even more important for the visitors to our capital city during the games to familiarise themselves with our way of life in Britain and not misconstrue an innocent gesture of word or deed. They should remember the adage "When in Rome, do as the Romans" or words to that effect.

Seasoned travellers know what I am trying to say, especially those who mingle with the local population and inhabitants in the foreign lands that they visit. The people who make you feel the most welcome in any country in the world are the average citizenry of those places. They are never pretentious and are usually totally guileless as they go about their daily business of fending for themselves and their families.

The games officials and volunteers must be given cultural awareness classes at least, to focus on taboos of the countries they will be attached to. We want all the visitors to our capital during the games to feel welcome, that will be a great starting point to a fabulous and memorable games.

Our lot in the UK has improved since I arrived at Heathrow airport in the mid eighties on a wing, a prayer and £4 in my pocket. My optimism almost evaporated during my tube ride to my cousin's residence at Baker street. The scowl and glumness on the faces of my fellow passengers almost gave me a feeling of dread. If I was a passive and weak individual, I probably would have succumbed. But not I. 

I couldn't understand why a country that stands head and shoulders above most would have such miserable citizenry. I was arriving from an African country perceived as third world, poverty stricken in spite of massive oil reserves and hopelessly corrupt. But the citizenry of the country I was arriving from are some of the happiest people in the world. The people are hospitable, especially to strangers, they are always smiling, joking and when they laugh, you will laugh too because it is usually a wholehearted belly laugh that is just as contagious.

I am almost sure, that if you board a tube, any tube and try to look at all those glum faces, some faces pretending to read in efforts to maintain anonymity and you are smiling at all and sundry in efforts to cheer everybody up, your fellow passengers will probably conclude that you are odd. Well during the coming games, a lot of smiling people will be boarding the tube trains with us, so be warned.

One advice I will give to Londoners is neither to give or accept anything from an African with your left hand. In some cultures in Africa, it is taboo to do this. This must not be misconstrued as discriminating against left handed people, it is not. Some cultures just associate left with negative energy and right as positive. Other cultures in the same region within the continent believes each hand has it's own function. The right hand is strictly for eating food and the left is strictly for wiping your behind after a big wee wee. So don't go putting your left hand into somebody's fish and chips while sharing unless you want it all for yourself.

In conclusion, I have resolved to be on my best behaviour during the olympics and to be extraordinarily kind and considerate throughout the period of the games. The least every londoner can do is to make all the visitors to our capital feel extremely welcome.

Until Tomorrow,



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