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FRIDAY TRACK: “…So what do you do for a living?…”



Kilon Sparkles!

Meeting new people in Lagos can be great fun. Actually, let me rephrase, meeting new people under the influence of vodka makes one more susceptible to shaking hands with strangers. Lagos is indeed the capital of discovery if exploring the many different shades of human character is your thing.

I’ve always said you ain’t living in Lagos until you have the following as part of your social network – a red carpet camera-ready friend, a high flying professional friend, a boat club/polo club membership holder friend, a friend in the government, a Robert’s cafe lunching friend, an alcoholic friend, and a ‘can-I-crash-at-your-mansion-this-weekend’ friend.

It used to be relatively easy to make friends – in primary school; sharing your NASCO wafers at lunch with a potential friend will result in both of you taking turns at swinging each other at the playground swings come next day. In boarding school, all it took was a packet of Indomie to a friend-in-need and by the time you got to University, accidentally holding a spare condom in your wallet at the right time was an instant friend adder.

Until recently, if you met someone for the first time at a Lagos social gathering – you simply air kissed (if you’re forward) then you say your name but somehow these days our gbeborun, over curious, over I-too-know self has managed to ruin the excitement of meeting new people because guaranteed within the first few minutes of the encounter, one of you will ask the dreadful and frankly intrusive question “…so what do you do for a living?…”

In the past, it used to be the fall back question, the awkward silence exit strategy if you were stuck in a room with someone you just met and both of you had counted the number of crystals in the room’s hanging chandelier out of boredom but not anymore, these days it seems to be the conversation starter. And some people ask the question with such great intensity that you’d think – does it really matter if I were a bus conductor or chief judge, chances are we’ll never speak again.

Don’t try and act like you don’t do it too matey, we are all guilty of this nonsensical bollocks of trying to prove our ability to engage anyone from a doctor to a lifestyle guru to a deep sea diver.

Recently, a friend introduced someone to me and the gbeborun in me wanted to learn more about the bleached, tattooed lass, so I asked my friend after the polite handshakes were over, “…so what does your friend do for a living?”, my friend simply replied and I will never forget “….she f***s!”

That was enough to shut me up.

God forbid one doesn’t have a job in this town I tell you, because I’m now convinced that our self esteem is linked to our jobs. It’s reminiscent of the first day at fresher’s week, when you ask everyone you meet in the student union, “…hey, so what did you get in your A’ Levels?” Cringe!

I can understand if we met at a business roundtable or the corridors of a multinational but abeg wetin concern “what do I do for a living?” when I’m in a nightclub with a bottle of grey goose in one hand. Why?

Don’t we have anything else to talk about anymore? Is the quest to be seen as an intellectual or perceived as an achiever dominating our common etiquette of just having worthless banter when appropriate? Whatever happened to idle conversations about why Nestle Milo radio jiggle had 4 papapapa in it or why I pay N100-for-a-trolley at the airport or what happened to Ragolis water? Instead, we want to advise each other on our next career move.

It is a sad fact that very few have the capacity to detach themselves from what they do or who they work for. In a city of ambitious boys and girls, it seems our social relevance lies in what pay package we pull home every month. We can’t seem to function without talking about work or what deals are being struck behind the clear glass meeting rooms in the office.

Just go to any getz-together and you might get toasted by a business card. I’ve seen it happen live and direct at my sister’s wedding party. A man’s job title has now replaced good ‘ole clean chat-up lines, how good your pension scheme is has made up for a lack of charisma.

So next time someone asks you, “…so what do you do?” politely smile and respond with “…I’m in the agbepo business..” (Translation) “..I’m in the shit business…” afterall Otunba Gadaffi has made millions off his mobile toilet business’ strapline “…Shit business is big business…”

This week’s Friday Track is a stinker – but in a good way – this is the 80’s throwback British Band, HURT with their latest single, Wonderful Life and isn’t it just.



  1. ego

    August 20, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    well my dear you couldn’t have said it any better. I usually volunteer the answer before the question; ‘hi, my name is ego and i am a stripper…’ True!

  2. Beekay

    August 20, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    [email protected] am in the agbepo business.. I seriously feel your pain~~
    people are now more superficial that ever, SMH

  3. Alfie

    August 20, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    You know you have written a great article when the reader finds themselves suddenly thinking “Wow…that’s sooo true” So yes bruv…Y do we need to add more immaterial crap to our already booby trapped conversations. I actually know a guy that pulls the business card chat up scheme. “Hi, I’m Cedric. ” *hands over card and waits for reaction* “Yes, I’m that Cedric. Call me” And God help him does it work.
    I always just look a him and say “BADDDD GUY!” but look at the material women and think “Yeah…that one will last a week”

  4. omo yoruba ni mi o

    August 20, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    bobo – abeg u dey on twitter – make i follow you… you make sense. Your right – i link it to poverty, low self esteem and insecuriteis. the nigerian dream to not asscoiate or distance ourselves with poverty makes us believe i should only talk to so n so cos they might be useful and are doing well….

    i hear u about d alevels – i used to boast about my A’s… and getting maximum marks in some of my modules at college…. the good ol days ba..

  5. Ayo

    August 20, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    LOL! I am soooo guilty! Today was “Bring a female student to work” day in my office and when it was my turn to have a one-on-one session with her, I foolishly asked that same question! Of course I quickly rephrased it to what are you studying, but still I am clearly one of the guilty 🙂

  6. Chika*

    August 20, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    This is so true! It is getting worst lately. I have guys/men that are trying to talk to me and I couldn’t get myself to look or think of them in a positive light, just because of the way our first introduction went. Imagine a guy coming at you with this lame introduction “Hey! My name is Dayo and I am medical doctor at UCLA…” Sadly, any hopes of me getting to know them, are usually lost immediately after their ice breaker introduction. Imagine, hey my name is so and so and I am a medical doctor…get out of here. They think they could get me interested in them by telling me what they do for a living. Child PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Licious

    August 20, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Whenever I read your column, it opens my eyes to just how superficial lagosians are. I hope there are till ‘deep’ people left out there they shallowness and fakeness is sickening!

  8. There I said it...Rant over

    August 20, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    You hit the nail on the head. Some Lagosians can be a nasty piece of work (no pun intended).
    I usually do my best “Pam Pam” (Noughties Nollywood hit comedy flick) rendition when confronted with that question: “Oh what i do for a living? I am a carver of hair follicles, sorry, a barber”

    Usually shuts them up

  9. Elle Woods

    August 20, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    I went back to Nigeria last year after being in the states for 10 years and was bombarded with “air kisses”. People i hadn’t seen in years! Imagine being all excited to see someone and rushing to hug them and they give you some bogus “hello darling *kiss kiss*”. Ki le leyi? You aint Parisian…pls stop the nonsense! Asking for someone’s profession smacks of complex. One particular friend from high school did that. Its like they ask so they can top your profession. Oshi.

  10. Busk

    August 20, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Haha! this so true of Nigerian men!!! I remember when I came home this summer and at the cyber cafe (yes the ‘rents have refused to get internet…smh) this guy comes up to me and is like “Hi, my name is Tunde and I work for Oceanic Bank- holding out his bank card to me”.. I was so dumbfounded I just stared.. and he goes “ah ahn did you not hear me? I work for Oceanic, I can take care of you..” LOL! In my mind I was like #wheredeydodatat –apparently in Naij!

    • Elle Woods

      August 20, 2010 at 5:58 pm

      Lmao! He just met you and he is saying he can take care of you? That is a man whose identity is definitely tied to his job.

    • madam

      August 21, 2010 at 4:02 pm

      off topic, yOU Have killed me with ‘where dey do that at’ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! aree you my little sister? except I know she wasnt in Lagos recently…love you already… and what an olodo guy!

    • ader

      August 23, 2010 at 7:55 am

      Too funny Busk. The fact that he works at Oceanic means you should have run in the opposite direction! Olodo! We”ll see if he has a card in a few months!

  11. Iya2

    August 20, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Nasco wafers … you are so refreshing 🙂

  12. jennietobbie

    August 20, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    hahahahah! I’ve been away from home but this piece of work is da bomb! Naija people…una no go kill me! [email protected] the oceanic guy…that’s just a turn off! Seriously!!!!!!!

  13. Ada

    August 20, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    LOL…next time someone asks,tell them i am a “professional land pilot”.

  14. Mizz

    August 20, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    I ALWAYS love your pieces; funny and entertaining. keep up the good work!

  15. Fehintola

    August 20, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    You are still my favorite…Lmao. I enjoyed this piece and it’s sooooo real!
    Heck, Lagos girls are notorious for this and they get on my last nuts..just nosing around asking what everyone does for a living. They even aask women too cos well, they don’t want to befriend broke girls i guess? Whatever, aiye o lo bi opa ibon

  16. moki

    August 20, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Love it. I have had a few encounters myself. Went to a friends house (She’s an R.N) Another friend was there who had just flown in to the States. So impressed was she by our friend that the next question to fly out her mouth to me was “So what do you do?” It seems after that question is asked, there’s little to be said. It soo hard to find genuine people these days.

  17. QueenJaga

    August 20, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    lolz @Ada, which one be “professional land pilot” now eh?

  18. candey

    August 21, 2010 at 1:13 am

    @ QueenJag,
    “professional land pilot” is taxi driver as per “Shehu” ranting in American Nurse! lol

  19. Presh

    August 21, 2010 at 2:45 am

    This article is so true. It’s not just Lagos, come to any nigerian gathering in Houston. Especially common with young professionals and there is a lot of these amebo type questions “what do you do”, where do you work. It’s disgusting. It turns me off. I just say I work, period!

  20. lola

    August 21, 2010 at 5:50 am

    Nigerians and low self esteem!…one of the things so clear to anyone that has lived outside of Nigeria for a long period is the lack of esteem of Nigerians…especially our young America wanna be generation

  21. nono

    August 21, 2010 at 10:55 am

    It all makes sense now. Went to LAgos last year and ran into someone I probably hadn’t seen in about 10 years. And after a few exchanges, she was like so where do you work. And my response was “why?” She clearly took offence to this and said ah you haven’t changed at all. From then on, her coutenance changed and me I jejely excused myself. I honestly did not see how where I worked was relevant but I guess she was trying to determine if I was worth keeping in touch with. If only she knew 🙂

  22. africanchikito no.1

    August 21, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    NICE READ AS ALWAYS bOBO.Keep ’em coming.

  23. Nneka

    August 21, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    I get where you are all coming from but I really don’t see much wrong with people asking “what do you do for a living?”. When you were in secondary school was anyone asking you that???? Back then we all asked eachother,”what school do you go to?”…..”what class are you in?”…..”where do you live?’. Those were the things that defined that phase of our lives.

    My point is that every phase of our lives brings stereotypical questions. No doubt some people ask those questions to size you up (or better still, size up your wallet) but taking offense to everyone who asks you that is in of itself a lack of self esteem. Even if you are job hunting, say so! You might be struck off the friends list but not off the potential recruit list.

    As for those air kisses? …..*Hear my ear-popping HISSES*

  24. iApreciate

    August 21, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    fantastic write up

  25. iApreciate

    August 21, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    oh and plaese bella kindly put a face to the name Bobo omotayo,am curious 🙂

  26. Bravebird

    August 22, 2010 at 1:33 am

    Seems I’m the only one feeling the track and it’s video 🙂

  27. Nice Anon

    August 22, 2010 at 7:40 am

    Since when did we start giving air kisses? Na wa o!

  28. Damola

    August 22, 2010 at 8:29 am

    Well, If the people say the question is a wrong question, I will stop asking then..but frankly, I do ask, and the only reason I do is to hope to strike a good conversation, see fact is: there are 7 days in a week, and we spend 5-6 days at work, which implies we spend roughly 70-80% of our time at work or doing something related to work, Now, if we don’t talk abt it, what then should we talk abt, well, maybe something more refereshing, my work is pretty great, but then I don’t really make noise abt it, in fact if you ask me, I will give you a near close answer, so, it’s just a way to keep the conversation going, and I will like to have the camera guy, the boat guy, the crash in guy , so as to be a complete lagos boy.. hook me up.

    • WaleAdeniji

      August 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm

      I wonder o. I see no offence in someone asking me what i do or me asking him/her what she does. That doesn’t signify low esteem as the writer and people term it to be here. However, if people think this is offensive or childish, i wouldn’t ask anyone such question again. But for me, i will pick no offence if you ask me such.

  29. Miss M

    August 22, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    okay I live in the UK and i do ask pple wht they do mainly because what they do naturally links to an intelligent conversation depending on how informed u both are. I have nevr once thot my job is directly linked to my confidence cos if that was the case I’ll b shattered as a number of pple I meet r older than I am therefore they work for bigger companies so mayb this confidence thing is for pple in naij alone but I dare say not all of them r the way u think, some are genuine but everyone’s entitled to their opinion.
    Question for y’all, if I dont instigate an intelligent conversation by discussing work life how else wud I start a SENSIBLE conversation that is not about the parties coming up over the weekend?? As if they r single(then im called desperate), As their favorite movie, food, car??? talk about the weather(unfortunately that is an impossible discussion in naij), talk about travelling(ofcos that means Im showing off), talk about the price of meat??? someone help me pls :8

  30. Myne Whitman

    August 22, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    God forbid one doesn’t have a job in this town I tell you, because I’m now convinced that our self esteem is linked to our jobs. It’s reminiscent of the first day at fresher’s week, when you ask everyone you meet in the student union, “…hey, so what did you get in your A’ Levels?” Cringe!

    Life is like that. Levels change, but we remain the same. At a point it will become, Are you married? And then how many children do you have?

  31. 1k001

    August 23, 2010 at 2:14 am

    funny how a neutral, usually benign question used to feed a conversation can have such negative connotations. Only lagosians!

  32. Ronnie

    August 23, 2010 at 8:30 am

    I quite agree that a lot of people ask the “what do you do” question for superficial reasons. Lagos so called “big boys/girls” are the usual suspects!!…It gets rather annoying. I’m not fooled though cos I know a lot of these people are just living borrowed lives and things aren’t always what they seem.

  33. mekadon

    August 23, 2010 at 10:56 am

    very well said,i am also guilty of it.will definitely put the “agbepo business” in mind next time someone pops that question to me again

  34. deebaby

    August 24, 2010 at 7:28 am

    it seems like this is more common in the yanks, we are just happy to see someone that is 9ja and we roll together!!! dont care if you work at walmart or deloitte the most important thing is that we are both 9ja and proud of it too!
    when i came home 2 yrs ago, i realized how superficial and ‘FAKE’ ppl could be,lets be real and be ourselves folks.its more fun that way jare!
    9ja for life!

  35. kemi

    August 24, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    I think “what do you do” is still a good ice-breaker in any i-just-met-you-not-quite-sure-what-to-say type of conversations. jsut like what uni did u go to and what did u study used to be the ice-breaker of choice.
    but problem is wen that is all that defines us. last nite, i saw a friend of mine hanging wt a rily cute guy, so i went up to him (my friend) to source out gist abt the cutie. His first response to my asking “who is he?” was “he works in blah blah” *raised eyebrow* Really? is that who he is?!!!

  36. wateva!

    August 25, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Couldnt agree more with the writer!! Every time I go to Naija I’m well prepared for the shallowness and fakeness which is the average Lagosian. I also noticed the ‘island’ and ‘mainland’ divide too!!! I get people asking where i live?!! Whats that got to do with anytin?!! Aint nothing wrong with Ogudu!!! Fake ass fools!

  37. MO

    August 27, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    u re right.d questions are ‘what do u do?’where do u work?’are u married?’what did ur husband?’ like dt like dt … can b annoying most times.
    d problem is naija describe ur achievement with what material things u ve or u can afford.nonsense……….

  38. LaJ

    November 19, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    The big man-ism thing is obviously catching up with our demographic.
    I live in Toronto, and this question usually arises. Folks here ask it because
    they are curious about what you do and whether you enjoy..not trying to
    size you up or anything.

    But we Naija folks are simply vain and materialistic..

  39. Mochi

    November 21, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    Personally think its a great ice breaker “what do you do?’, it opens up a whole lot of topics to talk about. But then, i know an event planner who has his picure on his busineess card???? Wsp with that???????????????

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