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Ugochi Ukah: My Colloquial Mishap

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It was one of our first days of lectures; today’s course was ‘Introduction to Biostatistics’. I knew it would be challenging for me to adapt to the new method of teaching since I was studying in a new country. Plus I barely understood the British accent. I had my work cut out for me. I was ready to listen attentively in class, ask questions, and study harder than I usually did. I proudly thought about myself as a good student usually. However, what I had failed to realize was that it took more than just reading or attending classes to become an excellent student. In fact, it was only after different experiences of mine that I began to understand that phrase, one which my secondary school guardian always said to me – “Don’t just pass through the school, let the school pass through you too.”

The biostatistics class was the most boring class I had ever had in my life so far; it was amazing how one could turn a science course into a sleeping class. Believe me, I am not exaggerating, some big guy sitting behind me was snoring loudly. As I left the lecture room that day, I could only think about how much more studying I would have to do that night, to make up for my loss of attention during the lecture. My head was filled with plans; plans to eat immediately I got home, take a nap, start studying….until someone spoke to me

“Are you alright?” he said with a British accent. I looked at him, he was black, quite good-looking but with a piercing on his left ear; I quickly stereotyped him – playboy, British wannabe. Nonetheless, I smiled and answered him “Yes, I am”. I assumed that somehow he had sensed that I had a lot on my mind and so he was thoughtful enough to ask if I was doing fine. He smiled back and introduced himself as ‘M.G’.
“What does M.G stand for?” I had to ask.
“Madongo” he said “but it’s too long so people find it difficult to pronounce” he continued.
“Ok, where are you from?” my curiosity was growing.
“I’m from London but my parents are from Uganda”

It was at that point I decided not to be his friend. I just could not understand why anybody would say that; perhaps it was because where I came from. You are from the same place as your father or your husband, if you got married. I also thought to myself ‘What is so long about his name?’ Some people always try hard to find excuses to hide their true identity and he came across to me as one of those people– his accent, his earring, his ‘new’ name and nationality. As we parted ways, he asked if we could go out for coffee sometime; I told him that I did not drink coffee and then said my goodbye. He must have thought that I was joking because he laughed but I did not bother to continue the conversation.

Over the next few weeks, he would wait behind after lectures and walk up to me asking “Are you alright?” That first day he had asked me, I had assumed that he was being thoughtful but after then, it was beginning to sound insulting to me.

In Nigeria most of the time, when people ask you that, it was a way of saying that you had done something stupid or that you were not thinking correctly. For example, if you burned the food you were cooking at home, my mum would yell at you, asking “Are you alright?!” or if you spent your pocket money extravagantly, my dad would ask you sternly “Were you alright?!” And so I felt that this boy was just taking the piss by asking me the same question every day. I started to avoid him after a while, just to keep my distance from unnecessary provocation.

Two weeks passed by and everything seemed to working out fine; class work was more intense and lectures were getting even more boring- but I was on top of my game. I had not attended a single party since I arrived England and I had not made more friends since after the first week as I did not see the need to; it was hard enough keeping up with the few I had then. All I did was study. It was now a week before our mid-term assessments and everybody was rushing for the next lecture after Biostatistics; I saw M.G standing by the door looking like he was waiting for someone. I came out and quickly turned to a different corner so that he would not notice me as I really was not in a good mood that day.

I heard him call my name but I ignored him, hoping he would give up but he ran to me, blocking my way. “Hey K!” I hated when he called me that; my name is Kodilichukwu but he preferred to shorten it; probably to help me hide my own identity. I put on my fake British smile, the only thing I had learned in England besides my books; it was a very useful skill for hiding one’s true emotion. “Hi M.G, how are you today?” I asked. “I’m good although it seems like you’ve been avoiding me. Are you alright?” He had just said it again! “Why are you always asking me if I’m alright?” I asked him, my fake smile vanishing. “I don’t mean any harm, you just asked me if I was alright too” he answered with a perplexed look.
“No, I didn’t! I asked you how you were doing, not if you are alright”
“What’s the difference?” he asked.
“The difference is that I did not insult you in any way but you… you always come to ask me if I’m alright!” My voice was beginning to rise and people had started gathering around us, watching and listening. “Why?! Do I not look all-right to you?! Why is it only me, EVERYTIME!” And with that, I walked away. We did not speak to each other again after that; I was relieved – no more insults! This was one of the reasons I did not like to talk to boys, they always wanted to take a lady for granted when she seemed nice; I told myself.

It was at the end of the term that I decided to start exploring the city and country. We had finished exams and so, I had some time now to mix up with people and attend social gatherings. It was during this period that I realized that “Are you alright?” was a common greeting over there; just like “How are you?” It was also then that I understood that when people asked you to go out with them for coffee, they were most likely asking you out on a date and not necessarily to drink coffee. With such realizations dawning on me, I thought about M.G;

I wanted to apologize to him but felt that it was too late, so I only hoped that he would not remember.
It was not until our graduation that M.G and I bumped into each other in a way that we could not ignore each other. After an awkward minute of silence, he introduced to me to his mum who was standing next to him. I heard him tell her that I was ‘that course mate’ he had told her about before he turned to me and asked “Are you alright?” This time, I laughed hard and when I caught my breath, I answered confidently “Yes, I am alright and you?” before we proceeded to take some pictures of our memorable day.

Finally I had scaled successfully though my academic program but this time, a different kind of student; less quick to judge and more open to trying out new things that I would never have done ordinarily.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Birgit Reitz-hofmann

Ugochi V Ukah is a student and loves writing in her spare time; using sarcasm, humour and wit to relay her thoughts. Visit her blog for more stories at: www.ugochivukah.blogspot.com and follow her on twitter @vivio_gogo and IG: @ugochiukah

37 Comments

  1. Fisayo

    July 17, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Lovely piece. Nicee.

  2. Faith

    July 17, 2014 at 11:43 am

    i can totally relate to this. When i and le boo started dating, i used to get angry at least 3 daily, because any and all conversations (including chats o) starts with “hey babe, are you alright?”. Then i met his family, and they kept asking that even in yoruba sef “se o wa ok?”. I always get angry. It took his mum to explain to me before i stopped taking it as an insult

  3. jess

    July 17, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    I completely get what the writer felt on the coffee date thing! A British white guy in my church and youth group asked for us to go have coffee after church and I clumsily answered that I was going shopping.
    It took a while before I realised what he meant and that his pride was crushed as he really didn’t speak to me after then

  4. justnothappytoday

    July 17, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Please what is the nigerian version of ‘ would you like to take coffee with me? . Make I no use my hand pursue d guy.

    • dizzy

      July 17, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      Just means a casual date. Usually just soft drinks somwhere.

  5. some hater

    July 17, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    dont relate to this post. I mean when you travel somewhere you’re expected to go there with at least some extent of open mindedness. it doesn’t even make sense that someone asking you are you alright is insulting. I mean is it that the other few friends did not ask you “are you alright” even the tone with which he would have asked could have given you the notion that it was not insulting.
    and please, unless you’ve been sleeping in a hole all your life, you would know that a guy asking you out for coffee is a guy asking you out. Eve naija guys do it now, as in ask you to go get some drinks or something.
    shior!

    • tee

      July 17, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      Your name speaks for you!

    • Thatgidigirl

      July 17, 2014 at 1:42 pm

      You are really some hater! When i came to england to school, i was a bit irritated about the “are alright darling” question myself…..from shop attendants, classmates etc. For me it wasn’t insulting, why do u just think that i’m not alright!! And please, the way guys ask a girl out over here (especially those that have lived here all their lives) is quite different from how naija guys ask a girl out. I’ve been on both sides of the fence so i should know. My british classmate then had to spell it out to me…”babes this guy likes you, can’t you see”. so chill abeg, no amount of “open mindedness” (whatever that means) prepares you for the culture shock.

    • Ewa

      July 17, 2014 at 2:01 pm

      Some big hater you are. Haven’t you heard of ‘culture shock”.

    • Kia

      July 17, 2014 at 2:25 pm

      Gosh! U are nasty.

    • MC

      July 18, 2014 at 2:20 pm

      it doesn’t make sense at all! body language and tone of voice should be enough for you to realise that it isn’t an insult. Not too mention the amount of times or how frequent you get asked.

  6. toby

    July 17, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    nice piece

  7. tee

    July 17, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    Ha ha…lovely piece.
    Many people (who choose to be truthful) had the “JJC mishap” when they first landed abroad. Mine was going shopping for the first time. I had gone with my bro who had lived in the US for over 10 years. When it was time to check out, I walked right up to the cashier not minding that there was a lady who was currently being checked out. You know in Nigeria, we all crowd around the cashier i.e. no respect for personal space. Unfortunately, It was in a rather racist city and the white lady turned suddenly, freaked out and screamed …thinking she was about to be robbed. You can imagine the terror and confusion on my face as I apologized profusely. I turned round and my brother had walked away in embarrassment. lol. At that point, to him, na only me carry my leg waka go there . After that first incidence, I learned sharply and always looked before I leaped. Lol.

    • Que

      July 17, 2014 at 2:15 pm

      #DEAD #ilaughedsomuchiamcrying

  8. luch

    July 17, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Nice,Really relatable….

  9. Shazy

    July 17, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    @tee LOL

  10. Alero

    July 17, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Tee, you cracked me up with your story. LOL.

  11. Xristybabes

    July 17, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    nice piece!

  12. Tom

    July 17, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    lol experienced the same. Its good to be open minded to other peoples culture.

  13. @edDREAMZ

    July 17, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    a.k.a EDWIN CHINEDU AZUBUKO said…
    .
    Making sense piece no doubt…..
    .
    .
    ***CURRENTLY IN JUPITER***

  14. nasom

    July 17, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Yet another nice piece ugochi….keep it up babes

  15. ukah odichjnma

    July 17, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    Lovely post…….people’s comments have been cracking me up..

  16. ugochi v ukah

    July 17, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Thanks a lot guys, please don’t forget to check out my blog : ugochivukah.blogspot.com for more stories and follow me on twitter @vivio_gogo and IG: UgochiUkah

  17. Sylvia

    July 17, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    Lol nice! U still experience some level of culture shock going to live in neighboring countries like Ghana

  18. Chidimma

    July 17, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    Ugochi you and your stories, you will not kill someone! lmao!! very well narrated…looking forward to reading more from you.

  19. Kodili

    July 17, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    Lmao. Ugochi….are you alright? Besides you have to pay for using my name o. Nice one dear.

  20. yourstrulyblogposts.blogspot.com

    July 17, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    Ugochi, I can relate lol. When I arrived England, I was irritated as people kept asking me if I was alright (My head correct o, I would say to myself not understanding what they meant). Now, I always ask people if they are alright, lol

    • Nat

      July 18, 2014 at 10:41 am

      dead @ “my head correct o” lol. You alright???? loool
      Some people underestimate the depth of culture shock and it could even be in little things such as greetings/ pleasantries.

  21. Tru

    July 20, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    The one I honestly can’t stand is how complete strangers call you “darling”. First tome I was like, “Wharrahell???” Still don’t like it but hey, when in Rome…

  22. Tru

    July 20, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    *time

  23. Chisky

    July 21, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    Nice piece with a wonderful message too!!

  24. ifechukwu

    July 22, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    Nice one Ugo. Long time girl…

  25. sisi jules

    July 23, 2014 at 11:50 am

    I LOVE this.

  26. Myopinion

    October 13, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Oh well, I didn’t think it was an insult…i just taught they cared too much…oh what about Scotland? , it took me a long time to realize ‘aye’ meant ‘yes’…and so many other slangs I did not understand…its embarrassing sometimes…

  27. etoh c

    November 10, 2014 at 11:30 am

    really nice work uv got here…puting down experiences to suit the taste of readers is something great..i envy you alot..

  28. uju

    February 11, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    Lol. I can relate. Now I am the mother of “u alright?”

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