The official language of Nigeria, the language of business and commerce, the common language for Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas and other tribes to communicate with one another is English. Whether you are a native English speaker, or like many expats have English as a second (or impressive third or even forth) language, it sounds like one less thing to worry about when moving to Nigeria.
However, even when more standardised English is spoken (and a lot of the time it will be the less comprehensible pidgin English that you hear around you), there are various words and phrases that are likely to confuse, amuse or befuddle you from the moment you step off the plane. You might figure them out easily, you might not. Let me help by decoding a little bit of Lagos Lingo for you.
A is for Area Boy: A local hoodlum. Watch out, watch out if you are told the area boys are about.
B is for Breaking Plates: Plates that are not plastic. i.e. the regular kind of porcelain plates that most expats over the age of 5 would eat from.
C is for Chop: Food/a meal.
D is for Dash: Nothing to do with running or rushing or dashing through the snow. A dash is a small tip or bribe. You will hear this word a lot, it is also used as a verb – will you dash me? The person who packs your bag at the supermarket and carries it to the car (or sometimes these are two services offered by two separate people) will expect one. The bag boys at Lekki market, they will hound you until you choose one of them to assist you. Tip – just choose one already, it’s the easiest way – and have some small change ready. Asking why they are not at school will be ignored as they jostle each other for business. They will carry your purchases (so yep, you are pretty much obliged to buy something) and you dash them when you and your purchases are safely back in the car. If you really can’t face doing the dashing yourself, slip your driver some discretionary small notes and he can handle that on your behalf.
D is for Driver: Yes, it is more than likely as an expat that you will have a driver. If you have ever experienced the Lagos traffic, you will understand why this is a good thing.
D is also for Danfo: A small yellow minibus taxi.
E is for Eh-hen: A bit like A-ha – the word can be used in extensive ways.
F is for Fresh Fish: A term used to describe naive, wet behind the ears newbie expats.
F is also for To Flash : Nope, it doesn’t mean flashing (as in unexpected displaying of underwear or nether regions), it means I’ll ring your phone – so that my number flashes up on your screen – and then immediately hang up so that I don’t have to pay for the call. It was a money saving tip – people would call, hang up and then you would have to call them back and pay for the call. It’s a habit and phrase that many expats adopt, as a time saving tip rather than a money saving one: “I’ll flash you when I’m leaving.” “I’ll flash you when I get there.”
F is also for Four One Nine (more commonly known as 419): We’ve all had those dodgy emails from people asking for your bank details so that they can pay you a huge sum of money for helping them to release their wrongly impounded funds. Advance-fee fraud is commonly associated with Nigeria and known as a 419, which is a reference tothe Nigerian Criminal Code for fraud.
G is for Go-slow: A traffic jam. In Lagos this can mean hours sitting in your vehicle. Hours. I mean HOURS and it’s a regular occurrence.
H is for Hissing Sound: If you hear somebody making a loud hissing sound, they are trying to get your attention.
H is also for Harmattan: Between November and March a dusty and dry wind blows in from the Sahara, coating everything in a film of sandy dust. The sky may appear hazy.
I is for Igbo: Both a people (and a language) of South Eastern Nigeria.
and for Independence Day: Nigeria gained independence from British colonial rule on 1st October 1960.
J is for Jollof Rice: A staple dish across West Africa made with rice (obviously) cooked in palm oil with tomatoes, onions, salt chilli and spice. It’s usually an orangey colour.
K is for Kobo: A monetary unit. There are 100 Kobo in a Naira (Naira being the national currency).
L is for Lekki Market: A great place to buy souvenirs. Once upon a time it was a ramshackle collection of stalls pieced together from scraps of wood and metal. Navigating the market was via planks over murky water. In recent years the market was moved to a more orderly permanent concrete structures. Gone are the planks and the murky water – well except when it rains torrentially. Remember to bargain hard!
M is for Malaria: Yep, Lagos is in a malarial zone. The only upside is that if you catch it, you will be diagnosed and treated far more quickly than if you went home to a non-malarial country and then started displaying symptoms.
Let me know if I missed any vital A-M’s of Lagos lingo?
In the meantime if you want to learn a little about the English spoken in South Africa, I covered some of the differences in THIS slightly silly post.