Cell phones are extremely popular in Nigeria, dare I even say coveted. Much of West Africa is this way, as land lines never really reached a point of prominence here due to infrastructure difficulties such as frequent power outages. Cell phones, however, have considerably decreased in price over the last few years. Price decreases in conjunction with a rapidly expanding world wide 3G network have created the ideal incubator for cellphone growth in Nigeria. Due to the fact that landlines did not develop as extensively here as they did in America, the introduction of cell phones to West Africa was a huge technological innovation for an area that was shortchanged by the previous generation of telecommunications devices. From my observations, the typical Nigerian has about three cell phones (one of my professors has five, all of which are in his pockets at any one time)! Cell phones are without a doubt a significant part of the area I am living in, I would even say more so than in America. There are several notable differences, however, in how Yoruba cell phone discourse varies from that in America:
1.) Contracts-In America, you are usually roped into signing at least a year long contract when you purchase a cell phone. This type of system does not exist in Nigeria. Every phone network is pay as you go, and you are usually never more than 100 yards away from someone walking around with a stack of phone cards to recharge your minutes. Some of these touts will even come up to your car at an intersection, load the minutes on your phone for you, accept money, and see you on your way all before the light turns green (although this can be a considerable amount of time in Ibadan traffic). A huge advantage to this is you can buy a decent phone for $30-70USD and have the freedom to change networks as often as you want if you are not satisfied with your sim card purchase.
2.) There is a distinct cell phone etiquette accepted in the U.S. that is non existent in Nigeria. In America, it is generally considered rude to answer your phone while in the middle of a conversation, meeting, or other intimate gathering. It is also a taboo to answer your phone at large gatherings where it could potentially disturb others, such as plays, weddings, and funerals. If, for some reason, you do need to answer the phone, it is polite to apologize and excuse yourself from the situation before doing so. The vibrate setting is also a common courtesy when around other people or in one of the situations described above. Picture the exact opposite of everything I just stated, and that is exactly the etiquette (or lack there of from an American standpoint) in Nigeria. I speculate that due to the rapid growth in significance and availability, these novel handheld conversation devices are more important that just about everything. No matter what type of situation you’re in, if your phone rings, you answer it. It doesn’t matter if your the dean of the university in an important meeting, or a guest at a play surrounded by people trying to listen to the actors, its totally legitimate to answer the phone (and have your ringer on loud for that fact). Furthermore, if you don’t answer your phone the first time someone calls you, Nigerians will get seriously concerned that something is wrong with you because there are very few situations where people don’t answer their phones. Perhaps this helps explain why I fall asleep with the standard Nokia cell phone ringtone blaring in my head from its unrelenting prevalence in my recent memory.
3.) I have seldomly had anyone bid me farewell on the telephone here. It’s always a mystery to me how and when the conversation is going to end. Usually I’m in the middle of a sentence and hear a click, the sound of the person hanging up. Due to the fact that all phones are pay as you go, people are very efficient with their minutes and waste no time saying goodbye. Most phone calls are also one minute or less for the same reason, unless you are discussing something very important and complicated. “Flashing” is also a common occurrence (see definition 3a below).
3a) Flashing-The method by which you use to get a hold of someone when you are out of cell phone minutes and you need to talk to them. Flashing consists of dialing a number and letting it ring only one time so that the other person has no time to answer, and thus needs to call you back and spend their own money. Ex. “Crap! I don’t have any minutes left…oh well, I guess I’ll just have to flash him again.” “Oh no! You don’t have any minutes left? Flash me when you need a ride!”
4.) One difference that is very nice, is Nigerians love to call you just to greet you. A greeting phone call goes something like this…”Hi how are you? How is your work? How is your school? How is your family? Send my greetings to them.” CLICK…end of conversation. Although these 20 second mere greetings can be confusing at first, I feel there is a very genuine and warm-hearted intention behind all of them.
I feel like I’m finally getting used to some of these differences, or I can at least laugh off the one’s that are still taking time to sink in.