LOUD WHISPERS: Adults and Good Manners

I was having a discussion with some people a few days ago, and we spent some time talking about some adults and the way they behave, setting a poor example for young people. It reminded me on an article I wrote a few years ago, here is an abridged version.


Recently, I was in a cosmetics shop to buy some items. As I was browsing through the merchandise, I could hear a woman talking on her cell phone. It took me approximately twenty minutes to make up my mind about what to put into my shopping cart. All this time, the woman was still on her phone. She was speaking rather loudly and animatedly, and at some point, she got emotional. For a while there were only two of us in the shop, and it seemed that she had convinced herself that even if people around could hear her, they could not understand what she was saying. You see, the shop was in Atlanta, USA, and she was speaking in Yoruba. You might be wondering why she did not think about the fact that I could be another Nigerian, but I have been told my dreadlocks fool some people into thinking I could not be African. A few years ago, when I was in a shop in Liverpool Street, London, a guy was on the phone to someone, raving about the two women he was currently ‘banging’, and how hot they were. He said enough for me to know he was also married! The details were so explicit and juicy, I lingered longer than I needed to in the shop. When the guy finished, I decided to teach him a lesson in discretion, so I walked up to him and said ‘Good afternoon’ in Yoruba. He reacted as if he had received an electric shock. I did not know you are a Nigerian he said. It should not have mattered if I was a Nigerian or not. He should not have been having that kind of conversation over the phone in public.

Fast forward to my co-shopper in Atlanta. When I was ready to pay for my items, I went to the payment counter and queued behind my Naija sister. She was still on her phone. She was so engrossed in her conversation that it did not seem to bother her that there was no one to attend to us, she kept on talking. After a few minutes, I called out to get the attention of a shop attendant, and someone came forward to assist us. All through the process of payment, the sister kept her phone glued to her ear. As she turned to go, still on her phone, I looked at her and said in Yoruba, ‘It is well’. She too panicked for a second, then smiled and thanked me. I hope she got the message. In the twenty minutes or so I spent listening to this sister, I learnt

  1. a) She is married
  2. b) Her mother-in-law lives in Nigeria but looms very large in her marriage,
  3. c) Due to the insatiable demands of her mother-in-law, her marriage is in jeopardy and
  4. d) If her husband does not keep his mother in check, she will leave him and take her children with her.

I fully sympathise with this distressed sister, but this is an awful lot of information to learn about a total stranger in a public place. We keep talking about how young people these days do not have values and manners. In the Yoruba language, when people talk about young people and manners, they are classified into two. We have the `abíikó – those who were not taught manners when they were young and the àkóìgbà those who were taught and refused to learn. For the purpose of this article, I am using 21 and above as my definition of an adult. Good manners are not something that was imported into African cultures from elsewhere. We all received the appropriate training from our parents, relatives, teachers, community leaders, religious leaders and so on, so we should not have an excuse for poor manners. When we become parents and wards, we continue the cycle of teaching and learning. We cannot claim to be good leaders if we lack character, and good manners is one of the foundations on which character is built. I will list a few pet peeves I have with regards to adult behavior and good manners as follows:

  1. The use of cell-phones

For those of us old enough to remember what life was like before we all had access to cell-phones, we are indeed very grateful for this innovation. The arrival of the cell phone should however not have coincided with the departure of commonsense, decorum and sensitivity. How can we teach our children the appropriate ways to use their phones when we are guilty of using our phones in church, yelling loudly into our phones in public spaces, and relating all our life history in twenty minutes to the hearing of total strangers?




  1. Social media and online platforms


One of the things that has always mystified me is the need for adults to turn their lives into a daily spectacle online. The next time you feel tempted to rant, gossip or assassinate the character of anyone online, take a deep breath. One day when you decide to run for office, you don’t want people to be reminded of times when your emotional stability was in question or what certain parts of your anatomy used to look like on Instagram. Just the thought of your children being old enough one day to read what you post should be enough of a deterrent.

  1. Punctuality

There is no such thing as ‘African time’. I will tell you what time there is. There is ‘I take myself seriously’ time. There is ‘I respect the time of others’ time. There is ‘I told you in advance I will be late’ time. And there is ‘Even when I know everyone will be late I don’t have to be one of them’ time.

  1. Chewing gum

A lot of people chew gum in public, old and young alike. Call me old school, this was not a ‘thing’ when I was growing up, so I can’t understand why people now have the need to chew gum visibly and audibly in public. Our teachers back then used to take a very dim view of this habit. You can chew gum in private; chewing gum in public spaces is rather tacky. If you need to freshen your breath, there are mints and sweets you can pop into your mouth discreetly. For the sophisticated who travel often, there are Listerine strips.

  1. Appropriate grooming


This is a tricky one. Let me first of all dissociate myself from the brigades who mount surveillance on women in the name of ‘curbing indecent dressing’. Adult females can make informed decisions (an informed decision does not have to be a smart one) about how to dress. Both males and females should learn the art of appropriate grooming. You look the part you want to play. If you are attending a board meeting, a worn out pair of shoes might not look good. If you are a woman, that mini-skirt might not be a good idea, especially if you need to bend down to pick up something. For the Fashionistas who are interested in ‘Advanced Level’ grooming, you do not wear white or black to weddings, and what looked good on Naomi Campbell or Lupita Nyong’o might not be right for you.

  1. Visiting people without an appointment

Unless the person you are visiting has declared ‘open house’, please do not visit without an appointment. This was one of my father’s pet peeves, he used to complain when people dropped by without asking him first. He would say to us. ‘People do not seem to care if you need time to yourself. Why would you visit me without checking? Visiting people without phoning first to check if they are able to see you is rude behaviour. Even if they are home, they might want to spend the time doing other things such as resting, attending to a task or seeing other people. I have been told that people do this because they are afraid that if they call to ask for an appointment, you might not give it to them, so the best option is to ‘ambush’ you.

  1. Behaviour in restaurants

A place where you encounter adults behaving badly is in restaurants. We need to be polite to the waiters, stop using our cellphones at the table and be sensitive to other diners. If you are someone’s guest, and you are not paying the bill, it is in poor taste to complain about anything even if your grievance is legitimate. And there is no such thing as ‘Tipping is unAfrican’.

Good manners are not a luxury, useful only to the elite. All of us should have good manners. No one is born with manners, we all have to learn, and we do not have to be perfect. None of us should be an `abíikó or àkóìgbà . That is what makes the difference in getting hired, keeping a job, getting a promotion, being considered for a position or earning the respect of others. Any adult over the age of 21 has a duty to teach younger ones. We cannot preach things we do not or cannot practice.


The full article can be found in Loud Whispers, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Amandla Publishing (2017) available on Amazon.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com





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16 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: Adults and Good Manners

  1. Akinkolade Kukoyi April 19, 2020 at 8:54 am

    Thank you for reminding us about how important it is to have manners. That chewing gum part….. hmmm.

  2. Victor Udoh April 19, 2020 at 8:56 am

    I remember this article and it shaped my life especially the phone call ethics. I speak loudly over the phone but after reading this, my psychic changed.

  3. Olujimi Femi April 19, 2020 at 8:57 am

    Visiting people without appointments! ah! I wish people would read this and learnnnnn

  4. Lola Adeola April 20, 2020 at 8:38 am

    There is a need to remind ourselves of some basic etiquettes no matter how liberal we think the world is.

  5. Veronica Imaseun April 20, 2020 at 8:38 am

    I can remember this article and it is expedient for both the young and old alike

  6. Seyi Nelson April 20, 2020 at 8:39 am

    A reminder for us to be better, do better.

  7. Femi Diipo April 20, 2020 at 11:28 am

    I truly believer in manners and learning the appropriate how, time and place for everything.
    Thank you ma’am for the reminder, these are necessary things we must always talk about especially in this generation when manners seem to be taking a back seat among the so called adults

  8. Vanessa April 21, 2020 at 6:53 am

    Etiquette. Etiquette and more etiquette

  9. Bukky Claudia April 21, 2020 at 6:54 am

    Chewing gum is my menace ooooo. God help me.

  10. Nkechinyere April 21, 2020 at 6:55 am

    In as much as we do not want to tell people what to wear, it is important to know that we need to look like sane people considering the way young women go about with their bodies now.

  11. jOyce Elims April 21, 2020 at 6:56 am

    Good manners cannot be traded.

  12. Favour Dinma April 21, 2020 at 6:57 am

    I hope that as we read this, we put into practice o. It is not enough to just read and hmmm and write. A lot of us are lagging behind.

  13. Bunmi Bankole April 22, 2020 at 11:02 pm

    There was a time when good manners / character / attitude was more appreciated than riches or beauty.

  14. DSEED April 24, 2020 at 1:09 am

    Loaded information. Imbibing manners can be so helpful. If only we can all have these listed manners and also practice it, the world would’ve been a better place.

  15. Olakunle Olajide April 28, 2020 at 10:51 am

    Good manners and habits cannot be over emphasized. My parents practically instilled it in me. Thank you for bringing this back at this crucial time where bashing with words online is the order of the day.

  16. Eric Onuoha April 30, 2020 at 9:20 pm

    I wish adults can read this so that they can adjust their behaviour where necessary. Very educative piece.


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