Thursday, December 15, 2005

The English and the Art of Ill Health

Completely forgetting the title of my post, I made the grave mistake of asking someone whom I hadn��t seen for a while the question 'So how have you been?' No sooner had the words popped out of my mouth I was wishing I could drag them back in again because for the next 15minutes I was given a blow by blow detailed account of an operation she had had some months ago, told about the infection she caught, how her stitches burst etc etc etc. It took some artful diplomacy on my part to extricate myself from her tirade of complaints about her health.

One thing that has stood out so clearly since arriving on these shores is the way the English moan about ill health or how poorly they are feeling. They NEVER seem to be well! I can quite honestly say I have never enquired after the health of an English person and got an 'I am very well thanks!' in response. It's like they lay in wait to be asked after their wellbeing and then they launch into a rundown of how ill they are feeling, have felt in the last two weeks or will be feeling in the weeks to come. In Nigeria by contrast (unless things have changed since I was last there) the closest you will come to hearing about ill health is a body just dey inside clot, my sista or Oh boy, I get malaria oh! while they are go about their daily business as normal like they have not a care in the world. I have had to endure many a moan from people at work and from total strangers standing in queues, sitting on the bus or even ones I have shared an elevator with, about this illness or the other.

Another curious trait I have noticed as well is their need to outdo you in the ill health stakes department. For instance, if I happen to say 'Yesterday I fell down a flight of stairs and cracked my cranium' more often than not - nine times out of ten and I guarantee you this - the response would be 'Ohhh, dreadful but did I tell you about the time I fell down FIVE flights of stairs and not only did I crack my cranium but I broke a leg, lost two front teeth, broke my jaw, and then I got evicted, lost my job, went on the dole, had my car stolen....' Huh???

So the moral of the story is this, unless you are genuinely interested think twice when asking after the health of an English person.


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