Although this blog's name is inspired by Sauti Kubwa ("Big Voice"), the late lead singer of Rumba Japan, a band that played in Nairobi in the early years of this century, it won't focus unduly on Swahili nicknames, rumba music or indeed any other African issues.


Wednesday, 22 September 2010


A message from a solicitor today referred to my "lady wife". Normally, I would regard such a phrase - especially coming from a professional man - as embarrassingly twee or excessively formal, and certainly insincere and therefore irritating.

But the solicitor is Asian and so I found it mildly touching. I like the way some other cultures have retained an easy and genuine formality that we have lost.

Some years ago, a Somali junior colleague would routinely address me as "sir". From a Brit, this would have been jocular, mocking, facetious or grovelling. But it wasn't any of those things. It certainly wasn't grovelling; I've never met a Somali who didn't have a quiet assurance and self-confidence that allowed them to deal with almost anyone as an equal.

The westernised sections of Kenyan society broadly follow a British standard in these matters; perhaps favouring a slightly more formal style, for example in the dress code for the business sector.

But in Ghana, I was flummoxed for a while as they seemed to have only two modes - extreme formality and uninhibited, exuberant informality - and the same individual could switch between the two states very easily and quickly.

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