Workplace Etiquette

I don’t tend to wear earrings. I think I’ve been in make-up exactly once in my life – at the behest of a friend who was so insistent on painting my face I acquiesced. I figured it was not my labour so why the hell not? As it turns out, I now know why the hell not. Make-up doesn’t magically disappear, you have to wipe and then wash it off. Safe to say, never again. Too much work. The last thing I want to do after a long day is wash my face. Glass of wine anyone?

So really, if you are paying attention, it should be clear to you that really anyone who spends a little time with me quickly becomes quite aware that my aesthetic is at best, hobo-goth. And really, that’s being generous, most of the time I look like trash. It’s great stuff.

The past several weeks I’ve been consulting at a firm where I have to do that 9-to-5-ting. It sucks: having to wake up in the morning, wear ironed clothing, make myself look passably inoffensive and then interact with other human beings while attempting productivity. Adulthood is such a scammy drag; I don’t recommend it.

But at least now that I am six weeks into the ordeal, I’m probably used to it. I’ve even gotten used to the fact that people insist on praying before and after our board meetings. I’ve gotten used to those two co-workers, one of them 100% seedy, who keeps inviting me to “service on Sunday”. I was even invited to Wednesday vigil last week – cue raucous laughter – when it’s not like Industry Night at Spice Route has become incapable of elevating my Wednesday nights.

I digress. I just want to make it clear that I thought I was a pro at managing this Nigerian work environment thing. My bosses call me “dear” or “darling” and I’ve resorted to calling them by their titles “MD”, “ED” since there is no way I’m calling anyone “sah” or “ma”. Yet somehow despite these qualifications, I was at all not prepared for what ensued this morning. I am so naïve I tell you, so naïve I could be pre-resurrection Jon Snow.

It’s 10am and a lady I vaguely recognise from Procurement walks resolutely into my office. She failed to knock but I appreciate that she asks for permission to sit and “discuss something with [me]”. I assumed it would be work-related, but at the very worst, I also readied myself for the proselytization I knew I’d receive from one co-worker or another each week. I was poised to display my polite nods and enthusiastic “thank you so much”. It would all be over in 15 minutes. I am so naïve.

Big auntie from procurement instead wanted to know why I don’t wear earrings. In fact, she wanted to know why I always look so plain, “no earrings, no makeups, everyday black…your clothes are so loose”. I am still shook as I write this. Who is this lady? Who is she? Honestly, what is our relationship? Did I miss the part where my guardianship was signed over to this big auntie? Did the black dress I wore yesterday scream “Save the Frump!”? What am I missing here?

My aesthetic is driven by what someone described (of another) as a lofty laziness and it’s unquestionably apparent. But, at the risk of repeating a cliché, it is my body so I can look as trashy as I goddamn please. But apparently big auntie does not feel that way. She kept prodding, “are you Deeper Life? Or Mountain of Fire?” “You know as a young woman you have to package yourself,” she says laughing, “young men these days have a lot of distractions, you can’t be looking like this”. This is for real. I’m at my place of work, dressed in black shirt, grey-black blazer and black slacks. My co-worker deems it fit to offer me some styling advice so “young men” will want to look at me/fuck me/marry me? Somebody help me understand. Please.