Mr. Borrow Borrow

Posted: June 30, 2009 in Uncategorized

Art by Gbolahan Adams

"Borrow borrow go kill you" (Art by Gbolahan Adams)

Chinedu Iroche

I remember my first job in publishing at a South African run company. My boss couldn’t understand why in a country of about 120 million people, the purported highest sales figure of any publication were 200,000 for a weekly gossip paper, with daily newspapers peaking at about 80,000.

I don’t know where he got these figures or how accurate they were but I believe they’re about right.

In my limited scope, I offered what I felt was an intelligent response, trying to impress boss man and everything, and it went thus: “While Nigerians do have a reading culture, we do not have a buying culture,” I explained. “What we do have is a borrowing culture. That is, for every one publication purchased, there are about ten borrowers standing in line.”

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

“Ooh! What book is that,” a female asks excitedly.

“Uh, the new John Grisham,” you respond.

“Really??? Can I read it when you’re done? Are you almost done?” she enquires without awaiting response to any of these enquiries.

“Well, Dipo already asked and so did…,” you manage before she cuts you off.

“Ah ahn! Am I not your best friend? Who have you known longer? You know I’m a quick reader. Where’s Dipo? Let me go and find him. DIPOOOOOOOOOO,” she rambles and walks off before you can get a word in.

You know those conversations; you’ve had them! Anyway, I digress. While Nigerians do love to read, we would rather wait for someone to be done with their copy (novel, newspaper, magazine) and then borrow it, subsequently lending it out to someone else (or two) before eventually returning it; often in a state of disrepair.

I’ve always wondered where this behaviour came from. As someone who does not really read, this doesn’t bother me much as I have no books to lend but CDs, DVDs… that’s another story.

I saw a young lady friend reading a book once, and just to make conversation (read: FLIRT) I asked to see what book it was. She began to talk about it while I read the blurb. Interestingly, my feigned interest became genuine as it looked interesting (looking for how I can throw in ‘interested’) and I became interested (a ha!) in reading it.

The tag was still on it, so I gathered she got it at the Nu Metro Mediastore at the Palms for ₦800. I went on that day or the day after to pick up a copy. I get to the office and a dude in there notices it and the conversation goes thus (paraphrased, of course):

Dude: Oh wow, is it any good?

Me: As you can see, I’m still reading it.

Dude: Oh okay, when you finish I’d like to read it.

Me: No problem.

Dude: Thanks.

Some time passes and he’s in my ear again…

Dude: Have you gone far?

And before I could respond…

Dude: You haven’t gone very far. Should I read it first and then give it back to you? I’m a very fast reader.

Me: Sounds like a plan but how about YOU let ME finish MY book and then, MAYBE, I can give it to you. Does that work for you?

Dude: Yeah. Sure. That’s fine. I was just thinking that maybe…

I am, of course, not listening at this point, hoping to kill this conversation once and for all. How silly of me…

Dude: You got it at the Palms, right?

Me: Yes.

Dude: How much was it?

Me: Eight hundred.

Dude: Okay, that’s not bad. I’ll go get a copy later.

Me: Okay.

Dude: Or can I give you money to get another one and just take this one off you?

I’ll leave you to your own conclusions on how this one played out but you get my drift, yeah? I don’t know if it’s the barter system that caused this but I can see how that system failed. I guess the IOUs were staggering!

I think books (publications in general) are the most borrowed personal items because people see them as ‘just books.’ You know, like, “Come on, it’s just a book! It’s not like I asked to borrow your car!” The default setting is to believe that the book is an easily replaceable item.

This isn’t always the case. Some books are signed by the authors, you know! Writing your name on the books pages doesn’t always help either. You’ll be shocked where it’ll turn up.

Like I stated earlier, books are not unique to our borrowing culture. Amongst family members, close friends, ambitious domestic staff and uncultured roommates, clothes rank high on the borrowed list. Turn your back and the jeans just might learn to walk on their own.

I have borrowed MY OWN CDs from friends before, after they initially borrowed them from me, before claiming ownership. You know who you are!

What we must realise, however, is that borrowing is cousin to the bragging and adulating – two ever-present trends in Nigerian culture. You’ll see what I mean. If you’re the first to get something or one of the few to own a limited edition of something, you brag about it. This piques the interest of those you tell and makes them want to borrow – with or without permission – your precious item. When they are close to you, it is hard to say no.

With the adulating, when you read a good book for example, you are likely to rave about it. This also piques the interest and when you say you bought it on your last trip abroad, of course people will want to borrow it. Nigeria isn’t really at that stage where you can dash out and get what you want or just order online.

And even while we move that way, our stubbornness as a people (we are stuck in our ways) will be hard to shift to embrace the power of personal purchase. We’d rather buy the beer (really, let somebody else buy it) and borrow the book.

So my advice is to either deal with the borrowing or hide all the good stuff!

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