To tell the truth or not

Home Away from Home with Abi Adeboyejo

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Abi AdeboyejoWhat do you say if your friend asks you if the new ankara skirt and blouse they’ve just collected from their tailor (sorry, designer) fits them well? You friend looks like an angry peacock because the ‘designer’ went crazy with the outfit’s neckline and put too many frills. The bodice of the blouse is a tad to tight, thus flattening an already small bosom into non-existence. The only redeeming feature of the outfit is that the skirt is snug enough to reveal your friend’s generous but appealing curves. However, the skirt is a bit short and reveals a bit too much ankle so that it looks like it was made for her shorter younger sister.

Faced with this dilemma, do you tell your friend that she looks like a stuffed bird or do you tell her that she looks fine so that she doesn’t feel unattractive? Do you lie to give her self-confidence the boost you know it needs?

Personally, I don’t like hurting people’s feelings. I don’t set out to deceive people, but I just don’t like making people feel bad. Is it the best way to do things? I don’t know.

Many years ago, my husband had an acquaintance whose family were in Nigeria. They had met at the post office where my husband heard this man muttering in Yoruba about the cost of stamps. I was new in Birmingham and desperate to make friends, especially in the small Nigerian community, so I was extra nice to this man whenever he came to visit.

The first time he visited he asked my opinion on some of the clothes he had just bought for his wife. I had never seen his wife so I didn’t know her tastes or dress size. I had only picked up the first top when I noticed that the clothes were very large. I assumed his wife was a very large lady and didn’t look through the rest of them. They were suspiciously over-flowery too and I thought they looked like a bunch of nightdresses and pyjamas.

I wanted to tell him to return the clothes because they looked like sleepwear and the colours were unflattering but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He was rather puff-chested that he was able to buy nice things for his wife and kids. “You know, to wear to church,” he said, and I didn’t want to bust his bubble. He complained that most shops didn’t have his wife’s size and he only managed to get the correct size in one shop.

The next time he came to visit he brought some more of his shopping to show me. I knew he was just showing off and wanted me to see that he was spending a lot of money on his family in Nigeria, even if there was the suspiciously female-sounding caller on his mobile phone every five minutes or so. He said it was his landlord. Hmph!Anyway, I took a much closer look at the clothes the second time and discovered to my horror that he had obviously thought that dress sizes indicated the suitable age of the wearer (like in children’s clothes) and had been buying clothes in sizes 30-32!  The very flowery clothes he’d bought were really nightdresses and pyjamas because they were the only clothes he could find in that size. I won’t mention which part of southern Nigeria this man was from but it was hard to believe that people could still be that un-enlightened!

I couldn’t tell him of his error. I was so embarrassed for him. I got my husband to tell him and somehow they managed to return a few of the clothes to the shop he’d bought them. He’d lost most of the receipts and the shop would not take returns without receipts. I felt bad because if I had told him the truth that the clothes were ugly the first time he wouldn’t have ended up with a pile of oversized nightwear suitable for retirement home residents.

I have suffered for my inability to tell people the truth in an attempt not to hurt them. I remember the first time I visited my husband’s aunt. She cooked us a very well seasoned dish of goat head pepper soup. Finding a butcher to sell her a goat’s head in Birmingham was a feat on its own and she was immensely proud of cooking such a delicacy in my honour. She even put some tripe in the pepper soup as well. She had gone to a considerable amount of trouble to cook the dish, so there was no way I could tell her that goat head pepper soup and tripe was one dish I hated above any other (well, apart from eggs, which are yucky, slimy and seriously, why would I want to eat such smelly gunk?).My husband gobbled up the pepper soup and tripe with relish while I laboured with every bite. I had to stop myself from throwing up with every spoonful. I also had to smile and make appreciative sounds as the kind lady sat in front of us, watching every mouthful with satisfaction. My hubby ended up eating most of my soup for me as we quickly swapped bowls while his aunt wasn’t watching. If only I had told her that I couldn’t stand the food! Since then (about 10 years ago) she has gone out of her way to make goat head pepper soup with tripe for me whenever we go to visit her, which thankfully, isn’t often at all. She sent bowls of it to me during my pregnancies and still sends a pot of the stuff anytime we host a party.

I know some people will argue that it is always better to tell the truth and live with the consequences but I think there are times when the truth lies in how far you’ll go to protect other people’s feelings.

What do you think?