Of Street Turds and Culture

There are several arguments which could be made to contest the Economist Intelligent Unit’s ranking of the world’s most liveable cities, especially concerning how they measure “culture” which, rather implausibly, put Adelaide in the top 10 a few years back. Yet despite this open goal, one Chibundu Onuzo writing in The Guardian misses the target completely:

A few months ago, I stepped out one morning and saw a coil of animal poo on the doorstep. My mother and I spent a long time trying to figure out what sort of animal had done the deed. We decided, in the end, that a fox was the culprit. But it could also have been a racist.

Racists can can shit fox poo? Who knew?

The incident has occurred twice but as we’ve got rid of the evidence both times, we’ll never know.

You didn’t think to take a photo? Fox shit looks quite a bit different from human shit, even if it’s been curled out by a racist.

I am not the only one who has had a similar experience in London. Just search “poo on doorstep”. It occurs frequently enough to have generated several threads on the internet.

The author lives in London, where I am sure many British people want open and frank discussions about how and why shit has started appearing on the streets, and who is leaving it there. Is that what the author wants? No:

Yet, when ranking the world’s best cities to live in last week, the mighty statisticians of the Economist Intelligence Unit didn’t take into account “likeliness to find a turd on your front doorstep”.

How do you know?

In the 14 years I lived in Lagos, I never once found faeces in front of my house. Yet Lagos is judged one of the 10 least liveable cities in the world, and London comes much higher in the desirability rankings, at number 48.

Firstly, part of the reason London is ranked 48 and not 8 is because it is becoming increasingly filled with people who shit in the streets. Secondly, whereas I confess I never saw a turd in the street in Lagos I put that down to the fact that those shitting in public did so a little off the beaten path. If this lady had a small canal running behind her house, for example, it would probably have resembled an open sewer. This is what greeted a colleague of mine in Nigeria one day when he chanced to look out of his office window:

There are in fact two toilets in the photo: the portacabin on the right belonging to a building site and a concrete beam across a drainage canal belonging to whoever feels like taking a dump, in public, in broad daylight (the exact location of the above incident is here).

Granted, I have no problems with some of the things the index does track, such as crime rates, the efficiency of transportation networks, and quality of healthcare. All are important, and improve one’s experience of a city. Lagos scored low in all these categories and as a Lagosian, I readily admit that we can do better in all these areas.

Similarly, when appraising their visit to Baghdad in 1258, the Mongols admitted their conduct could have been gentler.

But I’d certainly question how cities were ranked in some of the other areas that make up the index. In the culture and environment category, which includes recreational activities, Vienna scored 96.3 out of 100 and Lagos just 53.5. Now I’ve been to Vienna, and I’ve lived in Lagos, and there is no way Vienna is 43 points ahead of Lagos in culture and environment.

Whereas I’ll not say Lagos is devoid of culture – it isn’t – the culture that there is, outside of bars showing premier league football and six nations rugby, is wholly Nigerian. Which makes it great for a Lagosian, but for a foreigner it’s not very accessible.

Just ask Emmanuel Macron, who recently made a pilgrimage to Fela Kuti’s New Afrika Shrine in Lagos.

Can we ask him if he believes Lagos to be culturally superior to Vienna? Or do you reckon, what with him being a Parisian, he’ll think the lack of shit on the streets counts against it?

Lagos is a city of galleries under bridges, where artists paint and display for free.

Yeah, I’m sure Vienna has street artists too.

Every weekend there is a royal wedding that shuts down roads and stops traffic.

Erm, this isn’t a good thing. Roads being closed arbitrarily by paramilitary forces in Ray-Bans bearing AK-47s count against cities hoping to elevate themselves on livability indices.

Lagos is a city of fashion, home to the third biggest film industry in the world, and its Afrobeat music pulses out to reach the ears of a global audience.

Whereas Vienna only has Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Strauss. And who’s heard of them?

It’s obvious the statisticians didn’t know where to look.

In their defence, they were probably advised not to leave the hotel. The author concludes:

So whether you judge Lagos liveable or not, Lagosians will go on living and thriving there.

Yet strangely you left, and moved to London. This is not surprising. I noticed when studying the reaction to my infamous post on Nigeria that its most aggressive defenders seemed to be living abroad and doing quite well.


24 thoughts on “Of Street Turds and Culture

  1. Have a couple of African colleagues here, Nigeria is the butt of their jokes as well.

    Have to agree these surveys are bollocks, “culture” is such a loaded/useless term in these surveys. I love it it here in Calgary, but for “culture” you’d go to another continent, however the general work/life culture here is preferable, and I like the 6+ months of winter.

    Thing is Tim – you are the outlier here, most people are not looking for adventures like Lagos or HR management. The fact is, the vast majority of people have utterly boring lives or are striving for utterly boring things like proper sanitation.

  2. It’s racists, sure. London is now full of hundreds of thousands of people from cultures where public defecation is acceptable, but it’s racists doing it. (Not to mention the white and mixed-race low-life for whom morality is now a quaint notion of no interest to them.)

  3. The EIU’s most liveable cities always seem to be terribly dull places. I have visited all the top 10 apart from the Canadian cities and only Tokyo, Osaka & Sydney have much buzz about them. Copenhagen and Vienna are both nice places to visit though.

    I don’t spend much time in London these days and rarely step outside of the centre if I do, but it doesn’t seem much different today than when I lived there a decade ago. That said, I have not spent any time in the sort of areas Air China warns you about.

    No plans to visit Lagos; vicariously via this blog has been more than enough for me. Learning that 1/3 of the populace has to shit in the gutter has only reenforced this view…

  4. re your post from 2013 on Nigeria.

    You suggested that corruption was a relatively recent phenomenon in Nigeria.

    I know a number of people who were there in the early 1960s: they all say that it was corrupt even then. Less wealth, certainly, but impossible to do anything without someone imposing an unofficial charge.

  5. Ah yes, Lagos Car journey Bingo…. of which “the shitting man” was a guaranteed check

  6. Her story of a racist repeatedly shitting on her doorstep would be believable if there were very few black people in London. As there are, rather, quite a lot one has to question why this racist is picking on her in particular and not any others. If it’s a human doing it then it seems more likely they are targeting her for personal, not racial, reasons.

    Or it’s a fox.

  7. Bloke in Calgary,

    “Have to agree these surveys are bollocks, “culture” is such a loaded/useless term in these surveys. I love it it here in Calgary, but for “culture” you’d go to another continent, however the general work/life culture here is preferable, and I like the 6+ months of winter.”

    “Culture” is mostly just about superiority. When people talk up the “culture” in places like London, they’re just bluffing. They aren’t going to the Royal Opera House, the BFI or the V&A on a regular basis. They go to crap at the Tate Modern, but mostly to get a selfie to share.

    The best contemporary culture is either in the Kindle Store, on a cinema near you or streaming on Amazon and Netflix. Everything else is state funded garbage, frankly. Name the last great play, and you’ll probably end up with something by David Mamet from the mid-80s. Ballet, opera and painting haven’t done much of note since WW2.

  8. Mal Reynolds…it may be the racist has the trots,could get quite a bit of shitting done maybe hitting a few Asian steps as well…..ah London what a place.

  9. Cool story . I am the great fan of UK wildlife. Is the the door shitting fox of the Baskervilles myth or real ?

    Watson. It is very weird. Why must somebody walk on tiptoe ?
    Sherlock . He was not walking, he was running for his life until he got cardiac arrest .

    Is this really possible that racists training foxes to scare black people to death in the UK ?

  10. As the Richard Burton put it in the Exorcist 2 “Chibundu will lead us to Pazuzu”.

    And when he has done that he can go back to Lagos and take all the Gladrag staff with him. It must be a top tax dodge to publish over there –has to be cheaper than the Smoke and less criminals as well probably. And the G will be top quality t-roll in Africa.

  11. C’mon guys! It’s the Guardian. You know that they don’t know shit so distinguishing between fox and human shit is way beyond them.

  12. “We decided, in the end, that a fox was the culprit.”

    Really? *In* London? Inside the city?

  13. Lagos is so amazing that I’d rather live in London. Nigerians and our lack of awareness

  14. “Really? *In* London? Inside the city?”

    That bit’s not that implausible. The place has a reasonable population of mangy urban foxes, which appears to have increased significantly over the last 20 years (not least because idiots feed them).

  15. “The place has a reasonable population of mangy urban foxes,”

    Not sure about those in London, I suppose it depends where they are, but a few years back I noticed that those in the larger towns nearby looked a damn site healthier than their more rural cousins.

  16. I have seen foxes on Upper Street, Islington, in Park Crescent, Regent’s Park, and outside Embankment tube, as well as several loafing around the rail tracks near Chelsea, so it’s possible that it was fox poo.

    However, it could be that she was living in Grenfell Tower at the time, so it was probably a fellow resident who marked it with a helpful R for racist, or even shaped it that way

  17. Actually, I think most people would assume that Paula Radcliffe was on a training run

  18. Agamammon,

    foxes in London are a real pest. They are literally everywhere. They like living by railways because the verges are usually untouched, but anywhere with a bit of greenery will suffice and as the city is full of parks and squares and many houses still have large gardens, they can survive quite happily, especially from take aways.

    Being an ex-resident of Vienna, I loved living there, I could always find something to do and I never felt unsafe there. It was just a bit pricey. I agree with Hitler on this one, when he said that Paris is not nearly as nice.

  19. I have seen a fox sitting on a railway platform in London.

    Anyway, this genuinely made me laugh:

    Now I’ve been to Vienna, and I’ve lived in Lagos, and there is no way Vienna is 43 points ahead of Lagos in culture and environment.

    He is funnier than Marcus Brigstocke, that’s for sure.

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