I was surpised at first when Abdoulaye* asked me this question. However, the more I tried to answer it, the more I realised how different our cultures truly are.
In Senegal, people live together in big families- often the grandparents, uncles and all their wives and children. When a woman marries, she leaves her family and goes to live in her husband’s house, which means she also has to live, cook and wash with her stepmother, stepsisters and co-wives, if there are any. It is very rare, like in the western world, for a person to have their own room, simply because families here are so large. Thus the concept of ‘living alone’ is something incomprehensible within Senegalese culture.
It is difficult to answer my friend’s question… Why indeed do ‘white people’ like to live alone?
Firstly, I think that in the western world, because families are so much smaller than in Senegal, people have become accustomed to having their ‘own’ private space. Many children grow up with their own room, while Senegalese never sleep alone- generally, parents have their room and children have another room in which they all sleep together on the same mattress.
The Senegalese are accustomed to being surrounded by people all the time, which could be one reason why they are so social and open-natured.
Wanting to immerse myself completely into Senegalese culture, I tried to do everything they did. This resulted however, in a strong longing for isolation.
I was constantly surrounded by people and due to my western socialisation, I felt that I strongly needed time by myself. (The only time I had by myself was when I was asleep.)
I have always wondered: “Do the Senegalese ever feel like they want to be just simply alone?”
So let’s return to the question. Why do white people like to live alone?
I think that due to our individualist culture, we are accustomed to do things ‘alone’. This can even be seen in the way we eat. While the Senegalese all eat together from the same metal bowl, we western people eat from ‘individual’ plates.
In western cultures, it is very important to leave the house of one’s parents. Not only does this symbolise independance and responsability but it also is something that shows our entrance into the adult world. Moving out from home and being able to look after oneself is a ritual we have to go through in order to prove that we have become an adult. It is almost an obligation to leave the house and to show that one is able to live one’s own life.
In Senegal this is quite different. People are only seen as ‘true’ adults once they are married. If you are over fourty years old and unmarried, you will still be considered as a child by your elders. Living together is very important , while isolation would symbolise a dislike for the family.
How interesting differences between cultures are…
*Name has been changed