Two events this week reminded me of the importance of good dress in Abidjan. On Wednesday night I went to a artistic cocktail night at a house in the Rivieria area. A couple of friends of mine happened to live in the house until very recently so I was used to hanging out there. So I arrived in a T-shirt and combat trousers. Big mistake – it was the sort of cocktail party where almost everyone was older and smartly dressed, probably business leaders and diplomats with a penchant for modern art. It felt uncomfortable.
The following day I put on a new suit, new shirt and polished shoes and had a meeting with the head of one of the biggest local companies. The guards allowed me to park in the VIP section, and no-one asked for my ID as I was shown to the Director-General’s office. The second in command said ‘we simply must meet for a drink some time’ even though he’s two decades older than me and from a very powerful family. Even walking through the streets of Plateau I was getting a lot of ‘hey boss’ from the street kids wanting money.
I’m generally guilty of not paying enough attention to appearance, something that perhaps is more a French/Italian trait in Europe. The added complexity here is that wearing a suit in the tropics requires incredible logistical calculations because you need to reduce movements between air-conditioned spots to an absolute minimum.