Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Many Meanings of the Indian Head-bob

Ah…India! The land of majestic palaces, grand temples, fragrant curry…and the universal head-bob? Well, sort of. Let me explain. One of the first things I noticed after arriving in India was that while conversing with you, a lot of Indians will start shaking their heads in a bobbing motion, in kind of a side to side while simultaneously going up and down type motion. As every seasoned traveler will know, such subtle nuances in the body language can be a vital communication tool – if you know what it means. Unfortunately, it didn’t take me long to realize that this bobbing of the head can mean a variety of things. So in an attempt to understand this unique piece of Indian culture, I have documented several personal experiences of this head-bobbing phenomenon, and my interpretation of what it means.

Negotiating a fare for an auto-rickshaw ride:
Me: I want to go to City center. Twenty rupees.
Driver: [Head-bobs]
Meaning: Deal. Get in.

Walking up to an official looking guy at the local bus terminal:
Me: Is this the bus that goes to Daulatadad?
Official: [Head-bobs and looks away]
Meaning: F*ck off, I don’t know what you are saying and don’t want to deal with you right now.

Ordering food at a restaurant:
Me: What is Alloo?
Waiter: Sweet okay?
Me: Sweet?? Alloo. What is that? [Points to word in menu]
Waiter: [Head-bobs]
Me: Um alright, just give me a few more minutes.
Waiter: [Head-bobs again and continues to stand right next to me with notepad and pen in hand]
Me: One minute please, I have not decided what I want yet.
Meaning: Lost in translation.

While riding in an auto rickshaw:
Driver: [Turns around and speaks to me in Hindi]
Me: Umm, I have no idea what you just said.
Driver: [Gestures wildly and points repeatedly to the left while speaking in Hindi]
Me: No, no. Keep going straight! [Makes a chopping motion with my hands, the universal sign for go straight (kind of like the “first down” signal in American football)]
Driver: [Shrugs and head-bobs]
Meaning: You fool, I was going to suggest a faster way to get to your destination, and now we’ll be sitting in traffic for awhile!


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