Deepak and I were waiting at the airport for the next flight to Wellington when we heard a little Indian girl ask her mother a question. The mother answered with the famous head wobble.
The little girl pressed her mother to be more precise: “Mum is that a yes or a no?”
This exchange between mother and daughter made me smile.
Supposedly, the history behind the head wobble is that in the old times a clear and distinct no could cost ones head. As a solution to this cruel punishment the head wobble was invented. Leaving it to the receiver to interpret the meaning.
Born and raised in the Indian culture you will understand most of the meaning of the wobble in different situations. However, being a “Dutchy” most of the nuances are completely lost on me.
When I first came to India most of the misunderstandings were a direct result of the Indian head-shake. It started on the airport going through customs. The officer asked me if I had anything to declare. “Nope, nothing to declare” I answered. The reply I got was a wobble! “Damn, they found something in my suitcase!” Before I could make a run for it, the officer told me that I could go. Before he could change his mind I dashed out of the airport!
Later I figured that mostly the headshake is used as a variation for the Indian word “theek hai” which roughly translates to “OK!”. It is the Indian way of letting someone know that you are listening to them. The officer just “signaled” me that he heard me and that everything is “OK”. However, I was not able to read this signal (yet!)
Now after living in India for one year, I more or less mastered the wobble. Today, our maid asked me if she can take some pomegranates home. I wobbled my head in agreement. She understood and left me beaming with pride all day!
This video helped me a great deal to better understand the different variations. If only I had seen it earlier!