The Indian head wag


The indians have a particular physical expression which involves tilting the head to the left and right in a rhythmic not-too-fast, not-too-slow fashion. I’m not entirely sure what it means but I like it and have adopted it if only to annoy SG.

From what I’ve seen, the head wag can mean “yes”, “no”, “maybe” or “i dont understand what you just said”. All one needs to do is smile and maintain silence and for some reason, it seems to be a pretty acceptable response from the local Indian point of view. Or at least, that is my working hypothesis. I’ve experimented a little and it seems to work in the following scenarios.

“Kashmiri shawls, cheap shawls, looking only ok.”

“Five rupee, give me five rupee.”

“What country are you from?”

“Where you want to go? I take you!”

“Change money?”

“I show you cheap room!”

Alternatively, and it has only just occurred to me while writing this, it could be that when I do the headwag, it is so contextually incorrect that they simply assume that I dont understand english. Most people here assume I am Japanese anyway.

In any case, it works pretty well with everyone but SG.

4 thoughts on “The Indian head wag

  1. Have you read Shantaram? The head wag annoyed the heck out of me when I was traveling India because I couldn’t seem to get a straight answer.

    In the book he explains it as meaning “Hey, I’m a nice relaxed friendly guy.” The head wag is more like making the peace sign than saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Using it in India works wonders with the locals apparently. Wish I had known that then.

  2. hi john! thanks for your comment.

    no, i havent read Shantaram although i do see it floating around many bookshops here in India.

    That interpretation does makes sense. And it does work wonders with the locals. The smile is important though and that is often the most difficult part of it because often enough, I just want to tell the person hassling me to go away.

  3. Shantaram is a good read if you are traveling India. My house mate thinks it is genius. I think it reads like a guy in a pub telling an engaging shaggy dog story over a beer. However I’m sure it is based on truth and it does give some good insights into Indian life.

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