The great Indian Head-Nodding Culture

Why Indians do the Head Bobble?


India has always been a go choice for travelers. With its population, history, and culture Indian has tons of stories to tell the world. A country is home to a few of the world’s most iconic monuments along with heritage-rich temples and monasteries. India has proven a perfect escape to every traveler.

From snowcapped mountains Stretching from the frozen summits of the Himalayas to the tropical greenery of Kerala and southern states, India encompasses an incomparable range of landscapes, cultures, and people.

All travelers while traveling India faces few itsy bitsy problems. But the most common one reported is something we can never guess. Apart from the spicy food crisis and water contamination, the difficult thing travelers report is the understanding the head-nodding communication system we have.

Head nodding??? Say what!!!

As Indians we do not realize these different kinds of head nods we do, because we have been so deeply drowned in this route of communicating things that this regimen comes subconsciously to us. The head-nodding culture can be observed in all over India but a specific side to side head nod becomes predominant when we travel to far south in states like Tamil Nadu.

The Indian Head Bobble

World Travelers had given names to like “The head wobble”, “The Indian head shakes” or the favorite and most commonly used one “The great Indian head bobble” to this particular head-nodding gestures.

The internet had devoted tons of articles for understanding the different types of head bobbles but before talking that let us talk about why do we bobble?

Origin of Bobble

Well the hypothesized theory which is believed relates the origin of the bobble to the times when India was under reigns of the Monarchs. Most Indian kings and queens as history states had peculiar hobbies and habits.

From king of Hyderabad using the largest diamond of world using as a paperweight to Mughal kings using humans as chess pieces, there is no denying of the fact that Indian monarchs set the standard of royalty, luxury, and of course arrogance.

Since these kings had such lavish lifestyles, common men always feared to say no to them because they don’t want their heads to get beheaded!! That is when the weird head bobble originated. The side to side movement of the bobble never meant either a clear yes or a straightaway no. they let the kings and the seniors dignitaries to interpret it the way they want. Allowing them to hear the answer to what they want to hear which proved to be a great trick to stay out of trouble.

Why do we all wobble??

Science has always been great at feeding our daily diet of curiosity and the cultural scientist Geert Hofstede’s intensive research on different cultural practices of different countries of the world has an answer to our question. Before moving straight away to the answer, lets first talk about how we Indians are usually raised.

“Atithi Devo bhava” the phrase we have heard from age 2 to all our lives which means the guest is our god.

This suggests that from early age Indians are raised as Pliant and polite especially to guests and elders making it more difficult to learn a way to say “No”. Hence we mutter incoherently, we smile modestly, we nod slightly, all to avoid making a firm commitment.

Indeed, the head nod is a gesture meant to maintain the mysterious puzzle suggesting ambivalence, and head wobble does so effectively.

Geert Hofstede’s research states….

India to be on a score of 77 on the dimension of Power of distance whereas other countries rank on average of 56.5. In normal man lingo, Power distance is something which measures the extent to which people of particular society expect and accept power inequalities. This high score tells that we Indians have a deep respect for the hierarchy of orderly superiors which either could be our elderly or could be people with big pockets filled with riches indicating their power. hence we worry to disagree. We have limited scope for disagreement with those considered superior in any way.

Pradeep Chakravarthy, a corporate behavior consultant and a writer from Chennai and, says “In India, you don’t openly convey refusal or disagreement with any other person,” he said. “Because you never know when you will need their help, and saying no means cutting off a relationship completely.”

Further adding on to the topic he explains Indian people often find themselves in situations where saying ‘no’ is just impossible. These would either be conversations with bosses at work, elders of the family, or leaders in the community. In these situations, this unclear movement comes as the perfect compromise, allowing the other person to interpret what they want, while leaving wriggle room for the speaker.

You can’t ignore it!!

Adore it or Abhor it, Get along with it or continue to stay confused, but it is impossible to ignore the wobble while in India. Most of us Indians aren’t even aware of we do it, and many foreigners in India find themselves copying it after a time. Anita Rao Kashi, a journalist from Bangalore, said to me, “As much as we’d like to deny it, this gesture is ingrained in Indians, passed on through heredity.”

As a native Indian, I’ll suggest tourists Please don’t get irritated by it. Play along and be dumb. You might end up making laughs and memories.


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