So since Jason and I don’t really talk to anyone besides each other and people speaking English as a second language, we have picked up some of the mannerisms we see often.
One is the ubiquitous Indian head wobble. We have all seen it on shows such as “Outsourced” and much fun seems to be made about it, but it is not really exaggerated at all. At least in Delhi, the wobble is ubiquitous and can mean anything. We were hoping to skip all the wondering and cut right to the heart of the matter by asking Chetana, a native Indian, what the wobble meant, but she said “that is your challenge to find out.” As if there wasn’t enough to figure out in India.
It seems there are different degrees of wobble. A slight, quick tilt of the head, a slight, long tilt, a single wobble, and multiple wobbles are all valid and mean different things depending on the context.
Most times a slight tilt takes the place of a verbal “thank you” or “you’re welcome” and I think the more and longer the head tilts the more they are thankful or…welcome-ed.
Sometimes a sideways tilt also means yes, like a sideways nod. In fact, I don’t think they ever nod forwards. I don’t recall ever seeing it mean “no” either.
The meaning of longer wobbles is more difficult to pin down. So far as we have figured out, it often means they want to answer you with a response they know you don’t want to hear. For example, in Agra I offered the tour guide and driver a piece of my favorite Orbits gum. They had never had it before and the guide liked it. He asked the driver if he also liked it and the driver did not say no, but wobbled his head in a way that we knew meant he did not like it.
It can also mean something like “sometimes” or “moderately”, depending on what the question is.
Here is another account of the wobble and some other gestures we haven’t learned yet.