Sunday, April 23, 2006

The great Indian nod

The other day, my supervisor and I were recollecting a day we both were having an animated discussion about something. Gradually we were both getting louder and more emphatic about our individual p.o.vs (points of view). When we actually bothered to listen to each other, I found myself saying "THAT is exactly what I am saying!!". Turned out we were actually both on the same side. There was no need to argue! So she went "well, you kept nodding "no , no" against what i was i didn't think you agreed with me".

Those were the days. when I was new here, FOB, as they say. (Fresh Off the Boat ;)) Now I just stick to email when i've to communicate important opinions or decisions with my supervisor. ;)

So this is something that confuses a lot of westerners..or at least that's what I saw when i came to the U.S. They can never quite understand the typical indian "head-shake" and what it means. The American way of doing it is clear cut. A bob of the head- up and down- indicates affirmitive. A shake of the head- left to right - indicates negative. But when we indians use head-gestures to convey decisions, and often crucial ones, a lot can be lost in translation. I tried to explain to my american friends the subtle nuances that distinguish the various gestures.

There's the sliight up and down bob.. and if the eyes are closing and opening in rhythm to the slow nod, it denotes an exasperated affirmation. Does not necessarily mean I agree with you, it just means "i see what you're saying, i've heard that before, now let me speak..." When the movement is a left to right one, you've to pay attention, was that just a tilt or was it a vigorous shake?? Was the head bowed or was it straight?? Because a slight left-to-right tilt, with the head bowed, could mean a "yes"! it's the kind of nod a lot of us do to the beat of classical music, picture a typical tamilian going "aama, aama" and you see what i mean.. Now, the slow left to right tilt, in a circular, recurring fashion could denote affirmation. But a similar movement, just done once, accompanied by a smirk on the face and a "hmh" sound, is actually a nod of disapproval, or scorn. As in " hmh, chala aaya, apna naya gaadi dikhaane". A vigourous shake of the head from left to right, on the other hand, clearly conveys a NO. And then finally there's the desi-desi nod..they type we reserve for other desis when we see them at bus-stops or grocery stores, and don't really know them, but it's just a gesture of support or feeling of belonging..

My american friends couldn't quite wrap their head around all this, so to speak. Then I took them to a beautiful classical dance performance that took place on campus. The compere explained what the basic gestures in bharatnatyam conveyed, as the dancer performed them. And while my american friends loved the performance, suddenly, the great indian nod was a little more clear to them, as I observed them all nodding in agreement and applauding the performance. :-)

P.S: I discovered blogrolling! lookee lokeee ova there!


greensatya said...

Hi TGFI - Quite interesting post on the 'great Indian nod' :) I never thought about this. But what is the desi-nod, the one desis give to other ?
So I am new to your blog and will read rest of the posts.

Abhishek Upadhyay said...

Pretty conphusing....
Never expected that someone can write a post on head-nodding.

As far as I am concerned, when I shake my head in any damn direction it means that I dont understand and want to make person feel that I am listening to him attentively.In mean time I do wht I love to do, daydream.
If I am listening attentively then I dont nod just listening attententively coz nodding breaks my concentration.

Sayesha said...

//Freshly squeezed OJ for the soul.

Love it! :P Thanks, girl! :)

But my place convinced you to get your blog? Really?

Flattereddddddddd! :P

I am off blogger said...

I cunt get the "desi nod" but i guess u need to be in some other country to know it....
Anyways, these nods come really handy in class...for e.g. when during some boring lecture, i am reading a novel/newspaper then giving a nod or two every few minutes make the teacher think "haan yeh ek bachcha hai jo mujhe sun raha hai".....and it works really nicely,especially if u are sitting near the rear of class...
Aur ek baar to hadd ho techer was giving demonstration of how to do one practical...i was nodding to whatever she said,without really listening to what she was saying....after she went away, i asked other guys "kisi ko samajh aaya?" ...all said yaar tu itni gardan hila raha thaa, hume lagaki tujhe samajh aa gaya hoga...warna to hum doobara hi poochh lete!!"

I am off blogger said...

"In a claas of his own!" =????

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

Hi greensatya!
desi-desi nod is a very covert nod. I wonder if it's a small town thing- i've been here 5 years and don't know several of the newcomer desis here...but everytime I run into them, we exchange these glances and nod of...i don't know..brotherliness???

abhishekh & sumit
yeah! you guys brought up the other classification of nods- which is pretty universal...a pretend nod which means "haan haan samjha samjha ab khatam karo ye lekchar" :D. that's not restricted to indians....

sayesha....yeah , really. :-) you're very welcome, keep dem posts coming..

> "In a claas of his own!" =????

means you are the president, vice-president and sole member of my fan club. :D. was just a joke. but really, i'd never have written my third post if you hadn't egged me on. :D

The Girl Who Sold The World said...

Hahaha, I remember reading something somewhere about this Indian classical music concert in some American uni. The next day, uni's newspaper reported, "The concert was extremely good but it seemed like most Indians disagreed with the musician's style of playing. They were all shaking their heads from left to right."

ROTFL! Very GREAT Indian nod, indeed. ;)

Interesting observations, the "other" girl. :P

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

chalo, someone could understand my deep analysis of head-shakes. ty TGWSTW.

P.S: small clarification..i'm THE girl, you're the OTHER girl, okayyyyyyyyy?

PSV said...

I have lived in india all my life and I don't know of anybody signalling a yes by moving head right and left. Right and left movement of the head is always a no and an upa nad down motion a yes.
maybe rules of the game are different in north india rather than in south.
coz from where i come(punjab) the nomenclature of head movement is how i just described.
Interesting post nonetheless.
Keep Blogging!