The head bobble

When Willy came back from his trip to India in July of 2009, he was full of tales of the fantastic things that he saw, the amazing food, the wonderful weather, and the absolutely great people that he met.  In some ways, that trip started the ball rolling on our “trip“ to India. We just didn’t know at the time just how involved the trip would be, and that it would last this long.  One of the things that he was most intrigued by was the way that a lot of Indians, many of them unknowingly, bob their heads as they are conversing.  He tried to pinpoint the exact meaning of the gesture, but was only here for a short time, and never really narrowed it down.

Even though I had heard of his experience, I was a little confused when we arrived and so many of the people that we spoke with shook their head intermittently in conversations. I wasn’t at all used to it, and the motion gave me the impression that the person initiating it was disagreeing with what was being said.  Each time it happened, I would stop and ask, “is that OK?”, and each time I sought to clarify, I would be met with a confused look.  Then Willy explained to me that many of the people he has asked about this bobble have bobbled without being aware of it, some even deny that they, or any of their countrymen, do it at all.

Nine months later, I am still not absolutely clear on what the motion means.  It varies by person and by context, but it is a safe bet that the bobble means one of:

      yes
      no
      I don`t know
      I understand
      I don’t understand
      I hear you
      I am not arguing with you
      I do believe you
      thank you
      you’re welcome


Do you see why I am confused?  In truth, it is most likely to indicate agreement, or consideration of what is proposed than anything else, but it can occasionally mean disagreement.

I have noticed that many of the transplants pick up this gesture.  Some will only bobble in response to another’s bobbles, but a few of my friends will initiate or bobble when no one around them does.  I know that Willy has been caught doing a reciprocal bobble on more than one occasion, a fact he will grudgingly admit.  The lils have not, and seem to be even more confused than I am.

I do not bobble.  I think.

Category: India, life | 4 comments

  • smothermother says:

    i was bobbling by the time i was at the end of my stay in india. it took me a good 6 months to stop. i think. but i caught myself bobblinh while readng your post. ;)

  • Lynn says:

    Oh, so true! When I first met my husband’s family I was baffled by the head bobble. Now I often catch myself doing it. It’s just so useful! For me it’s a kind of “whatever” agreement – not a full on yes, but acceptance of what is being proposed. When you get back we can get together with Julie and head bobble the night away :) .

  • rosemary says:

    They say travel expands the mind. In this case, bobbling heads have expanded your cultural awareness, even if in a confused way. I think it’s neat how different cultures do the same things all over the world, in different ways. :)
    Rosemary

  • [...] I don’t bobble… But Willy [...]


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