You are currently viewing No? Yes? Wait, No? Ahhh, The Indian Head Bob!! Why Do Indians Do It?

No? Yes? Wait, No? Ahhh, The Indian Head Bob!! Why Do Indians Do It?

So imagine this job interview scenario.  I had just flown 12 hours from Barcelona through Qatar to arrive in Bangalore in the middle of the night.  The first day of my interview was perfect, the other execs and team members are gracious, warm and very funny.  The company is poised to grow…in a smart way.  The hours spent interviewing were great and it seems like my career goals are in line with the needs of the company…hooray!  The CEO informed me that the next day I would have my final interview with the chairman of the parent company.  Well, the next day arrived, I spent 45 minutes learning even more great things about the company and at the end of the interview we talked about a possible compensation package.

Great, right?  Not so fast!

When the CEO (who obviously is now my fabulous boss, Guru) came into the room to sit with us and hear what we had discussed I was so sure the job was mine that I was already glowing.  Well, what came next was a shock to my system.  The chairman started going over some of the simple items from the “proposed” compensation package like moving expenses.  So when he said, “We discussed that the company would pay up to XX number of dollars for Angela’s relocation expenses”…I was shocked when Guru started shaking his head NO.  Well, it wasn’t quite a NO exactly but it wasn’t a yes, that’s for sure.  Then detail after detail of my package was brought up, and detail after detail was met time and again with a … BIG …. FAT….  NO!!!!  Crap!!  I was going down.  There was no way I was getting the job if we were so far off on the compensation package, and what a pity after travelling so far and having such a good “this is destiny feeling” since the first phone interview.

Then out of the blue, after the chairman read the final line item on the list, and Guru nodded a sort of NO to the last item, Guru smiled and said “OK, sounds good!”  HAHAHAHA.  WHAT???  What the hell just happened?  Seriously??  That was the craziest thing ever.  I never saw one single up-and-down-yes-nod YES.  Not one.  So how was he smiling now?

Welcome to the wonderful world of the Indian head bob.  Guru wasn’t nodding no, he was head bobbing.  This is the most common gesture I have seen so far here in India, which doesn’t necessarily mean yes and doesn’t necessarily mean no.  But sometimes can mean yes, and sometimes can mean no.  hahaha  Seriously, what do I do with that??  Well, when in Rome…. Today I did my very first spontaneous head bob in the car on the way to work!!  Hehe, si si!!  Can’t remember what it was for but I will always remember that as  my first head bob.

Check out this FABULOUS VIDEO on Indian Headshakes and what they mean!

I stole this from Yahoo! Answers because the explanation is perfect:  “the head bob is ubiquitous and covers a wider range of situations. It seems to generally be a form of acknowledgement. Ask for the bill at a restaurant, head bob from waiter. Ask for the price of an item at a market, head bob from clerk as they state the price. Ask an auto driver for a route, head bob again. It sometimes stands for “thank you”, sometimes for “I heard you”, and sometimes seems to happen simply because south Indians learn the head bob from birth and can’t help it.”

Whatcha wanna bet the head bob lands me into more funny misunderstandings soon?

XOXO from Bangalore

© Angela Carson, Angela’s Adventures in Bangalore blog and photos, 2011

Angela Carson

At 21 I left uni, jumped into my Jeep Wrangler, and drove from my native California to live an adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I've explored 37 countries on 4 continents, residing in 8 of them (currently Indonesia's Riau Islands is my home). I even have a private pilot's license and was shot at once by bandits!

This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Alina

    Hahahaha nice! I bet when I get there you’ll be doing that all the time… Frick on a stick.

  2. Teresa

    Hhahah great blog baby. Missed it yesterday tho. That is so funny that you have started head bobbing, cant wait to see it, i will have to get connected to skype and have a watch hahah. I am so happy you had your best day so far, imagine all the days to come as they can only get better:) have a great kick ass Tuesday. Congrats for you and Alina on the apart signing:)
    Now Im off to find out about the Zula Vineyards doesnt sound legal to me 🙂 xxxxx

  3. Murali

    I love bobbing my head!

    1. angela_carson

      OMG me too! haha. I do sort of a half-bob more than a full bob but I do catch myself doing it quite a bit now. I wonder if it will stay with me for the rest of my life….I mean, I don’t know where I’ll live next but could I be doing the bob, for example, in Paris next? haha Kind of cool 🙂

      1. jayan

        you watch outsourced?

        1. angela_carson

          The american tv show YES, but not the film 🙂 –ange

      2. jayan

        The head bob is taken from the Indian elephant. The elephant bobs its head when its in a good affirmative mood

  4. Arun

    I came across your blog accidentally and my word… enjoyed reading every bit of your experience in Bangalore / India.

    The piece on head bobbing is amazing.
    A colleague of mine once brought his family to our office in Cairo. He moved to Egypt from Singapore where was from 5 yrs. I talked to his wife for about 10-15 mins that day and we bid adieu. The next day my colleague told me that his wife was of the opinion that I was not an Indian. I looked at him a bit astonished and asked him the reason…. “During the 10-15 mins you talked to my wife, she never saw your head bob at all and therefore she could not believe that you are and Indian”….and we both burst our laughing…..
    Have a good time Angela

    1. angela_carson

      Thanks, Arun…so kind of you to generously comment like you did. I am having so much fun here in India. Thanks for reading!

    2. syamukamath

      Lols. That was funny.

      1. angela_carson

        Holy cow, you are reading a lot of my blog today 🙂 There are 96 articles by the way 🙂 I recommend starting at the first one and working your way chronologically through my discover of India so far 🙂 thanks for commenting 🙂

  5. syamukamath

    Lols. You have also startd understanding indians like our ‘white indian wife’.
    We were taught in many personality classes, that we should stop nodding head as outsiders won’t ever get it .hehe

  6. ICU


    Have you noticed a consequence of bobbing head? In singing, it is not recommended at all. When foreigners imitate Indian English, what they do is just bobbing their heads.

    Just utter Ahhhhhh, without bobbing ur head. What you see: an utterance on same note/pitch.
    Now utter Ahhhhh just bobbing. What you see: rise and fall (or fall and rise) in the pitch. That’s why whenever Indians speak, many words they utter have this rise-fall/fall-rise pitch quality to that.

    There is another aspect about resonance. See the cheeks of Indian speakers and compare that with American speakers’ cheeks when they speak.

  7. NItun

    Thanks Angela for mentioning your such experience in this blog. I am following your blog from last couple of weeks, and day by day I’m realizing, we Indian have good enough things by which communication/discussion get easy with others 😛
    Like the head bobbing: If two people understand each other what exact discussion they had, then no matter whether its a nod or Yes (up-and-down-yes-nod YES-no-nod).

    I hope very soon you will be used to with this complex thing. 😀 😀

    Also read your article on (for cheerleaders). Its a good explanation.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience.
    Have a great weekend!!

    1. angela_carson

      Wow, thanks so much. Glad you saw the article on Cricket Country, they have really helped to push the article to a larger audience. Please come back and comment again soon, was wonderful to read. Cheers, angela

      1. NItun

        Yes Sure!! 🙂

      2. Keifh Coelho

        Hi Angela, Liked your Article on the Cheer Leaders hope it will educate the masses in India I mean those who are narrow minded. I am an Indian living in Auckland, New Zealand and proud to be an Indian. I laughed at your article on the Indian Head Bob very Humorous.

        1. angela_carson

          Thanks, I’m glad I made you smile… was damn confusing at the time though I tell you! haha -ange

          1. Keifh Coelho

            I am reading all your blogs its like an interesting novel that I cannot put down. You know there is a lot of scope in a suburb of Mumbai called Bandra to write stuff like this for a local newspaper. If you like Bangalore, Bandra is better very cosomo and the people are lovely and of course if you land up a good job you can make much more money. You should try to work for the Mumbai Indians IPL team owned by the richest man in India Mukesh Ambani. Anyway I will keep in touch. Cheers, Keith

  8. par

    Indian head bob is not a yes or no. It is ‘ok’. 🙂 I think you must’ve figured that out now, since the blog is 1 year old.

    1. angela_carson

      hehe, yes…I figured it out at the end of that interview 😉 thanks for taking the time to comment –ange

      1. par

        You mean you understood the meaning of the nod and still went on to write this piece without mentioning it? 🙂

        1. angela_carson

          Isn’t it implied? 🙂 I give a definition of what the head bob means (which I though implied I understood it) and given that I took the job I sort of thought people would understand that my story was my humorous way of introducing people outside India to the head bob 🙂

  9. par

    “But sometimes can mean yes, and sometimes can mean no.”

    I’ve never used it or seen being used to say ‘No’.

  10. Mannar

    The trick is to watch the eyes to understand weather it is a yes or a no. Its really that simple!! 🙂

  11. That was hilarious.. 😀 The truth though is that head bobbing is inbuilt in Indians as a form of telepathy to confuse their friends and foes.. 😉

    1. angela_carson

      OMG I believe that, still confuses me sometimes when I don’t know the person and — for example — am asking if they have a certain something on a menu, etc. DAMN confusing!

  12. jayan

    Angela, one day, you should compile all these ‘conversations’ and publish a book.
    Waiting for my royalties

    1. angela_carson

      I am in talks now with 2 literary agents, and have my 1st book almost finalised … thanks for the encouragement, it really does help 🙂 Keep commenting –angela

  13. webner

    what is meant by head bob?

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