The Indian Nod – Yes, No, Maybe So

In the United States, we don’t use head movement in our gestures very much. In India, however, head movement conveys important information. The most unfamiliar movement to foreigners is the Indian nod, or the Indian “head bobble.” To perform an Indian nod, sway your head from side to side without turning, giving the appearance of a “bobble head.” The meaning of the Indian nod depends on eyebrow placement, speed, and duration.

Eyebrow placement can indicate the enthusiasm of the gesture. If eyebrows are lowered, it means the person agrees, but isn’t totally convinced. If the eyebrows are neutral, it means he or she feels fine about what you’re saying. If the eyebrows are raised, it means the person enthusiastically agrees.

Speed indicates intensity. The faster the nod, the stronger the feeling. If someone is nodding quickly with lowered eyebrows, the less certain his or her agreement is. Because saying “no” isn’t as socially acceptable in India as in Western countries, this “maybe” is probably a “no.” A slower, neutral nod can simply indicate understanding. A short, quick nod is generally used to say yes. Moving your head while someone is speaking shows respect and attention for the person who is talking. By nodding your head, you are showing the speaker how well you understand what he or she is saying.

By paying attention to the gestures people use in a foreign country and how they use them, foreigners can avoid misunderstandings and ask for clarification when they need it.