Indians wobbling their heads rapidly from side to side during a conversation may be perplexing to people who are not familiar with Indian culture; fortunately, understanding how the gesture works is not that complicated.
While it is universally understood that shaking the head from side to side means “no” and moving the head up and down means “yes”, the unique Indian style of nodding is something else entirely.
With the Indian nod, a headshake may mean “Yes”, “Good”, “OK” or “I understand,” depending on the context, according to TripSavvy. It further confuses foreigners, as the side to side shaking we often attribute to convey the negative is instead portraying affirmation. In a sense, the nod can be considered as the non-verbal equivalent of the versatile Hindi word achha, which also varies in meaning based on the context it is used. Depending on how it is spoken, achha could also mean “Yes”, “Good”, “OK” or “I understand.” With over 20 official languages and several hundred more dialects in India, nonverbal communication such as hand gestures and head wobbles allow for easier communication between people from different states. And while heads are wobbled differently from one region to another, what they portray are essentially the same.
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Understanding the Wobble
Paying close attention is key to understanding this non-verbal communication, since almost every part of the entire face is involved in the gesture. Notice how the gesture is more than just shaking side to side, as the head is also tilted in arcs, while the chin moves like a pendulum.
To convey a “yes” or an “alright”, one might do a quick wobble from side to side. To show a sign of friendship and respect, a person may do a soft wobble, usually paired with a smile.
A person letting you know he understands what you mean may gesture with a fast and continuous head wobble.
In some cases, a head wobble may also be used as an alternative to “thank you” or an acknowledgement of someone’s presence.
Of course, not everyone showing agreement can be taken at face value. As this helpful video from This Is Barry
thoroughly explains, a head wobble can also be used to convey sarcasm or indicate that someone is just enjoying some beats.