More than 10 years ago I travelled to India for the first time. I was looking for Indian software companies to work with. With an invitation from an IT company in the city of Indore, I got on a plane. More than 20 hours and 3 stops in between, that’s what you get with those cheaper tickets. Fasten your seatbelts. I was very curious how it would be. After an IT adventure of 4 years in Brazil, with sun, beach, Brazilian temperament and of course hard work, it will probably be very different there. Maybe I should have prepared myself a little better and got to know the country a little better?
India, here I am
Far into the evening, the pilot put the plane safely on Indian soil. My suitcase had also made it through the trip. I managed to pin rupees, arrange a prepaid cab and walked to the exit. How overwhelming it was outside. A suffocating humid heat, honking and more honking, smells I couldn’t bring home yet and a teeming crowd of people. Wow. India, here I am.
What a traffic chaos. My driver had to do some strange rides to avoid the unlit cars and handcarts in the end, honking and giving light signals. Luckily I reached the hotel after an hour. The room had air conditioning and was clean, I didn’t complain. Tired from the trip I quickly fell asleep.
Kinking or shaking?
After a short night and a spicy Indian breakfast it was time to go to the IT company. At the reception I asked if he could arrange a cab. ‘Yes, sir’, while he oddly wiggles his head. It looks like a cross between a nod and shaking. Is that ‘yes’ now? Or does it mean ‘no’? A cab came, so it must have been a ‘yes’.
At the IT company I got a warm welcome, including Indian Chai (water, milk, cardamom pods, fennel seeds, gingerroot, peppercorns and lots of sugar). Damn, here they often wiggle their heads like that. What confusing and what does it mean exactly?
Indian Head Wobble
Back in my hotel room, I immediately started Googling. Aha, the mysterious head movement you encounter especially in South Asia, and especially in India. That explains why everyone here makes that head gesture. In English it is called the ‘Indian Head Wobble’ or ‘Indian nod’. I found out that the peculiar head wobble can mean anything, from ‘good’ to ‘I understand’. Now I understood my confusion and amazement. But yes, how do you find out what exactly is meant?
I learned that you get the exact meaning from the way the main wiggle is performed. A powerful and quick wiggle indicates that the person really thinks they understand it. The more powerful the movement, the stronger the conviction of that understanding. A quick short sideways wiggle means ‘okay’, ‘yes’ or ‘good’. A slow gentle wobble, sometimes accompanied by a smile, is a sign of friendship and respect.
Indians also deliberately use the main wiggle in an ambiguous way. Saying ‘no’ is considered rude or irreverent in Indian culture. A vague head movement is then the way not to make a firm commitment, without being offensive.
If the foregoing is not difficult enough, the eyebrows also play a role. The eyebrows also indicate the power of meaning. With a quick head movement with high raised eyebrows, the firm affirmation cannot be missed.
You just have to know it. In the following movie the ‘Indian nod’ is explained in an entertaining way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RaBxH_MKQI.
Avoid talking past each other
My first amazement and amazement would have been less if I had studied Indian culture beforehand. Once you know it you start to understand the head movement better and better. Better, because even after 10 years I am still sometimes confused. A control question is then always useful and prevents you from talking past each other.
Let us help you
Of course you can experience the whole learning process yourself if you start working with Indian developers, but we can also help you from Cloud9Offshore. We are happy to share our valuable experiences, tips and tricks with you. This way you don’t have to be cold feet when working with Indian developers.
We will help you with setting up an Indian team, the ‘onboarding’ and the continuous improvement of communication and cooperation. Silently and in the background, so you can keep the focus on what you are good at. Sounds good, right?
Curious? Please contact Edward (+31 6 21 26 41 21) or Hans (+31 6 23 02 03 06).