Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Head tilt and non verbal communication

Like all cultures, Indians have distinct gestures and hand movements that mean different things.

-Touching someone's feet is a sign of respect usually accorded solely to elders
-Lifting your pinky finger means that you have to go to the bathroom
-Pressing your palms together is the equivalent of a handshake
-Tugging on your ears is used to apologize or to admit a wrong-doing
-Sliding one hand over your wrist (indicating the use of a traditional Hindu woman’s bracelet) is used to question a man's manhood and to provokes him to a fight
-Touching the offended person with your right hand and then moving your hand to your chest and to your eyes is a gesture of apology (e.g. after stepping on someone's foot)

As a tourist in India, you must also master the head tilt! The following article found on Worldhum is a must read.

"The situation: You’ve just arrived in Delhi and want to catch an auto rickshaw across town. You hail one, but instead of offering a verbal answer to your request, the driver tips his head from side to side and slowly blinks. From the neck up, the gesture is inscrutable. But he’s waving his hand for you to get in. Confusion prevails. A head-tilting tutorial is in order.

Background: At its most graceful, there’s something Stevie Wonder-esque in the Indian head tilt—an easy rhythmic sway that, once familiar, can prove soothing and even addictive. You could devote a lifetime to learning any of the hundreds of languages that have evolved on the Indian subcontinent. But from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, the metronome-like head tilt offers a universal means of communication. Interpreting and replicating this single non-verbal cue offers you more than just a way to be understood while in India—it’s a chance to employ a unique gesture familiar to one sixth of humanity.

What not to do: Head-tilting neophytes often mistakenly assume that the movement starts at the top of the head, resulting in a jerky and unnatural motion.

The basics: The secret is to lead with your chin. To practice, stand in front of a mirror with your head in a neutral position. Using your chin to control the movement, allow your head to fall slightly to one side. The angle between your head’s neutral position and the tilt should be no more than 15 degrees (just the slightest of dips).

Return to neutral and repeat the motion on the opposite side. Make your movements from one side to the other gentle rather than springy, as if your head were suspended in fluid.

When to tilt: Since head-tilting often acts as a non-verbal “Uh huh,” it can replace a spoken confirmation as well as convey that you are listening to the speaker. To show enthusiasm during a conversation, smile and ramp up the speed of your tilting.

How often: Four tilts of your head are sufficient for conveying “Yes” (two to the right and two to the left, alternating from side to side).

A tilt’s many meanings: In its myriad iterations, the Indian head nod can mean “Yes,” “Nice to meet you” and “I agree to the price you have just mentioned.” It can also mean “Maybe,” “Hell no,” and “You are the enemy of intelligence.” Interpreting the meaning requires time, practice, a little self-effacement and a lot of humor. With a little practice, South African Wendy John found it made all the difference. “For me,” she said, “head tilting became a way to actually connect with people and for them to see that I’m locally attuned.”

Advanced technique: At a music or dance performance, the gesture of slowly shaking your head from side to side in what equates to a Western “No” can be employed to express wonder at the talent on stage. For the full effect, close your eyes and exclaim “Kya bhat hai!”—Hindi for “How beautiful!” "


I said...

just to educate u that the tilts can be of many types like doing it horizontally or vertically or swaying like swing. and the tilts have different meanings in different parts of india. so even indians don't really understand the meaning all the time; eg when i first went to maharashtra i cudnt understand whether they meant yes or no by their tilts.

Thomas said...

Confusing... I spent two weeks in India (Mumbai). The Indian head tilt was completely impossible to understand. Another thing which disturbed me was the huge numbers of guys who were walking holding hands. Weird...

Shaant said...

well yeah its kindda difficcult to understand the head tilts sometimes...specially when its nodding fused with sideways tilting of the head....it may mean .. ur confused, a yes.. even a no..watchout etc ... among otherthings...


awesome blog elise...

i got it via PAGALguy.com...in a thread on whether foreign students should be admitted to IIMB or not....

initially i was sceptic...i mean like .. unsure whether i would like reading things about india n all....it seemed that i knew mostly everything..or rather had heard of evrything...

but when i read around 20-25 of ur blogs...[ without leaving acomment on any of these] i felt urged to leave u at least one comment for writing all these incredible pots....
they are some really good piece of a kaliedoscope ..

keep it up.. n "au revoir vous voir".

suresh kumar said...

I teach Hindi on line. Please contact , if interested. Also, check www.Ispeakhindi.com for my Hindi lessons. I also take up translation assignments.

Thank you.