Video: Decoding the Indian Head Wobble

Mar 3, 2014

Video: Decoding the Indian Head Wobble


The idiosyncratic Indian head wobble — side-to-side like a pendulum — often confuses and amuses visitors to the country who ask if the signal indicates “yes,” “no,” or “not quite sure.” Now, a video claiming to decode what it means has gone viral on YouTube with over a million views in recent days.

The 95-second clip, the brainchild of a Mumbai-based filmmaker, begins with the voiceover: “An Indian shakes his head in different ways when you speak to him.” A young Indian man then moves his head vigorously – from side-to-side at various speeds and inclinations to demonstrate that the signal can broadly mean “yes” or “maybe.”

Next, the voiceover runs through questions from, “Did you milk your cow today?” to “Did you shave your beard?” in order to exemplify how the wobble differs from an outright “no” indicated by a conventional shake of the head. It goes on to show how differences in velocity and vigor of the Indianized nod are used to convey conflicting things. A slight movement of the chin upwards, for instance, might be used to hit on a woman, according to the video. Meanwhile, moving one’s head in a quick wobble as they are speaking to you can convey respect.

“A lot of people might find it strange,” Paul Mathew, the man behind the video, told BBC News in an interview. “But if you are born in India, as you grow up, it becomes a part of your character, your personality, that as you talk you tend to move your head in different ways,” he added.

This isn’t the first video that’s been crafted in an attempt to decipher the Indian headshake; several comic groups have used this day-to-day phenomena to poke fun at Indians, but none have come close to a million views. “If we had known that this video was going to get such awesome viewership we would have shot it better,” Mr. Mathew, who is from the southern state of Kerala, said.

Filmmaker Mahesh Nair attempted to decode the great Indian headbooble, as it is popularly called in the West, in a wordy-CNN column in 2012. In 2010, Outsourced, an American sitcom set at a call center in Mumbai, explored how the gesture could cause chaos and commotion at a business establishment. And author Craig Storti even attempted a how to guide to understanding the sporadic head movements in his 2007 book, “Speaking of India: Bridging the Communication Gap When Working with Indians.”


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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