There are 22 official languages in India and 398 living languages in India, people from the southern belt will not have a language in common with their northern countrymen and even people living in the same village may speak two different dialects. Because of this, most Indians are also well practised in non verbal languages such as head Wobbles and Hand Signals. Most tourists to India will find that with a bit of English and liberal use of non verbal signals with the odd local phrase thrown in will be sufficient to be understood in this country. Be assured that Indian are passionate and committed, compulsive communicators and there will always be someone to translate for you.
For First Time Travelers to India, the author of India for Idiots shares a few tips on building bridges of understanding between cultures.
OFF ROAD HAND SIGNALS
* The palm down and the fingers moving towards the person making the hand signal: Come here.
* The palm upwards, three fingers folded towards the palm, the index finger raised. This is a question hand signal meaning how are you, what happened, what do you want, what are you staring at, I don’t understand and I don’t have.
* The palm towards you and pushing forward. Means wait, be patient, life is an eternal; we will get to you eventually.
* The palm extended to the front and patting the air. Means do not be afraid, calm down and sit down.
* All fingertips on the thumb and the held against the temple or the side of the mouth and then flicked forcefully to the side. Is a physical exclamation mark meaning that the thought of speech of whoever is being discussed is Rubbish. Used in the past tense.
* All fingertips on the thumb and the held against the temple or the side of the mouth and then flicked forcefully to the front and down. As in above only present tense.
* The Hand held to the side and shaken side to side: Used to communicate a lack of commitment. Means It’s not a good idea, it was never a good idea, it only contained elements of the truth and don’t even think about it.
* The Hand with the palm towards the body and the fingers curled loosely in the palm then rapidly flicked to the side in a down and outwards manner. Rubbish, not worth talking about.
* The finger to the temple. That person is mad.
* The hand as if holding an invisible drink. That person is drunk.
* The hand held to the heart: A greeting which means my hands are full and I can’t execute a proper Namaste but Ii greet you from the level of my heart.
Head wobbling is used to answer questions, to encourage the talker to continue, to confer agreement, to acknowledge the waiter.
It also means I do not understand you at all Madam but I am too polite to say so.
Do not attempt the Indian head wobble until you have practiced in front of a mirror.
Keep your eyes still and your facial expression neutral, as you tilt your head side to side leading from the temples only. This is the standard Indian head wobble and is used as non-verbal encouragers. After you have managed the first part of the head wobble, feel free to introduce eyebrow movements.
People will not tell you that you have the Head Wobble all wrong. They will just notice that you are trying. More advanced Head Wobblers can try this exercise. Arrange to pass a friend in the street and see if you can conduct entire conversation that consists of raised eyebrows and a head wobble as you pass each other.