Monday, February 21, 2011

Wobbling heads

There is a way of bobbling or wobbling one's head that is unique to India.  Bill noticed this head bobble a little bit in Sri Lanka.  I was not so observant and never saw any bobbling heads.  Once we arrived in India, Bill noticed that this oddity is very prevalent here.  At first, I did not notice it here either.  But once Bill pointed it out, I see that this is done constantly by almost every local, both male and female.  Exactly what does this mean?

Our observations after a few days seemed to indicate that this head bobble might mean yes -- or, it might mean no -- or, it might mean "I don't know" -- or, it might mean "I agree with you"  -- or, it might mean something altogether totally different.

I especially noticed when a few of us were talking with a very nice, hard-working local young man who does boat work here in the marina.  His head tilted side-to-side slowly when it was obvious by what he was saying that he agreed with something in the conversation.  But it also tilted side-to-side rapidly when he obviously disagreed with something or when he strongly agreed.  We were discussing Somali pirates and he explained to us why the Somali pirates are good men.  According to what he has been told, the pirates used to be fishermen but now their government refuses to let them fish anymore.  So they have turned to capturing big ships and holding them for ransom in order to make a living.  (This is so far from the truth that it is absurd, but there was no point in us trying to change his mind.  We did ask why their government supposedly refuses them permission to fish now and he had no answer.)

If you have good internet access, here is a link that explains this odd custom of head movement:

And a few more explanations:

And for further entertainment:

Another thing that I have found somewhat amusing, but to which I have now become accustomed, is being addressed as "ma'am."  Yes, just like we taught our kids to say "yes, ma'am" and "no, ma'am."  Everyone refers to me or addresses me as "ma'am" unless they know my name.  Even some people who know my name still continue to call me "ma'am."  And I have heard even young teenage Caucasian girls addressed as "ma'am" so it is not an age thing.  "Would ma'am like something to drink?  Will ma'am come this way, please?  I have good things for ma'am."  It just amuses me.

All I can think is that this custom is a throw-back to servitude during the British colonial period.  Maybe the servants were instructed to address all white people as "ma'am" or "sir" and over time this became the norm. 

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