A smile is a universally understood facial expression. The same can’t be said about other gestures, expressions, and displays of body language, which are usually a result of conditioning and developed over time. Indians have distinct gestures and hand movements that often confuse westerners and lead to misinterpretations of the gestures. Want to avoid clueless or WTF moments when visiting India or interacting with Indians? Keep calm and read on to learn more about 10 common yet uniquely Indian gestures and their meanings.
1. Namaste or Vanakkam
Classic Indian and the most recognizable of them all is the namaste. It is said with a slight bow with hands pressed together; palms touching, and fingers pointing upwards, and thumbs close to the chest. It is considered respectful by aunty-jis and uncle-jis and is guaranteed to give you a stellar reputation with your friends’ parents or any adult you want to impress.
This is one of the many forms of the Indian head bobble or the Indian head shake. This one is our way of saying yes.
This is the swag way of saying no. Although finger-wagging is a way of reprimanding or warning somebody, in India, it means a solid no. Especially if it is done by one of your parents. If you choose to pay no heed, be prepared to face their wrath!
4. Are you kidding me?!
Yeah, sometimes we hide disbelief with a fake smile while totally judging you in our head. Aishwarya’s expression cannot be more on point.
5. I’ll remind you of your grandmother! (Naani yaad diladoongi!)
Nani yad diladoongi is an expression that many of us use, usually as a threat to remind the person about the trouble they will get into if they cross us. The thappad and the ensuing reaction are inherent to a majority of old Indian movies.
6. How much?
Sometimes, instead of asking the shopkeeper ‘how much’, we resort to hand gestures such as this one. It may seem odd to an outsider, but it makes perfect sense to us in India.
7. Had food?
It makes us wonder if aunty-jis, dadis, and nanis are always on the lookout for somebody to feed. From the minute you step into their house, you’ll be offered, hand-fed, and sometimes even force-fed all the goodies. And the gesture that goes with it? Yup, this is the one.
This is just an overexagerated way of portraying shyness. In the olden days, when heroines in movies were depicted as being overtly feminine, this was one of their favorite gestures to get the message across.
9. Oh, God!
Whether you are a schoolkid or an adult, you will definitely know what this one means. This is the expression we used to have when Tendulkar was on strike at 99, or in school when we realized that the teacher was going to start calling out loud the recent test paper results.
10. Oh, no!
How would you react when you are already feeling down and low, and you hear more bad news? This gif sums up how we deal with drama in our daily lives.
Now that you have a handle on Indian gestures, want a better grasp of Indian English? Check this out: In Defense of Indian English: Why Prepone Is a Pukka Word.