tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Indian Waggle

It is somewhere between startling and disconcerting. When, at the initial passing of a thought beyond your lips--as soon as your utterance becomes an utterance--your interlocutor begins to shake his head at you, smiling. You have just begun to speak, and already you feel wrong: wrong place, wrong person, wrong thought?

Maybe disorienting is the better word for it. It is probably the single most jarring accoutrement of Indian culture, coming as it does between interpersonal connection.

I'm talking about the waggle. The Indian Waggle: The ubiquitous cranial (or as much cervical) gesture of assent, comprehension (feigned or real), acquiescence, politeness, and (rarely) finality.

More commonly referred to as the Indian nod, bob, bobble, wobble, or wiggle, I nevertheless prefer the term waggle, and not just because of the generous dictionary definitions:

waggle verb 1 /wag uhl/ a to wobble or shake, especially while in motion. b to move up and down or from side to side in a short, rapid manner. c to wobble and shake the head and move it up and down and side to side all at the same time in order to confuse the hell out of your interlocutor. noun 1 /wag uhl/ a the aforementioned confusing-as-hell head motion.

Where I am accustomed to a forward head-nod, a "yeah," an "uh-huh," an "mmm-hmmm," even an "okee-dokee," here in India I get the Waggle. You understand my words?; You agree with me?; You like what I'm saying?; You want me to keep talking; You think I'm the greatest thing since paneer pakora?... Then, why don't you waggle your head while I'm talking?!

How about I lose my train of thought completely as I am mesmerized by your waggle?!

All kidding aside, the Waggle is not only surprisingly endearing--insofar as it is usually accompanied by a smile--but also dynamic and (I might as well admit) infectious.

The mechanics of the Waggle may seem daunting to the first-timer. Most of the effort is in the neck, while the head is the resulting focal point of the action. Try to imagine your head bobbing smoothly from side to side, and making a three-dimensional figure-eight motion (think hard) while your shoulders remain perfectly still. Keep your eyes fixed on their subject and slowly stretch a smile across your cheeks. There, you've just lassoed the theory of the Waggle.

And though I'm far from a seasoned practitioner of the art of the Waggle, I now find its waggliness creeping into my subconscious: If I see a waggle, I waggle. Sure, it starts as a comfortable nod (as a lifetime nodder, transitioning to the waggle is a bit like trying to defeat the proverbial chewing-gum/walking routine). Then gradually it morphs--sometimes awkwardly and with a bit of strain--into the common waggle. Lately I find I can waggle without a conscious cue. I am a waggler. But don't try this at home.

NB: Regarding the photograph, I asked the man if I could take a snapshot of his shop. He waggled. The boy asked if he could be in the photo. I waggled.


Kalli said...

i am waggling in approval of this post from toronto.

Isabel said...

The thing I love most about waggling is when an Indian waggles back, validating your head movement
as an authentic waggle.

Inaie said...

Thank you for this post! I ama Brazilian woman living in Bahrain, and the waggle drives me NUTS!

I want to ask it over and over again, until I get a well known yes or no, with the USUAL head movement.

I am never sure if I was understood, or if the person even cared about what I said...

So thank you. It made me feel a bit more simpathetic towards the waggle!