A nod of the head is a gesture in which the head is tilted in alternating up and down arcs along the sagittal plane. In many cultures, it is most commonly, but not universally, used to indicate agreement, acceptance, or acknowledgement.
To Indicate Acceptance
Different cultures assign different meanings to the gesture. Nodding to indicate “yes” is widespread, and appears in a large number of diverse cultural and linguistic groups.
Areas in which nodding generally takes this meaning include the Indian subcontinent (note that the head bobble also shows agreement there), the Middle East, Southeast Asia, most of Europe (see below), South America and North America. Nodding may also be used as a sign of recognition in some areas, or to show respect. An insult may be inferred if it is not returned in kind.
To Indicate Refusal
There are several exceptions: in Greece, Cyprus, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Albania, and Sicily a single nod of the head up (not down) indicates a “no”. Some cultures also swap the meanings between nodding and head shaking.
Specifically in Greece and in Cyprus, the single nod of the head up that indicates “no” is almost always combined with a simultaneous raise of the eyebrows and most commonly also with a slight (or complete) rolling up of the eyes.
There is also a sound that sometimes accompanies the whole gesture, called “τσου”. This sound bears heavy resemblance, but is not identical, to the British tutting sound. The use of “τσου” is optional and reserved only for heavy emphasis on the “no”.
The emphasis on the raised eyebrows and the rolling up of the eyes is such, that the actual nod of the head upwards has ended up being of secondary importance. A person can denote “no” by simply raising their eyebrows and rolling up their eyes, with the head staying completely still.
In Greece, the single nod of the head down that indicates “yes” is often combined with closing the eyes simultaneously. This nod commonly also includes a very slight, almost unnoticeable, turn of the head to the left (or to the right).
If there’s one thing you’ll learn on your travels, it’s that sometimes things do not mean what you think they mean. Usually this leads to max. confusion, but also a lot of laughs once you figure out what’s going on. Here are some of our favourite quirky differences from cultures around the world so you’re in the know before you go.
In Bulgaria nodding your head means no
The most common way to show agreement and say ‘yes’ in Bulgaria is to shake your head from side to side, a gesture that in many countries means no. And it’s not just Bulgaria! Greece, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt all follow the same method.
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