The Bulgarian 'No' Nod
Nova Zagora, Bulgaria
Tatiana and I are really having a terribly brutal time adapting to Bulgaria's peculiar take on nodding. You see, here in this country, nodding your head means 'no', and shaking your head means 'yes'.
It's a bloody loony land—like we're perpetually stuck in some kinda bad joke.
So basic a form of our elementary non-verbal (body) language, switching gears has turned out to be horrendously difficult task to accomplish. When someone tells a story or I'm listening to another speak, I tend to show my interest and give feedback by making small nodding motions. It's nearly involuntary, I scarcely think about it. But here in Bulgaria, in bizarre backwards land, this would be like watching your conversational partner oddly shaking his head from side to side, as one might do when hearing something in disbelief.
Even worst is when we're speaking to folks who've no little or zero command of any language other than Bulgarian or Russian. The simplest of conversations involving confirmation of any kind (like asking if this bus goes to a location that I've written on a piece of paper) brings with it confusion. We've got to specifically confirm verbally in Bulgarian, sometimes accidently mixing a spoken 'yes' with a Bulgarian 'no' nod.
Wikipedia's thoughts on this mess:
There are varying theories as to why nodding is so frequently used to mean 'yes'. One simple theory is that it is a form of bowing, indicating that one is prepared to accept what another person is saying or requesting. It has also been stated that babies, when hungry, search for their mother's milk by moving their heads vertically, but decline milk by turning their head from side to side. This has led some to speculate that nodding for 'yes' is at least partially innate.
In some countries (Bulgaria and Sri Lanka) nodding actually has the opposite meaning: 'no'. Rumor has it that during the Ottoman Empire rule in Bulgaria, people were trained to reverse the meaning of shaking and nodding heads in an attempt to confuse Turkish occupiers. The habit stuck and nodding means a "no" in Bulgaria.
There's some weird, wacky things in this world, and this certainly ranks up there as one of the oddest cultural behaviors I've encountered.
I certainly would've thought that being surrounded by countries that don't engage in this habit would've suppressed or eliminated this ages ago, but for now, it looks like the Bulgarian nod for 'no' is here to stay.