Posts Tagged With: Sri Lankan Head Wobble

Jingle All The Way

I’ve visited a lot of places in Sri Lanka and during my passages through the ancient cities, tea plantations and its beaches I’ve learned a lot about the country. After all the time I’ve spent navigating the isle from the back seat of an Ashok Leyland, there is one thing about Sri Lanka that has still remained a mystery to me. It’s not Sigiriya, nor the giant footprint at the summit of Adam’s peak, it’s the notorious Sri Lankan head wobble…


A head wobble is most commonly associated with Indians and other South Asians, but in my opinion, it’s the Ceylonese that top the jingly league. What exactly is it? Is it a yes? Is it a no? Or is it neither? This can cause much bewilderment when you first arrive in Sri Lanka, here is a typical scenario…

Do you have Airtel recharge?

*head wobble*

Is that a yes?

*head wobble*

500 rupees worth please

*head wobble*

Thank you

*head wobble*

So in this case it seems the wobble can mean yes, ok and you’re welcome. But there’s more to it than just that. I eventually learned that a casual wiggle from side to side can be a way to acknowledge someone you know when passing on the street, a little more predominant one can be a gesture of kindness, for example, if someone lets you sit beside them on a train…


Fancy a game of backgammon? *head wobble*

The more time I spend here, the more I seem to pick up on the jingly language. The wobble can basically be used as an affirmative, if I were talking at somebody their head would consistently move from side to side at a fair pace to confirm they are listening, in a similar way that us in the West would nod. A more rapid and vigorous head wobble begins when someone is receiving instructions as a way to say the person understands fully. So, the more dramatic the head wobbling, the more understanding there is. One time my tuk-tuk driver stopped to ask directions from a police officer, and I swear I thought the guy’s head was going to fall off.

The rhythm and movement of the wobbling can vary from person to person, some may have a smooth motion like a charmed cobra, whereas others could be more of an up left/up right bounce as if watching a fast paced game of tennis consisting solely of lobs.


A wobble fisherman sticks his head underwater to attract fish

I observed that the dark skinned Tamils seemed to be noticeably more enthusiastic jinglys than the Sinhala folk. They rave their heads about whilst addressing you as if to say “You get me? If so, why aren’t you wobbling back!” Tamils are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the entire world, when they were devolved from a higher state of pure consciousness as Hindus believe, were the screws in their necks slightly loose? Or is this just a characteristic that spans back hundreds of generations, when actions spoke louder than words.


Record breaking test wicket taker Muttiah Muralitharan is a Tamil. The secret behind his controversial delivery is that he actually uses his head wobbling in unison with his shoulder to amazingly generate extra revs on the ball

The wobble is highly contagious and soon enough I found myself wiggling along without even realising. So, after all this time have I finally deciphered this phenomenon? *head wobble*

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This Is Little England


We arrived at Colombo International airport after dark where a hoard of hungry rickshaw drivers awaited us outside the terminal. I started an auction to see who would take us to the city for the best price. A bidding war commenced, the winner was a driver with the most wobbley head I’d seen in a long time. We were, without a shadow of a doubt, in Sri Lanka.

Now over the last six months, I’ve stayed in some pretty rough hotels and guesthouses, but you know you’re not onto the a good thing when the guy showing you the room comes out with this, “A few things you need to know, keep the doors closed, keep the windows closed and what ever you do, never open that window over there, because if the rats get in, we have a problem.” After a sleepless night I didn’t quite understand what he meant, there was never a chance of the rats getting in, as this place was so dirty even the rats turned their noses up at it…

I’ve passed through Colombo a few times before without having any desire to look around this sprawling city, and I still don’t, hence we headed straight up to the hill country. It’s difficult to get a seat on third class Sri Lankan train, time to use my imagination…


The scenic seven hour train ride to Nuwara Eliya makes its way through some lovely vallys, pretty waterfalls and many small Sri Lankan villages, including Alawwa, the town where the phrase ‘Alawwa the shop’ was coined…


It’s a long journey for some


Like a Sri Lankan Stand By Me

Nuwara Eliya is one of Sri Lanka’s highest towns, and the climate is a lot cooler than the rest of the country, perfect. The town itself has generated the nickname ‘Little England’ for its resemblance to my motherland. I don’t mean the urban decaying, 80’s council estate England with an alarmingly high rate of knife crime, I mean the pleasant, countryside England where you’re likely to find Toad of Toad Hall…

The post office is oh so very English

We took a walk to ‘Lovers Leap’, a waterfall that, legend has it, was the location where a couple of star crossed lovers leaped to their fate. What I think really happened is this, after a long sweaty trek up the hill, the lad had enough of the lass’ moaning over the mild heat so threw her over the edge, only to slip and fall down after her, a situation I could totally relate to by the time we’d reached the top of the waterfall…


After only a few weeks I was reunited with my good friend, the Lionel Richtea plantations. Ceylon is one of the world’s leading suppliers of tea. The most famous company being Dilmah, whose name you will find in the small print of a Tetley tea bag. Walking through the plantations for me, was absolutely stunning, every tea plucking lady we passed give us a huge smile, a cheeky head wobble, and seemed thrilled just to hear us say ‘hello’, to which they normally reply with ‘is it tea you’re looking for?’





We’ve originally made this detour to Sri Lanka, a country I’ve become ever so familiar with, just to fix up our Indian visas. In the short time I’ve been back, I’ve remembered all the other things I love about Sri Lanka, looks like I’ve found what I’ve been looking for. Welcome back to the Subcontinent.

Categories: Sri Lanka | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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