Sometimes it is better to say “yes” or “no” than to nod or shake your head

I must say that this is one of the weirdest things I’ve encountered in my whole life. Back in Malaysia, when someone asks me a question, I usually include some gestures in addition to my reply. I don’t know why I do that. I guess I just want to be a little more expressive in my reply.

Q: Do you want an ice-cream?
Me: Yes, please! (Nodding vigorously)

Q: Do you wanna go out after work?
Me: (Shaking head slowly). No, I feel a little tired today.

Q: Can I have this document by tomorrow?
Me: (Nod once). Of course, I’ll pass it to you tomorrow morning.

Is there anything wrong with my gestures? Absolutely no!

BUT… if you ever want to visit Bulgaria in future, I highly recommend that you strictly stick to saying just “yes” or “no” instead of nodding or shaking your head. Why is this so? It is because nodding and shaking your head mean exactly the opposite! Huh? Yes, you are right. Back in Malaysia, nodding usually means yes while shaking your head means no. However in Bulgaria, nodding means no and shaking your head means yes.

I am not joking!!

I remember very clearly on my first visit to Bulgaria, my mum-in-law (back then, she was “boyfriend’s mum”) prepared a feast for my arrival. I was very happy that someone whom I met for the very first time actually put in so much effort and prepared so much food to celebrate my arrival. Everyone was very nice to me eventhough I didn’t speak the same language. Mr. Hubby (then, “Mr. Boyfriend”) acted as the translator between me and his family members. The food wasn’t just delicious but they were also nicely decorated too.

Here comes the scandalous part. Everybody was happily eating and chatting. Eventhough we didn’t understand each other, we were all smiles. As we were eating, my mum-in-law popped the questions, “Is the food okay for you? Do you like it?” Mr. Hubby translated. Well, I didn’t speak Bulgarian but I was thinking that even if I reply “yes” (in English), they should be able to understand me. So, I replied like I usually do, in addition with the head gesture.

Mum-in-law: Is the food okay for you? Do you like it?
Me: (Nodding vigorously), YES! YES!

Do you get the picture of what just went wrong? Yes, I just nodded vigorously. Nodding in Bulgaria means NO. So I supposed nodding vigorously means NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!! When I was nodding, I actually didn’t look at them face to face. I was too shy, after all it was my first time meeting my boyfriend’s parents and I just wanted to be as proper as possible (ahem!). Then I realised something was wrong. How come everyone became quiet after I replied? So I looked up and I saw that everyone stared at me in shock.

Well, Mr. Hubby then explained to me that nodding means no and shaking head means yes. Seriously, at that time I just wanted to dig a hole somewhere and hide inside forever. Looks like my plan to be proper failed miserably. So, I was in shocked and I explained that what I really meant was “Yes, I love it” and NOT “No, I don’t like it”. Mr. Hubby translated. We had a good laugh. It was so nice that they were so understanding and didn’t blame me for that.

Honestly, until today I still can’t get used to the Bulgarian styles of nodding and shaking heads. I mean, for 20+ years, I’ve been nodding for agreement and shaking my head for disagreement. It’s very difficult for me to change it, no matter how I force myself to. Now, I avoid using any head gestures. I stick to just saying “Yes” or “No”.

Have you ever encountered any situation like this? Share your stories with me!

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