Faux Pas Fridays: Yes Means Yes But Also No

The saying goes that actions speak louder than words, and body language especially speaks volumes.

As a newly-arrived Canadian now living in Greece, I found myself very confused rather quickly. Like other Mediterranean cultures, the Greeks depend heavily on body language during conversation, but I’ve learned that the meaning of various gestures is very different from what I already understand them to be. One vastly different gesture in particular is as simple as a nod of the head.

In Canada, as well as several other countries, we gesture “no” by shaking the head side to side, and “yes” by nodding the head up and down. How is Greece different? Well, shaking the head side to side still means no, but nodding the head up and down means both yes and no at the same time. Huh?

Saying no

Alongside shaking the head side to side, you can also say no in Greece by tilting the head back, or nodding the head upwards only.

Saying yes

Saying yes is done by nodding the head downwards only, bringing the chin towards the chest.

Thus, nodding up and down at the same time means “no-yes-no-yes-no-yes”. The confusion isn’t helped when, despite the word for “no” often starting with the letter n in many languages  (no, non, nein, ne, nei, nej), the word for yes in Greek is actually “nai” and the word for no is “ohi”.

I wish I could say it’s all Greek to me, but I don’t think anyone will quite get what I mean!

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