There are some funny things to say about differences in culture. You know, all those small gestures and things people do that get a completely different meaning as soon as you step your foot on a soil of another country. Nepalis, as well as Indians I guess, do that side-to-side head gesture to confirm their agreement with whatever you’re saying or to answer positively to your question. Even though I know what it means, I get confused every time wondering whether this is a true “yes”, or they are confused, or is this maybe a “no”… It’s tough, man.
In the roads of Croatia flashing your high beam at someone would mean “sir, please do go in front of me after which I shall wait for you to park sideways on your fifth attempt”. Here, in Kathmandu it means something to the extent of “I am coming your way and not moving an inch for you even if it means I will die in this ridiculous quest – I am the king of the road”.
Some of these, often confusing differences, I experienced even before coming to Nepal. On one occasion Mr.B. and I visited Washington, DC with some of our friends. We got a rental car to drive over there, and I being a designated driver, was in charge of parking. It was a tight parking spot so Mr.B. got out of the car to assist me. Suddenly I hear this knocking sound on the car and panic. Did I hit something? I look at my mirrors and see Mr.B. standing carelessly so I assumed all was ok. I continue with my parking quest when again he starts knocking on my car. I decide to ignore it since I have no idea what that means and I instead rely on the mirrors. Then the knocking gets faster, and then suddenly changes into two long knocks. So it was something like knock knock knock knock, knock……knock. That meant nothing to me so I kept backing up until I saw Mr.B.’s furious face next to my window yelling something about almost crushing him to death, and have I not heard him knocking. Oh yes, I heard you knocking alright, but I had no idea what the heck that meant! We had a long and exhausting argument about the knocking issue where he simply refused to believe I was not trying to kill him in the parking lot.
Only when I came to Nepal did I realize that this knocking on the car deal is common. Everyone here does it, and I suppose it is helpful, once you know what those signals mean. People knock on your car fast when there’s still room to go, and then a long knock or two when you’ve reach the perfect parking position.
A Croatian parking a car in the middle of DC with a Nepali giving knocking signals was not a good combination. Luckily car was intact and Mr.B. successfully evaded getting crushed. Look out for those cultural differences people; they can be deadly.