Tag Archives: gesture

“The Head Nod”

Context: 

My informant, AW, is my 15-year-old brother. He is homeschooled, and participates heavily in gaming culture. He told me about “the head nod” during an informal interview at home. He says the head nod is universally known amongst all guys, and is the only way to greet each other. I refer to myself as SW in the text.

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AW: “Have you ever heard of the head nod?”

SW: “I’ve heard of the head nod.”

AW: “You have? Do you understand any of what it means?”

SW: “Not really, please explain the head nod to me.”

AW: “Ok so the head nod is if you go something like… I don’t know how you put this on to paper but if you like *he does the very slight upwards head nod of greeting* – the head nod. If you’re walking by someone and you um… yeah if you’re walking near… if you’re passing a stranger in a hallway and it’s one on one you to do this. If you’re in a crowd and you accidentally lock eyes with people you have to do this. It’s just… it’s just law. But, if it’s someone you do not know or… yeah if it’s someone you do not know it’s generally just a sign of respect or I acknowledge your presence and I acknowledge I was staring at you or something. And it’s just a *he does the slight downwards head nod of respect* or something like. If it’s someone you know, or you’re trying to get attention from someone, it’s *he does the upwards head nod*.

SW: “So it’s like a… a downward head nod of respect with people you don’t know, and an upward head nod of like a ‘hey’ with the eyebrows if it’s someone you do know.”

AW: “If it’s someone you know and you’re about to talk to them it’s like ‘hey’ *he proceeds to do the upwards hey head nod* but if it’s someone you know and you don’t want to talk to them it’s just *he does the downwards respect nod*.”

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Analysis:

Folk gestures are a very small thing, but arguably make up one of our most important ways of communicating with others. A known shared gesture helps link members of a group without anyone even needing to say anything. AW says that all guys know about head nod culture, and it is a way to show respect and communicate familiarity. It also is a way to differentiate who is “one of the boys” and on a peer level, versus someone you have a more formal relationship with.

PLUR Handshake and the Exchanging of Kandi – Rave Culture

Background: The informant is my twenty-two year old sister. She learned this piece from attending multiple raves and EDM music festivals in the southern California region. She is an avid metal and alternative music fan with a love of body modifications including tattoos and piercings as well as horror films. 

Context: The following was collected in a casual in-person interview in the informant’s home. 

Piece: 

The following is a transcription of a conversation about the exchanging of Kandi (which are homemade bracelets often with colorful plastic beads) in EDM culture through the handshake dubbed “P.L.U.R.” 

Collector: What does PLUR mean?

Informant: “Peace, love, unity, respect. So basically to anybody it means coming together and sharing something with like another person. My favorite part about it is like if you’re really connecting with someone at like party or you know like a rave um I’ll look at somebody and I’ll be like okay you look like you’re a hella stoner so we’ll like talk about be like ‘Hey like what’s your name oh my god you’re so cool’ and maybe dance a little bit and then we’ll do like this thing. So it goes peace, love, unity, and respect. And I would bring it over and then you would look at what it says. And it says ‘Smoke weed everyday.’ 

Collector: Do all of the bracelets have words on them? 

Informant: “Um not all of them have words. So like some people will be like ‘Oh it’s my first rave blah blah blah’ and you could just give them whatever. But like, for me like why I enjoy it is like I’ve been lucky enough to have people who have given me stuff with words. And I like to spread ones with words because its like way more personal and shows that like you really connect with somebody.”

Collector: So you wouldn’t do it with someone you don’t really vibe with.

Informant: “No but um I mean I feel like you vibe with everybody at those events. Usually though like if I’m giving you one, you’re giving me one back. So like you would have one and we would both look at our things and be like oh this relates to you or this is cute or you’ll like this or I hate this one so. For people I don’t really vibe with I’ll give them my ugliest one.”

Images of the process are included here: 

Peace is represented by the two participants touching their index and pointer fingers to each other, making peace signs. 
Love is represented by the two participants joining curved hands to form a heart. 
Unity is represented with two flat hands with the palms touching each other and thumbs wrapped around the opposite hand. 
Respect is represented with the interlacing of the two individuals’ fingers and the bracelet being drawn from the wrist of one individual to another. 

Analysis: The PLUR handshake is a fun and fast way of building a community and making friends at raves, parties, and even the beach. Kandi is a way to visibly identify those who participate in EDM culture and serves as a sort of invitation to others who participate in this culture to engage in conversation and even friendship. Historically, raves have been dangerous places with illicit drugs and little supervision. Woodstock 99, a 1999 music festival, ended in destructive riots and other festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival have had numerous deaths. Although raves and festivals are much safer today, with medical staff readily standing by, the PLUR and Kandi traditions began in 1990s underground rave culture when this wasn’t the case. I believe the ritual functions to reassure rave goers and build a network of accountability and trust. Since drugs like ecstasy and LSD are often consumed at these events, the handshake may also serve as a positive affirmation in order to assure that participants are having a “good trip.” Furthermore, EDM culture has historically been inclusive toward minority groups and LGBTQ. I believe this handshake is an extension of the welcoming and respectful undertones of EDM culture.

Hand Gestures for Learning Left and Right

Informant: “To figure out right and left as a kid I was taught by my mom that if I hold up both my hands in the shape of an “L” with your palms faced downward, the hand that makes the actual “L” is the left one and the one that makes the backwards “L” is the right hand.”

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Context: The informant is the partner of the collector and was discussed when they were speaking about how they both know or learned right from left as children.

Informant Analysis: As a child, the informant said that they had difficulty in learning the right from left, so as a measure to help teach them, their mother taught them the trick. The informant noted that the hand gesture did help them learn it and even today, while he doesn’t make the hand signs, they determine right from left through identification with the sides of their body in their head.

Collector Analysis: For people who have mild dyslexia, certain tricks are preformed that sometimes are utilized to help. In particular, this trick is common for people who have difficulties in determining right from left. This piece is intrinsically English oriented since it only works due to the fast that left starts with an “L”. It also shows the necessity of being able to distinguish right from left in everyday life, for example, giving directions being a great example. There is of course arbitrariness to right and left since the actual location is dependent on the perspective of the individual. In this regard, the hand signs mimic the individual perspective of determining right from left.

We can also note that these sorts of gestures are intended to teach children. It has been studied that different people respond to certain learning techniques like visual, auditory, or tactile. Children in particular are sometimes able to memorize things when they are done kinesthetically. Therefore, the motion of making “L’s” with ones hands for children may be the best way to teach children. Another interesting idea that should be explored is the realization that, since many people have difficulty in determining right from left even as adults, the whole concept may be something humans are not innately born with. Or, it could be said that the addition of abstract words to describe a location in respect to the individual is perhaps where the confusion occurs.

Hand Gesture – Korea

My informant was born in South Korean, but moved to America when she was 16 years old. She explained to me how when she first moved, she was very confused by some of the cultural differences including hand gestures.

In America, we wave people over with our palms facing up. A similar motion that is common in western culture to beckon someone over is curling the index finger. However, in Korea both of these are considered extremely rude and degrading. They typically use the same hand motions to gesture over dogs.

Respect is a huge attribute in Asian culture. It is deeply rooted in family and demonstrated formally through gestures and language. Therefore, using the “American wave” on a human is equivalent to treating or calling them an animal. Koreans will signal people over by having their palm face down, and using a little “digging” or small swimming motion with their hand. Another way to describe it would be having your palm face down and waving it up and down vertically. If you tried calling a cab in Korea using the Western style wave, you would undeniably be rejected and ignored.

At first, my informant thought that Americans were “kind of arrogant and snobby.” She didn’t realize that there would be a significantly different meaning in something as trivial as gesturing someone over. She eventually caught on that people were not intentionally trying to be rude, and that it was just part of western culture to call people over using the palm facing up.

This made me really think about how important it is to be culturally aware, especially while traveling. There are so many little differences that may seem insignificant, but is actually really important to recognize. It helps us better understand our global peers and can prevent us from accidentally offending others.

Leaving Wine for Elijah at Passover

The informant is a 66-year old mother, step-mother, former poverty-lawyer, property manager/owner, and is involved in many organizations and non profits. She was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to the United States with her family when she was four years old. She grew up in California, where she also attended college and law school. She lived in the suburbs of Chicago for a short while with her husband and family, and now they live in Pacific Palisades, California.

 

Informant: “Back when I was a kid, with your Opa [the word for “Grandpa” in Dutch] every Passover, we would leave a glass of wine—in our most ornate wine glass—for Elijah, like we do now, but we would also all go around the table after the meal and have to tell a little anecdote about Elijah.

 

Interviewer: “Can you explain who Elijah is?”

Informant: “Elijah is a Jewish prophet. It’s tradition to leave a spot for him at the table at Passover so that if he passes through he will stop at your house and give you good luck and health. So we would go around and all have to tell a short made-up story about him. And it was silly that we did this—I don’t know anyone else who did this, but I know that my dad always said that he had done it with his family at their seders growing up.”

 

Thoughts:

I’ve participated in the Elijah ritual myself, so I can speak from a first-person perspective as well as commenting on my informant’s information. In my opinion, leaving a glass for Elijah symbolizes hope, for the future and for the Jewish people—a people historically oppressed and systematically pushed down. Leaving a glass and/or opening a door for the prophet, Elijah, to come is a way of leaving the door open to positive things to come. As it is a prophet that the glass of wine is left for, this custom can also be seen as a seeking of knowledge or insight.