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.
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*.”
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.