Who deserves the head nod?

It’s 11:37 a.m. I’ve just made the trek from Swift to West and I am currently making my way through the BC plaza heading towards my 11:45 on Science Drive. I keep my head down with my headphones in so as to avoid being accosted by the sorority girls selling T-shirts. I’m sorry underfunded public schools, I’d love to help out but I really can’t be late to my non-attendance-taking history seminar. I hope you understand.

As I manically shuffle through Spotify looking for the perfect whiny-sad alt-rock song to appease my existential white boy angst, I look up only for a moment to make sure I’m not about to run into anything. Mistake. As I do, I make direct eye contact with that guy who I sat next to for a couple of weeks in Math 111L first semester freshman year before I decided to start sitting in the back of the classroom so I could go on my phone.

Math 111L guy and I don’t have beef at all. I don’t even know his name. Mark? Matt? Martin? Doesn’t matter. What matters is the one question I am confronted with every time I walk through any high-traffic area on Duke’s campus: do I need to say hi to this person?

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Just say hi to him asshole.” And trust me, I totally hear you. But you have to understand that that’s just simply not how my brain works. Whenever I run into a person I’m somewhat acquainted with, my mind immediately launches into a misguided cost-benefit simulation that almost always results in my looking down and not saying anything. Unless of course the other person initiates, in which case I usually just mumble something awkward and move along. I know, I suck, but I can’t help it.

I am by no means a master of the quick campus “sup.” In fact, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone worse at it. I am, however, an astute observer of the craft and would like to use this platform to report some of my findings. This is by no means a complete study. I will not be covering interactions with people you met while drunk or those with whom you have been physically or romantically involved, as these variables make matters too complicated to discuss within the word limit of this column. But without further ado, here are my observations:

One of the most common campus quick hellos occurs when the two involved parties find themselves walking towards each other heading in opposite directions. With these interactions, timing is of the utmost importance. If you initiate the “sup” or head nod or whatever your preferred method of greeting may be too early, then you risk running out of stuff to say before you have passed each other and having to awkwardly fill the remaining space. But if you initiate too late, then you run the risk of having to continue the conversation after you have passed each other, which becomes a burden for people. You have to know your level of acquaintance with the person in order to gauge when to initiate.

But what happens if you see someone coming towards you before you’re ready to initiate? The preferred methods of stalling seem to be either looking away or pretending to be on your phone. If you’re wearing headphones, then you can buy some time taking out the headphones, but be weary of this strategy. Taking out one headphone is a clear signal that a short conversation is about to take place. Taking out both means we’re in it for the long haul. The worst possible scenario is taking off both headphones only to have the person not stop and talk.  

Another quick campus hello scenario is the across the room head nod. These might happen if you see someone from across the quad or if you’re sitting in Perkins and the other looking for a seat. The objective of the quick head nod is clear: recognize each other with the nod and then look away as quickly as possible. Some people, myself included, often choose to substitute the head nod with a limp peace sign. I’m not sure anyone has ever intended to do the limp peace sign thinking it would come off as cool. It just kind of has a way of happening.

The final scenario I will describe, the bus encounter, is also the trickiest to navigate. If you aren’t careful then you might find yourself stuck in a directionless conversation about how finals week is rough or how Thanksgiving break was really needed before you’re able to pull the cord and escape. Sometimes these interactions are unavoidable, but the best you can do is enter the bus with purpose, scan your surroundings, give the head nods you need to and then plop down next to someone random you won’t need to talk with or find someone who you know well enough to have a real conversation with.

Look, I know that my thoughts on this are pretty absurd. The simple fact of the matter is that if you both see each other, you should probably just say hi. But it’s never just as easy as that. Everyone is so paranoid of what other people think of them that they’re too afraid to look stupid if someone doesn’t say hi in return. 

The real irony is that I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “Wow, that kid John Doe says hi to me way too much.” But I do hear time and time again, “That kid John Doe never says hi to me.” Everyone likes being greeted by a friend, so just do it. That is, while remembering to follow the rules. 

Sami Kirkpatrick is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "worms in space," usually runs on alternate Wednesdays.

Sami Kirkpatrick | worms in space

Sami Kirkpatrick is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "worms in space," runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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