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The Tyranny of the Nod

To be or nod to be

What’s in a nod? For the St Andrews student, it’s a vitally important question. In our small town, receiving a nod at five to the hour is one thing that you can bet this month’s heating bills on. Given a stroll down Market Street, or a peruse of the B-D section of the library, eye contact will be exchanged, and with this, a gentle dip of the head will follow.

To combat general ignorance, I have taken it upon myself to provide a public service - to document the conventions and complex rules that underpin our social order. Here follows the culmination of one and a half years of deep anthropological research:

The ‘Soft Nod’

Will he? Won’t he? You were tutorial buddies in the second semester of last year, but you haven’t seen him in ages. Yet, fate has it that you chose to study in the same quadrant of the library (upper floor, towards the back).

The ‘soft nod’ results. As much a signal of how far you’ve grown apart as it is a mutual recognition of each other’s existence, this nod is pregnant with a latent awkwardness.

Importantly, the exchange of a ‘soft nod’ redefines a relationship. Where once, a friendship was healthy and capable of further growth, the ‘soft nod’ recasts it as frozen, stale. The ‘soft nod’ is a symptom of a relationship reduced to mere formality, devoid of content, and absent of meaning.

The ‘BNOC Nod’

With a BNOC, or a ‘big name on campus’, ordinary convention dissolves. For the BNOC, getting a nod is an important demonstration of their social power. Though you may only know them from a passing interaction on the library stairway, or a chance encounter on a West Sands bonfire, you will receive a nod. Treat it with respect, as if you were a distant march greeting his itinerant feudal monarch.

Despite the patent emptiness of the nod, you will nevertheless feel a strange pride as your heads engage in this shared ritual of power. The power of the BNOC, Gods among us mere mortals, fills the need in the human subject to feel like there’s authority greater than the lonely self. As much as for you as it is for them, the ‘BNOC nod’ ensures the centre holds.

The ‘Stop and Chat’

The ‘stop and chat’ is high praise indeed. Reserved for those closest to the St Andrean, it is a signal of favour, of love, of respect. Not every passing acquaintance can be allotted five minutes of that most precious resource, time, and so, when a ‘stop and chat’ does occur, it signals recognition of mutual esteem.

However, like most of these conventions, the ‘stop and chat’ is rarely about anything but the demarcation of boundaries and barriers between individuals. When engaging in a ‘stop and chat’, do not be deceived by the mutual exchange of the hard currency of words. A ‘stop and chat’ rarely achieves anything but the temporary subsidence of social insecurity.


Nod-central. Some say the café Taste rejected a larger site so that Taste-goers would have to pour out into the street. The logic goes that those in Taste would no longer just go there for their caffeinated drink. They’d also be attracted by a most strategically-placed staging-post, enabling them to exchange glances with passing individuals.

Although this is impossible to verify, what can be established by your intrepid correspondent is that the easiest way to miss the first ten minutes of your lecture is to walk by this postage-stamp of a café.


A lot like Taste, but a lot less classy. Pret-goers tend to revel in an hourly ritual - small-talk in the inordinately long queue, for ten minutes every hour. Debate rages amongst anthropologists about the purpose of the queue – whether it results from the desire for five highly caffeinated macchiatos a day or for the opportunity to purposelessly socialise. Without further research, we may never know.


The correct terminology for an individual who blanks others on the street is a ‘blanker’. Blanking occurs for various reasons. Yet, in most cases, should be treated as a significant act of betrayal, one appropriate only in extremis.

Nevertheless, even the use of the most powerful weapons can occasionally be justified. With blanking, such a maxim holds true. At best, blanking can act as a clarifying tool, signifying the end of fruitful ambiguity, to be replaced by a shared recognition of mutual disfavour.

I end with an admission. This cannot be anything but the most cursory of examinations of what is, and will continue to be, the most complex of phenomena. Nevertheless, with University funding, I may be able to produce a work that does justice to the issue at hand. I therefore call for the University to pay for my rent and provide me a stipend for daily Combini ‘Bini Bowls’, to pursue this, the most necessary of topics, further.

Photo: Unsplash

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