As of late, I have noticed a weird tradition that has developed in the world of social greetings to strangers. Being a college student, I am privy to this latest trend on a day-to-day basis, but I have also noticed it in a variety of public places, such as malls, stores, restaurants, etc.
To begin, I must note that this is something I have noticed as a guy and find it directed at other guys. I'm not sure about the guy to girl or girl to girl social greetings. Most women I encounter and greet with a friendly "hello" also greet me in return. However, this is not the case with guys. When I'm walking anywhere, and I make eye contact with another guy, we acknowledge each other by simply nodding our heads. And for the life of me, I can't figure out how this came about or what the heck it means.
One of the oddest properties of this nodded greeting is that it effectively renders the vocal cords useless. If one tries to voice a greeting, the most one can do is produce a low-toned gutteral sound that has virtually no meaning. In fact, this grunt probably has the opposite effect, and makes one seem socially incompetent. Sometimes, when I do try to actually offer a real greeting, I receive strange looks that seem to mean "what the hell is wrong with you?" or "dude, you're really weird." It leaves me baffled.
The nodded greeting also has other subtle meanings. It is important to acknowledge another's prescence to establish the fact that you are at least a semi-decent person. This includes being a non-discriminating person on any levels. Well, that's definitely good. Also, if you perform the nodded greeting, you are not a threat to the other guy's "guy" status. Maintaining this balance is also important in the world of guys.
Each time the nodded greeting is performed, its significance changes. It is dependent on mood, social order, and level of weariness. Given this fact, it is extremely inconsistent. Add an unusual facial expression and you might cause the earth to suddenly fall out of orbit.
So there you have it. This complicated society we live in must also have a complicated way to do a simple thing like say "hello." Be careful, our lives hang in the balance.