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Simple Pleasures

Ayni: accessory

Walking the final few meters towards the Uzbekistan side of the border I was pulled aside by a weathered Tajikistan criminal detective and questioned. His gentle English lilt was friendly but if, like me you have a love/hate relationship with fractured border crossings it was a conversation I’d preferred to avoid. After ten minutes of reiterating itineraries he nodded past his countries border. Elation. So much emotion tied into such a simple gesture: the nod.

That moment when you walk into or out of a space when you scan the room identify a person in it and, eyes remaining on the recipient momentarily lift your head. You probably take it for granted but in that split second you’ve reaffirmed their existence, carefully negotiated your right to be in that space, and created a ready platform for further communication if required.

When it’s done right, a positive response to the nod is one of life’s reassuring comforts. You nod. I am.

Dushanbe: Market

There are numerous variants to the nod. Whilst seldom taken as derogative, if your presence implies effort on behalf of the recipient the response is likely to be a slower, more drawn out weary nod. If your presence is unexpected a surprised recipient may respond with a reflex nod an action that can leave both parties feeling a bit dirty – like walking in on someone in a restaurant bathroom just as they are rising from the toilet seat (sorry whomever you are, use the lock next time). The directional nod is both an acknowledgment of presence and, depending what the head and eyes do next, provides clues as what to do or where to go next. The art of nodding is obviously something they teach at dive-bar school, since it’s the favoured non-verbal communication of dive-bartenders the world over. In fact given high standard of nodding encountered on my travels its surprising that nodding classes are not formally taught the world over. You do need to remain aware of cultural differences, for example the Japanese enjoy a variant of the nod that is part nod part bow. But yes, a nod can cut through the sound of busy Tashkent night club, and create a bond with the other person queuing for a discounted XBox on Oxford Street.

As with most important things in life, timing is everything. Nod too early and the recipient won’t have time take in your presence leading to the aforementioned reflex response, nod too late and people will assume you have the social skills of a horny rhino. Nod when you arrive, when new people arrive, consider it for when you leave.

Related: the practice amongst younger males of sizing someone up by their footwear choices.