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9 ways we wave to fellow motorists and what they all mean. Is it just a rural thing?

I hadn’t given it much thought until a recent trip we took to Iowa. Seems like the minute we crossed the border into the Hawkeye State, it began – the wave. I’m not talking about water waves. I mean the friendly gesture one driver offers to an oncoming vehicle. (Certainly not to be confused with the one-finger salute that sometimes comes from a disgruntled driver.) This is the “Hello! We’re both on this road together and I think I’ll greet you” wave.

A variety of waves

What’s so interesting about a wave of greeting? To me, it’s the wide variety of wave variations we’ve seen on the road. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • The “other” one-finger wave: With both hands remaining on the steering wheel, one index finger is raised. This is sometimes accompanied with a head nod.
  • The two-finger salute: Similar to the previous wave, only with the index and second finger raised while other fingers continue to grip the steering wheel.
  • The chin nod: A variation of the wave that uses the chin instead of the hand. Either a quick snap downward or a quick lift of the chin acknowledging oncoming drivers.
  • The palm: The entire right hand lifts just off the steering wheel to show your palm to oncoming drivers.
  • Courtesy wave: The left hand holds the wheel. The elevated, vertical right hand flaps back and forth, waving another car ahead of you.
  • Thank you wave: Right hand raises near the rearview mirror to thank the driver behind you for allowing you to join the flow of traffic.
  • Then there’s the “touch index finger to cap bill” salute-type wave and the “out-the-window left-hand wave” reserved exclusively for very good friends. The “gotcha’ wave” is a wave given to someone you don’t know. Accompanied by a friendly grin, this excited, whole hand wave will have the other driver wondering just who waved at them.

Is it a rural phenomenon?

Only rural areas seem to have mastered the art of waving. To be fair, congested city driving is not very conducive to friendly waves, except occasionally the courtesy wave. Interstate waving will never catch on, seeing as oncoming drivers aren’t easily visible and waving at high speed probably isn’t the best idea anyway.

Motorcyclist’s wave

Motorcyclists have their own special wave. The left hand held low, two-finger wave allows the motorcycle driver to keep his right hand on the throttle. Well, and also to keep steering.

Wave rules

Waves are interesting. Did you ever notice that truckers wave to other truckers, but rarely will a trucker wave to a car driver? Car drivers wave to other car drivers, but not to motorcyclists. Motorcyclists wave to one another, but do not wave to trucks or cars. Hmm. Interesting … Perhaps this unusual phenomenon would qualify for an in-depth government-funded study. I think it holds just as much merit as other studies funded by our taxes, don’t you?

Kids and waving

And then there are children. Everyone waves to children, especially if the kids wave first. Truckers will sometimes even sound their air horns, as well. I suppose we all wave at children because they’re cute, but more likely we remember back to the times we endured endless trips in the back seat, having to “hold it” for just a few more miles until parents found a “suitable” restroom.

The Nissan Leaf wave

Did you know that Nissan tried to invent a designated wave for its Leaf hybrid owners? Back in 2011, Nissan asked drivers to send in suggestions for a special wave to be used exclusively by Leaf owners to other Leaf owners. I’m not sure a winner wave was ever named, but I don’t own a Leaf hybrid, so maybe I’m wrong.

Can waving increase joy?

Is it ever okay not to wave? Well, if someone waves at you it’s polite to wave back. If you don’t, you risk being labeled “rude” or “mean” or (if you’re a bit more mature in age) a “grumpy old curmudgeon.”

So, wave! Greet your fellow travelers with a smile and enjoy your journey even more!

##RVT1030

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Mike
1 month ago

You know, maybe we need to do a lot more of this!

Barbara
1 month ago

I live in Iowa, the farmer wave is just as good too. Farmer on a tractor or combine giving the 1 finger wave as you pass them, As the sign says as you cross any border in Iowa, welcome to Iowa. Iowa we don’t know a stranger either. Love Iowa Nice

Carson Axtell
1 month ago

I first noticed this “rural wave” when I moved from San Francisco to Siskiyou County in the far north of Cali. Not just people passing in opposing lanes, but even folks fetching their mail from their roadside mailboxes would turn when they heard me approaching to offer a wave. Maybe driving around in a pickup truck helped, too, but it seemed clear that rural folks are not just more easy going and friendlier than urban denizens, but also believed more in community. And rural folks can’t as easily escape a reputation for “unneighborliness” as urbanites can… And on the flip side, friendliness is too often interpreted as weakness in the urban jungle.

Last edited 1 month ago by Carson Axtell
Luke
1 month ago

Our first 5th Wheel was an “Open Range”, which has a fairly large profile outline of a horse on the front cap. We found that once we were into “ranch country”, no matter what State, we’d start getting waved at a LOT. Finally determined that a majority of those waving probably thought we were towing a 5th Wheel Horse Trailer and that was what was gaining all the attention!

Jim N
1 month ago

We live in downstate Illinois. The best “waver” is the older gentleman driving a tractor at harvest time.

Sharon N
1 month ago

I learned about the ATV rider “wave” when I started riding ATVs in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. When riding with a group of ATVs and you come across someone riding toward you (ATV or car/truck), you hold up your hand with fingers raised for the number of ATVs riding behind you. With the obstructed views on forest roads and trails, it’s helpful to know what’s coming up ahead.

John
1 month ago

I was born, raised, and lived in the urban jungle of Houston, Texas, for the first fifty years of my life. The only wave I ever saw was the “impolite” middle finger. About 15 years ago my wife and I moved to East Texas (Tyler area). My brother-in-law asked me how I liked living in East Texas. I told him that I liked it: the people here wave at you on the road, but they use all five fingers!

Greg Bryant
1 month ago

Jeep wave. I was a Jeep owner for many years and the Jeep wave was an important part of the culture of Jeep ownership. There were variations on the wave depending on which Jeep model you drove. I have forgotten what they were but it was a thing.

I have noticed that since I bought my Ram dually, I’ll often get a couple fingers off the wheel wave from fellow Ram dually drivers.

Christine
1 month ago

I grew up in the country and my dad always waved at oncoming drivers. He did the “other” 1-finger wave, however, due to a farming accident, he was missing half of his right index finger so I’m not sure that oncoming drivers always saw that little stub of a wave.

Forest
1 month ago

VW bugs and buses have waved seems forever. I loved being part of that close community. Sorry I sold my bus.

KellyR
1 month ago
Reply to  Forest

Dad got his first VW Bug in 1963. All Bug owners waved at other Bugs. I had a total of 5 VWs of different kinds. Wish I had kept them all.

Rebecca
1 month ago

Don’t forget the raised right palm “thank you for pulling over & not crowding me” wave given by pedestrians to courteous oncoming drivers…most, but not all, unfortunately.

dawn ellen miller
1 month ago

We always wave in rural roads where we seldom pass others. Yes, motorcycle waves are low and left. I road behind my hubby and I was the one waving many times. We currently have a Nissan Leaf (all electric, not hybrid) and there is no wave.

Joe G.
1 month ago

Growing up in a small town in Upstate NY, we always waved at people, whether they were passing by, and even if you were walking and they were driving by. One of the reasons for doing it is that being in a small town, you probably knew almost everyone. So, I do believe it’s a rural thing. And I still do it today!

The Lazy Q
1 month ago

Me and my brother took a road trip to Alaska from Arizona years ago when I was 16 and he 19. Many times to alleviate boredom we would wave at every passing vehicle to see how many waves were returned. Canadians waved back the most.

Tommy Molnar
1 month ago

I wave at fellow Arctic Fox owners – and sometimes even get a wave back! If I see them soon enough, I flash my lights. In my early days of trucking, truck drivers always waved to each other (on two lanes). Then came the white hand on a spring mounted on the dash because drivers got lazy. I never did that. We used to joke about wearing “White Waving Gloves”. Bob P might remember this stuff.

Vincee
1 month ago

Since we started with a motor home in 2006 I wave at all oncoming motor homes. Maybe I started this because I ride a motorcycle also, but I have seen this question posed on some RV forums too.

Gary
1 month ago

Corvette owners have been waving to each other since 1953.
Save the wave!

Richard Feyen
1 month ago

You forgot about the “Jeep Wave” wrangler drivers wave all the time city, rural, back-country.

Sir Tyne
1 month ago

MINI Cooper drivers also wave to each other. But when your toad is a MINI, they wonder why that RV driver is waving at them.

Brenda
1 month ago
Reply to  Sir Tyne

I was hoping there would be a MINI waver commenting. Dealers need to do a better job at instructing new owners to wave. I’ll be sure to wave if I see you waving from your RV!

John
1 month ago

The perfection of the art of waving in rural areas (where I grew up & currently reside) comes from years of knowing your neighbors and welcoming unknowns as neighbors. We’re a friendly sort…In my area, it’s the “other” finger wave.

Ron T.
1 month ago
Reply to  John

I agree, growing up in rural Missouri we recognized whose vehicle it was before we even got close. If we didn’t we just waved to be friendly. Had a Vette & now a jacked up Jeep. All Vettes waved. Four-door Jeeps seldom do.