The neighbourly wave

Still a little stiff in the execution, but Raymond's initiation into the rural wave is coming along. (Note reminder of his favourite team having from the rear-view mirror.)

Still a little stiff in the execution, but Raymond’s initiation into the rural wave is coming along. (Note the reminder of his favourite team hanging from the rear-view mirror.)

One thing I’ve had to get Raymond trained up on, vis-à-vis having a home in Queensborough, is the habit of acknowledging drivers you meet when you’re out on the road. It’s a time-honoured rural tradition, as those of you who are familiar with rural ways will know. As our friend Lindi Pierce put it in a recent Queensborough-themed post on her excellent blog  about architectural heritage, Ancestral Roofs ( “In the country one does not pass another human, known or unknown, without acknowledging her presence; how rude would that be?”

It’s a nice friendly thing, the driver-to-driver wave. I’m used to it thanks to having grown up in Queensborough, but because I was not old enough to drive when I lived there – we moved away around the time of my 15th birthday – it was not something I had occasion to practise myself. My mum or dad were the ones behind the wheel and thus the ones who waved to the drivers of cars we met. And then I spent many years living in larger places, and in larger places the rural wave is unknown.

When Raymond and I bought the Manse and started spending time there, the habit of waving came back naturally to me. But for Raymond it was a new thing, and I always had to remind him to wave when we met another car. Occasionally I still do. And it’s interesting (and sometimes kind of amusing) to observe him getting used to it. You see, there’s a certain technique in the wave, and he’s still learning it.

For one thing, it’s not an actual wave; it’s more a casual brief lifting of your left hand from the steering wheel, uncurling your fingers and raising them up perpendicularly from the wheel. (Sometimes men with big hands – I have often seen my father do this – just raise a finger or two.)

Spotted in the Madoc Foodland parking lot. Do you think this driver knows about the rural wave? (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

Spotted in the Madoc Foodland parking lot: do you think this driver knows about the rural wave? (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

The other element of the art of the rural wave is timing. Raymond sometimes waves a little too early and a little too quickly, so that it’s over and done by the time we meet the other car and the other driver won’t have seen it. Your waving motion has to be a little slow and lazy – laconic, let’s say; and you have to wait to do it until just a half a second or so before your two vehicles meet.

But we’re practising, and he’s learning. He’ll get there! Meanwhile, I have a question for you: do you think this driver knows about the rural wave?

26 thoughts on “The neighbourly wave

  1. Oh, yes, you are so right! We live in a small town in B.C. and the rural wave is part of daily life. But there’s also the rural stare – that is when you walk down the street and look straight into people’s faces to see whether you recognize them, and then you either smile and say hello, or stop and chat. When we first moved here from Vancouver, our whole family was surprised and slightly offended by the way people stared at us. Even my children noticed it. But in a matter of weeks, we had it figured out, and now when I go to the city I find myself looking into the face of everyone on the street. People find it slightly alarming, so I try to remember to lower my eyes! Back to the rural wave – while I was growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan, my father always did the two-finger thing – just lifted his first two fingers while his palm remained on the top of the steering wheel.

    Love your blog, Katherine.

    • So nice to hear from you again, Elinor, and I’m happy that my ruminations on “the rural wave” have prompted memories from people from small-town B.C. (by way of rural Saskatchewan) to those from small-town Nova Scotia, and those from small-town Ontario into the bargain. Clearly “the wave” is an integral part of rural life in this country. Now as for “the rural stare” – that is very interesting. I will confess I had not noticed it, but now that you mention it… yes! And not only have I noticed people examining Raymond and me when we go into town (usually Madoc), but come to think of it I do it myself: “Do I know you? Yes, I think I know you… Where do I know you from?” (This all going on in one’s head, of course.) I guess it is born of living in a small community where everyone should know everyone else, but sometimes you have to work at it to make the connection. Thank you for drawing that other intriguing habit of rural living to my attention, and that of readers. And – happy Easter!

  2. The official bus driver to bus driver/coach/city wave and motorcycle to mortorcycle wave goes beyond the rural wave. I wave all day.. 😉 lol

    • As for the motorcycle wave [again, just 1 or 2 fingers of the left hand], it is sad that so many Harley riders are too snooty to wave at non-Harley riders.

      On the otherhand, just as snootily, I don’t wave to trikes [including BRP’s 2-wheels in front Spyder] as I don’t consider them real bikes. Ditto for those 80cc scooters I see in urban areas. But I will wave to a bike with a sidecar, though.

      • Interesting. As I noted in my reply to Marykay’s comment, I do remember (from what seems like another lifetime) the obligation of the motorcycle driver (or passenger) to wave to fellow motorcyclists s/he met. But I’d forgotten about riders on Harleys not doing it. Do they only wave to fellow Harley riders, then?

      • “…Do they only wave to fellow Harley riders, then?…”

        Apparently so.

      • Since I am a female enduro rider I find the motorcycle wave becomes very common among all bike riders. Maybe they are just impressed that a female is on a bike and then again I am on a bike that looks like it travels back roads really well. But if you wave most of the time everyone waves back. 🙂 O but I must emphazise that while we were riding in Hawksbury Que or just passed over the Quebec boarder no motorcycle rider approaching us would wave AT ALL no matter what you were on!!! Why is that????

      • That is odd, Marykay. I will make some inquiries of motorcyclists here (my boss was one until not too long ago) and find out if the wave tradition exists in Quebec. Perhaps it is another way in which we are a distinct society. Hey, I saw your bike once and was very impressed!

    • Indeed, I can just imagine, Marykay! And the motorcycle wave, yes! I’d forgotten about that tradition, though once upon a time I had a boyfriend with a motorcycle and got very good at that wave. It’s de rigueur if you’re on a motorcycle, right?

  3. while you can not see it, we are extending a multi-finger wave as we drive home from Easter service in Fredericton. Happy Easter wishes to you both, love GnG

    • And to you, GnG! I hope that as I write this (after an extraordinarily long and busy, but joyful, Easter Day) this finds you safely and comfortably back home at last. It is good to be back in Hastings County, is it not? Thank you for the multi-finger wave!

  4. I’ve been thumbing through several posts here, and I laughed at the “the wave”. Yes, there’s an art to it, just as there’s an art to “the talk”. It doesn’t happen like it used to, but from my childhood, from the deeper recesses of my rural Nova Scotia memory, it usually involved asking how the fishing went, or how quickly the tallgrass was getting outta control now that the heat was here. It also likely involved a question or two about the house you lived in, if you knew them well enough. The houses were treated like people, so you inquired about their welfare. You never walked by someone without acknowledging them….ever. Once the conversation started, you often stood on the side of a gravel road, with your elbow hung at a right angle, and your half-clenched fist on your hip. That meant you weren’t going anyplace fast. It was a social queue. If you were venturing to the South Shore, you needed an interpreter, since the New England-ish lilt was as confusing as the Maya code.

    Tell Raymond that he MIGHT have a partner in crime. Back in the early 70’s, when cable TV was just starting, we got the Red Sox on WLBZ from Ban-gaw, Maine. To this day, I’m conflicted about the Jays and Sox. Its had lasting, deleterious effects from which I’ve never really recovered……

    • Hi, Mark! I have to tell you that you have nailed “the talk.” In Queensborough we don’t talk about the fishing, obviously, but the weather is always a good topic for starters. And then of course if “the talk” takes place when people stop by our Manse while we’re poking about in the yard, there are questions about the house, the yard, the trees we’ve planted, do we need the grass cut – and so often, even after more than a year of us being there, people saying, “If you ever need anything…” Which is just so nice.

      And I have to tell you that Raymond is very happy to have a Nova Scotia partner in crime, Red Sox-wise. Welcome to Meanwhile, at the Manse!

  5. Ah, yes, the rural wave, I remember it well. One of the things I really like about your blog, Katherine, is the way it catapults me back to my long-ago experiences of growing up in rural Ontario. I can clearly picture my late father greeting the driver in an oncoming car with the two-fingered rural wave. I never had a name for it, or even give it a second thought, but your blog item has vividly brought it back to life for me. Merci.

    • Well, Jim, if it brought back those memories for you: mission accomplished! I guess one of the things I am (not really consciously) trying to do with this blog is to remind myself and others of all the things that were and are intrinsic to rural life, and that should not – especially in this increasingly urbanized and connected world of ours – be forgotten. There is so much to be said for that slower pace and that kinder and more neighbourly way of living. I am so glad and appreciative that you read and comment!

  6. Indeed, the two-finger [index & middle] wave is the norm although some only raise the index finger. Traditionally, as Elinor noted above, one drove with one hand draped over the top of the steering wheel and raised one or two digits laconically, as Katherine noted. Alas, this driving procedure is no longer recommended due to the presence of air bags in most vehicles.

    Outside the vehicle, the standard [non-verbal] greeting is the curt single head nod, at least among guys.

    • Yes, the nod, that’s it, Graham. Women tend to actually say hi, or some such, I think. Now tell me about this airbag thing: surely “the rural wave” can’t trigger an air-bag situation. If it can, the world really is going to hell in a handcart!

      • “…Now tell me about this airbag thing: surely “the rural wave” can’t trigger an air-bag situation…”

        Well, driving schools & the MTO strongly recommend driving with the hands in either the 10 & 2 or 9 & 3 o’clock positions for both control, and more lately, safety. The airbag, if triggered in a collision, would jam a hand draped over the top of the steering wheel into the roof. So, if one was employing the rural wave and accidentally ran into something due to distracted attention, well…

  7. You nailed this, Katherine! I realized how instinctive this wave–more of an acknowledgement, really–was when we moved back to the Lindsay area where I grew up, and automatically started doing this to nearly everyone we passed!

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