Do You Wave at Everyone You Pass?

Do you wave at folks you pass on the road? Around here some folks wave at every person they meet while other’s don’t wave at anybody-even if they know them.

Several years ago a sweet lady named Lise wrote a guest post for me about what she called the car wave hello. At the time, Lise hadn’t been living in the mountains very long and was surprised and pleased when she noticed other drivers waving at her as she drove about her way.

Lise really studied the various car waves she encountered on her travels through the mountains. You can read her post about the car wave hello below.


The Car Wave Hello written by Lise

One of the things I love about being in the mountains is how friendly everyone is. Almost every single solitary person you encounter says hello, is smiling at you, and is willing to carry on a conversation with you about any topic you bring up. Mostly, it seems to me people are content in these Southern Appalachian mountains.

An interesting custom my husband and I have now acquired is the “Car Wave Hello”. This is the manner in which drivers in cars passing by each other on the steep and winding mountain road indicate a friendly hello.

First please imagine that the driver of the car has their hand(s) on the steering wheel, this could be one hand or both, that is visible to the approaching driver. With that said, there are many manner of car waves:

  • The Finger Wave: no, no, no, not THAT finger, the pointer finger. The lone steering hand will raise the pointer finger. At times the thumb is included in this wave, resulting in an “L” wave.
    • This can also graduate to the 2, 3 and 4 finger wave, not sure what constitutes the difference, but there sure are a lot of variances in this method.
  • The Full Wave: this exudes full confidence from the approaching driver and causes me to hope that their other hand is on the portion of the steering wheel I can not see.
  • The Opposite Hand Wave: this driver has one visible hand on the wheel, but the other provides a full perpendicular lift to the ground and gives a full view of the palm and all 4 fingers and opposing appendage.
  • The Waving Opposite Hand Wave: this driver’s wave extends the feeling to the receiving driver that this driver is a very cheery person with not a care in the world and that perhaps, just perhaps, they recognize you.
  • The No Finger Head Nod Wave: every now and then you get no wave, but after you wave the approaching driver realizes “aw, shucks, I didn’t wave”.
  • The Flappy/Fly Wave: for the very same reason the No Finger Head Nod Wave is given, only there is a delay in the approaching driver’s thought process and The Flappy/Fly Wave is more like, “darn it, you caught me off guard” so you get this wave not so much as an afterthought but a too late thought with no time for The Head Nod.
  • The No Wave No Nod No Nothing Wave: well, what can I say, these encounters are always disappointing, but I have chosen to let it go, not knowing what the drivers mood may been.

When I am the driver, I usually have both hands on the wheel. Mostly because the road is steep and very curvy with blind approaches and very narrow lanes. I feel much more in control when I have both hands on the wheel, enabling me to execute the wave without fear of falling down into a ravine. There are times when I am relaxed and forget my both hands rule and subsequently am not thinking about the possibility of the need to execute the wave until I observe an approaching traveler from the opposite direction, unfortunately usually immediately following one of the blind curves, and I must muster the courage to produce some sort of wave, even if it is difficult for the approaching traveler to interpret or understand.

My usual is The 4 Finger Wave, with both hands on the wheel. Every now and then, I give The Opposite Hand Wave or the Flappy/Full Wave specifically for the reasons described above. No matter what, I wave by golly, because I love these winding steep mountain roads and the people I pass on them. But you bet your sweet bippie, I notice the approaching driver’s wave too 🙂

I will continue to observe the car hello wave and it’s variations, and let you know if I discover anything new. But I have to say, driving up and down the mountain is the friendliest driving experience I have ever had in my life!


I’m a car waver. I use the finger wave Lise mentioned when I’m waving at someone I don’t know and I use the opposite hand wave for folks I do know. And I think sometimes I use the four finger over the wheel wave too. I guess you can say I’m trying to continue the general sense of friendliness Lise found when she moved to the mountains of Western NC.


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  • Reply
    Paulette Tonielli
    June 23, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    I grew up in the rural Midwest – there was an order to waving, and I’ve found it to hold true here in western NC. Major highways – no waving unless you know the other driver. Other roads – lifting the pointer finger for someone you don’t know (but, hey, it might be a neighbor). You know who the other driver is – two or four finger wave. Good friends and relations get a big wave with the free hand. The nod is for situations when your hands are occupied already. Always wave at people in their yards or gardens if they look your way. If I am out in my yard, I wave at all passing cars – it’s a rural neighborhood, and I probably know them even of I don’t recognize the car. Bottom line is that we are all connected in some way, and waving is a part of that.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    May 3, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    I lost the habit when I moved to Florida for my career and had to retrain myself when I moved back. I enjoy waving, usually the finger wave, to everyone I meet on the road.

  • Reply
    May 3, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    Today is National Prayer Day, and Our President was in the Rose Garden recognizing it.

    Just after I finished High School, I worked for American Thread at Marble. Sometimes I rode with David Solesbee (married to Shelvajean, Weaver Cochran’s daughter and they had several kids, making up the Family.) But I noticed David waved at everyone, whether he knew them or not. That is where I got it from and have been waving ever since.

    I’ve been Fly Fishing on the Nantahala above the Power House and folks passing by in cars waved or ‘tooted’ their horns. I knew most of them, but some I didn’t. I’d wave or throw-up my hand at
    ’em, unless I had a big ole Trout on the line. …Ken

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    May 3, 2018 at 12:08 pm

    I still do it! Can take the girl outta the south, but… well, y’all know the rest. Yes, I wave at everyone – especially my neighbors here in Michigan. At first, I think they thought I was up to something. Why is she waving? There aren’t any gnats here in Michigan. Then, they started to kinda nod back. (Maybe if we smile a little she’ll go on her way. She’s probably harmless.) Now, I get full waves and they even beat me to it sometimes.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    May 3, 2018 at 11:38 am

    My uncle was sitting on the porch. As I came through the door from the house, he waved at a passing car. I asked, “Who was that?” He replied, “I don’t know, he throwed up his hand so I did too.”

    With air-conditioned cars, people ride around ensconced in their climate controlled worlds unattentive to those outside.

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    May 3, 2018 at 10:40 am

    Oh my goodness, the wave – how precious. I remember it so well from my visits with my grandparents that lived in MS. You never passed a person out in their yard, working in their garden, or sitting on their porch that they didn’t wave to you whether they knew you or not. I hadn’t seen that in the cities in the North. When I married and my husband and I went back to visit my grandparents he said, “why are those people waving to us – do you know them?” When I explained I didn’t know a lot of them but they always waved. He smiled and said, “I really like that they acknowledge another human being with such a sweet gesture!” Years later when I would return to the area for visits to my parents and we would drive out by the old place, it was a lonesome feeling. All of the people that had lived on little farms along the way had passed on and there was no one out in the yards, no gardens, and no one sitting on the porch. Sometimes they had their heads down almost near the ground weeding but that hand still came up when they heard your car go by. Of course, I could still see them in my mind’s eye and remember the warm feeling of a dear person taking the time to acknowledge you even though they might not have know you. Precious!

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    May 3, 2018 at 10:17 am

    Where I grew up seems like everyone waved at each other on the road but it has turned into a busy little mountain town with people from all over going and coming. There was this one guy who had a very distinctive wave which was the V formation or a peace sign if you will. When he did it he shook the the two V shaped fingers at you liked he was trying to get a bug off his finger or something like that.
    I was visiting last year and met him on the road and guess what? He still does it and he still looks the same as he did when were young except he is 60 plus now. He still has the same hair cut. I knew who it was immediately by his signature wave.
    The world might change around you but who says you have to change with it?

  • Reply
    May 3, 2018 at 9:57 am

    I always thought the wave was a country thing. You saw all the various waves and head nods as you drove around the country roads and even in the small towns when I was growing up. The head waves generally occurred when the head was topped with a “cowboy/farm” hat or a “gimme” cap. I thought the variations in hand wave hand to do with the flexibility (or lack thereof) or achiness the waver was feeling at the moment. When asked, about all this waving – the answer is, “You never know when you’ll need help or you’ll run across someone who needs help and you want folks to know it’s O.K. to stop and offer you help or accept your help.
    As our area has more and more folks move out for their little piece of heaven, I think they forget, that they are part and parcel of that heaven. They need to slow down, be patient as the farm implements are moved from one field to another, greet their neighbors (car wave) even if their neighbor isn’t immediately next door.
    As roads get larger and traffic moves faster it’s not practical to wave at everyone although I do lift my hand in front of the rear view mirror to thank other drivers who show courtesy as we move from lane to lane on our busy thoroughfares. Otherwise, I’m usually a 4 finger waver, forefinger standing tall, other fingers at various phases of attention or relaxation for oh so many different reasons. I also always try to look the driver in the eye, smile, and nod at the same time – it just seems more personal, although I may never get to meet that driver in person, I want them to know “You aren’t alone out here; I’m here for you”.

  • Reply
    DAna WAll
    May 3, 2018 at 9:29 am

    I grew up in an Iowa community claiming about 100,000 people. We kids only waved when we met someone we knew. I visited my grandparents often. They lived in a farm community of a few thousand people, all of whom they knew, at least by sight if not by name. Grandma never drove. But Grandpa did, and always raised his fingers from the wheel at every vehicle he met. When we first retired, we moved to a rural home on a Nebraska lake. Our nearest town held 810 people. We all waved. I noticed there was what seemed like a pecking order. Truckers barely acknowledged a wave, and seemed never to be first to lift a finger or hand when I drove our car. That included pick-up drivers as well as eighteen wheelers. When I drove our Jeep, however, I received trucker waves, often first.

  • Reply
    Papaw Ammons
    May 3, 2018 at 9:26 am

    I wave at everyone I make eye contact with on the road unless they are in such a rush that they are past me before I can even move a finger. If my window is down and my arm is out I use the full hand wave even go so far as to move my hand back and forth. If I am in the truck and the other person is outside and looking toward me I always wave. If it is someone I know well I will tap the horn and wave if they look. My truck is rather loud so I get a lot of looks which necessitates a lot of waving.
    Lise should make an addendum to her treatise on Southern Appalachian greetings. It is the pinky smart phone wave. That is were someone feels a compulsion to wave but is gripping the steering wheel with one hand and the phone with the other and since their phone hand is the dominant hand and they are not coordinated enough to give the four finger wave with the steering hand they, in fear of dropping an $800.00 iPhone, will only dare raise their pinky.
    There is one more finger gesture I will mention. It is not so much a greeting as a warning. That is when you wag one pointer finger then point back across your shoulder. That has one specific meaning where I come from. YOU BETTER SLOW DOWN! THERE IS A COP SITTING JUST AROUND THAT NEXT CURVE!

    • Reply
      Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
      May 3, 2018 at 1:10 pm

      Oh, for the “cop around the next bend,” I use a light flash and the ol’ horizontal cutting across the throat motion. Even folks up here seem to get the drift.

  • Reply
    May 3, 2018 at 9:12 am

    My dearest friend lived next door to me on a dead end street, just off one of the busiest highways in Louisville. Our street was a dirt lane where we all knew each other and waved as we passed in the car or when someone was outside their home. When I moved to the country, my friend came to visit often. She said it’s easy to know you are leaving the city when people you pass wave at you. I call it “throwing your hand up.”

  • Reply
    Ginger Hubbard
    May 3, 2018 at 8:26 am

    I’m a waver!!! I get that from my sweet little daddy, he does the one finger hello (not the middle one) while I prefer the four finger wave (thumb under the steering wheel and four fingers prominently displayed:)

    I must say I get some strange looks sometimes as the southern wave is lost on some people

  • Reply
    jim keller
    May 3, 2018 at 8:14 am

    Tipper, I guess it must be a southern thing. My wife’s relatives from Michigan came to visit recently and that was one of the first things they commented on. Just something I have always done without thinking about it.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    May 3, 2018 at 7:59 am

    There are bunch of folks – some fine citizens and some maybe not – who live out the road from Susan and me. Our house is 128 years old, so when I can, I wave to folks who drive by. Just yesterday, I was a six-year old boy walking to school. Today, I’m the longest-term resident on Stanley Black Hill. I’m not sure if waving at them as they drive by when I’m working out in the garden does any good. Only God knows. But, I reckon, it doesn’t hurt.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 3, 2018 at 7:59 am

    I am not a consistent waver. But I am delighted when I am traveling and folks wave. We were in upper east TN last week and on the backroads at least those folks wave.

    Many years ago now I worked all over the Tennessee River watershed. In one place I regretably cannot now remember, the folks just could not pass without waving. Some of them would wait until the last seconds, as if they would not. But they couldn’t do it. Just you met them – they waved.

    I’ll say this. If I were looking for a place to move to, I would not want tobmove to a place where nobody waved.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 3, 2018 at 7:55 am

    Tip, an extension to the car wave there is the no car wave and the toot. Now the no car wave is when I’m in my yard working and someone drives by and waves. Do I know them, no, but a lot wave when I’m out working in the yard. Yes, I wave back, I try to be friendly.
    Then there is the toot. Pap never drove by my house without tooting the car horn. This was whether I was outside or inside. It was so sweet. I imagined that he was saying ” Hi, glad you live here with us now!” Paul carries on this tradition for Pap, it’s so nice!
    I love living here where people are so friendly! It’s the mountain way.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    May 3, 2018 at 7:26 am

    Love the wave….I wave at everyone I pass on my road. I try to smile at everyone I meet going in and out of stores and passing on the sidewalk.
    Mother always said try to be the person that makes someone smile not the one who makes them want to take up drinking.

  • Reply
    Sheryl A. Paule
    May 3, 2018 at 7:16 am

    I miss the car wave here where I live. Growing up everyone nodded or waved at a passing car. Also pulling over for a funeral procession has passed. Pedestrians would also stop and take of their hats as one passed by. No more. I love my time in NC just to see the kindness.

  • Reply
    May 3, 2018 at 5:42 am

    Me and 4 others are the most hated guys at the power company, I’m in the collections dept now, and when we pull up most time it’s not gonna be a good day.

  • Reply
    May 3, 2018 at 4:44 am

    That was a lot to take in, and we just got so used to it that we never really realized there were patterns to waves. I don’t see much of this anymore living close to town. I do remember the friendly acknowledgement on the curvy mountain road where my parents lived, and it just seems another tradition is being lost.

    Something I have noticed is the lack of smiling since I now live some of the time in the city. In my own neck of the woods everybody is really polite, and no matter the age most men will hold the door for a lady. Also, many folks smile in passing in the grocery store. It would seem with all that smiling and holding doors it would be difficult to shop for your groceries. However, those pleasantries are so much a part of life that they just come naturally as one goes about their day. In the city quite different, and if I smile about half look at me as though I have two heads. Rush rush and hurry seems to be the only way they can manage all the stress. But, that is okay, as I have lived in cities before. As a young woman I found it troubling, but now that I am older I understand them more.

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