The Car Wave Hello

Today’s guest post was written by Lise. She and her husband recently moved to the mountains of western NC to live a simpler life. Lise has a blog: Lise’s Log Cabin Life where she documents their journey.

Driving down country roads


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!

Do you practice a “Car Wave Hello”?


I hope you enjoyed Lise’s guest post as much as I did. I love how she noticed something I’ve totally taken for granted my entire life. It makes me smile to know how much thought she’s given to the various waves of her neighbors-and how much pleasure she takes in them.

It also makes me laugh cause its all so true. I swear Pap is in such a habit of waving I’ve seen him wave at cows. And if you’re wondering Pap is the one finger wave. Me-hmmm I think I vary between the finger wave for folks I don’t know personally and the opposite hand wave for those I do.



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  • Reply
    Maggie Roberts
    January 31, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    The car wave still happens in rural Missouri. As a teenager I knew everyone waved, and then I moved to the city, where no one even looked at you, let alone wave at you. When I moved back to my home town, the first thing I noticed, was that the wave was still being done. Every car that passes. And they usually know who you are and probably where you are going.

  • Reply
    April 30, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    I grew up in NW Alabama and the one finger wave was common practice when I was growing up, sometimes accompanied by the head nod. It is second nature to me when I go back there, but I never do it where I live in the city. Funny how those things become so common-place one never thinks twice about it, but then someone is with you and comments on it. That happened recently with my son, who has been visiting from his home of 12 years, California. He has now perfected the wave to show his friends when he goes back. Nothing wrong with passing on the friendliness!

  • Reply
    Laura @ Laura Williams' Musings
    April 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    You sure you haven’t been in my neck of the woods?
    I grew up in an area that the car wave was very common and just a part of driving.
    Where I live now, the car wave still happens but I have noticed not everyone does it. I also know that there are a lot of people up here on the mountain from out of state as well as from down in the cities.
    I used to see older people stop in the road to talk to one another and if a car came up behind them, that car didn’t honk; they sat there and let them talk til they were done and then went on.

  • Reply
    April 20, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    We wave at neighbors coming and going on our road, whether we’re in the car or in the yard, but I can’t think of a time when we’ve waved to someone we pass driving down the road.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Bobby C
    April 20, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Tipper, good post. I can remember two humorous instances regarding the “Car Wave”.
    We always did it when I was growing up, so it was only logical that I would do it when I reached driving age. It was Spring of ’84 and I had just picked up my date for the Senior Prom. We knew each other from school, but this was our “real” first date. After picking her up at home, we were driving to a nearby town where the prom was being held and she asked, “Do you know everybody that we meet?” I said, “No, why?” She then asked why I have to wave my finger at every car we pass. Needless to say that was our first date…and last date too. 🙂
    About two years ago, a local paper reporter did a story on “the wave”. Trying to be humorous, his tongue in cheek title for the article was, “I got the Finger”. He went on discuss how someone gave him the finger wave over the weekend and how you just don’t see that much anymore. The following week in the “Letters to the Editor” section of the paper, a lady had written in to say she was canceling her subscription to the paper because they printed such an article. Obviously she either didn’t read the article at all…or she just didn’t get it. Must have moved in from the city. 🙂

  • Reply
    April 20, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Thank you Lise, for a very enjoyable read about a very nice custom!
    Drivers don’t wave around here, unless they know you or are giving you the right-of-way at a four way stop. But then I live just south of Ohio’s Connecticut Western Reserve, and Yankees just aren’t the friendly sort.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    April 20, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Lise, I loved your story & I’m so happy your new neighbors have taught you the wave. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to your mountain road & it won’t be long before you have a hand waving out the window!

  • Reply
    Darlene Debty Kimsey
    April 19, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    This was so good! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything written about it. It made me smile and remember the time we hade 4H visitors from Montana and I was trying to explain the car wave to them 🙂

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    April 19, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    and Lise thanks for a great post..
    We have a wave of sorts here…
    After turning off the state hwy onto our county road there are two bad curves…Someone has to stop, unless both have very small cars….
    The wave goes like this….(now then if it is one of the neighbors this a given and no wave needed except the “howdy wave”) Put up a hand with open 5 fingers just before you hit, that is the “hold on a minute” wave…Then close yore fingers, push yore hand forward to indicate “you shore better stop wave”…(but do this while you’re smiling!) Take the other hand off the wheel, and motion while still holding the “stop hand” up, with the other hand motion that either you will scoot over or that he has to scoot over since he has more room thus making a little upsidedown broom sweeping scoot over move..still smiling…This usually works…to avoid a head-on or a dip in the ditch…LOL Sometimes you will get an arrogant driver that thinks hie duley will pass beside a Mack truck and you have to just hold up both hands, make a cross sign, pray to Jesus and hope for the best….LOL

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    April 19, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    so funny to think of things that you do .. without thinking it had a name to it .. lol we do the car wave here in swpa… and its usually at a four way stop or something .. and i am like you tipper… i do the two hands on the steering wheel and the four finger wave.. my daughters call me mrs. magoo.. heh
    anyways… happy to see spring is making its way and the trees are leafing out.. forsythia blooming .. and bees buzzin..
    hope all have a wonderful weekend..
    sending big ladybug hugs

  • Reply
    April 19, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    Doesn’t seem like as many folks wave like they used too. Guess thy’re too busy talking on cell phones. When I’m not watching how others are driving and I can relax a little I still throw up a hand to wave.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    April 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    have always loved the car wave or the solemn nod from someone’s porch, yard or field. Makes you happy.

  • Reply
    Shirley Owens
    April 19, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    I was very happy to find that the hand wave is practiced here in the florida panhandle. I wasn’t sure how friendly folks would be when we moved here. But I know for certain with the first wave exchange that I had moved from the mountains to the right place in Florida. It’s just like home.
    Y’all come back now y’hear.

  • Reply
    April 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Years ago a neighbor (who had moved to our country life) from Kansas City, asked me about the wave thing. Funny thing, she even noticed people hanging clothes on a line and then she asked aobut people getting their water from a cistern. City folks!
    And thanks for a new blog to read. I’m an addcited to blogs!

  • Reply
    Brenda S "Okie in Colorado"
    April 19, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Thank you Lise for the great post. I grew up in small town Oklahoma and eveyone waved whether they knew you or not. My Grandpa always waved at everyone. He used the pointer finger or 4 finger wave with his hand still on the wheel. Sometimes with a nod. When my husband, who was born and raised in California, goes back to Oklahoma with me to visit, he always chuckles at how sweet and friendly everyone is there. If you did this here in Colorado, they would wonder what was wrong with you. I’m very friendly and love to talk to people. I’ve lived here about 12 1/2 years and people still can’t figure out why I smile and talk to them, a perfect stranger. Kinda sad, huh? Lise, keep wavin’.

  • Reply
    Jen Y
    April 19, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    We wave here too – all of the above.
    When my son was in middle school we drove to the ‘big’ city of Rogers, Arkansas once a week for music lessons. He noticed that few if anyone ever waved once we got so close to town. So he made it his goal to get people to wave at him. Of course some people just saw an obnoxious middle schooler with a goofy smile & ignored him. But if we both smiled & waved we almost always got a confused response like – ‘do I know you?’
    It is funny when we’re close to home & you see strangers from out of town who just don’t get it(we get a lot of tourists from all over the world here).

  • Reply
    Paul Certo
    April 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    I worked with a guy from WVa who grew up waving at everyone he saw driving. After he came to Cleveland, he sorta got out of the habit, as Cleveland drivers don’t typically observe such courtesies. He married a local girl, and took her to meet his family in Wva, and reverted to the hand wave. She remarked at how amazed she was that he knew so many people! He and I did a lot of camping in Pennsylvania, and it was the same in rural areas there, every driver waves at every one they meet on the road. He was right at home.

  • Reply
    April 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    I’d like to welcome Lisa to the
    mountains. “The Wave” post she
    shared was something refreshing
    and new cause most of us just
    take it for granite. Sometimes
    you meet a nut who uses the wrong
    finger, and I just figure he’s
    telling me I’m his number 1…Ken

  • Reply
    susie swanson
    April 19, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    The wave is famous around these parts but I agree there are several different waves..some I haven’t figured out yet but this post helped to explain them a little better…I can be sitting on my porch and I live on the road and people come by and wave all the time..I don’t know them but I always wave back..Thanks for the post.

  • Reply
    April 19, 2012 at 11:12 am

    A lot of people wave here if you’re in the country…not so much in town unless they know you. There are a lot of Amish south and east of town, so when you see a horse and buggy coming toward you..You have time to get your smile and wave ready…They always wave.

  • Reply
    s kalvaitis
    April 19, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Really enjoyed Lise’s blog. Being still pretty new to these beautiful mountains there are still many things I am trying to figure out. One of them was why total strangers are waving at me when I drive. Wish she were on FB.

  • Reply
    April 19, 2012 at 9:39 am

    PS When I see you Tipper, you are going to get a new wave – “the full arm flapping out the window with a big nod and a smile” wave!!!

  • Reply
    April 19, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Thank you all for your thoughtful welcomes and comments, and for your visits to my blog! Tipper, thank you for posting this, a real picker upper for my blog:)
    This guest post and your interest is yet another example of what I love about these mountains! As Bill mentioned everyone being family around here, even if I don’t end up with 3 generations of my family that settle here, I feel like everyone is some degree of family…so much sincere kindness and empathy…this is the place to be for me!!!

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    April 19, 2012 at 9:17 am

    The wave has always been a part of my driving habits, but I agree it depends on where you are and the type of road on which you’re driving. Thanks for sharing it Lise.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    April 19, 2012 at 9:10 am

    I have been out of Appalachia for a long time, and I don’t do the car wave because it isn’t particularly encouraged here in South Florida. When I return to the mountains in retirement next year, I will have to be retrained. Lise’s very entertaining article will really help me remember all the nuances and etiquette of the car wave hello.

  • Reply
    April 19, 2012 at 9:02 am

    My friend and her family lived in the city and used to come visit me every weekend. The kids always thought it was the coolest thing to count how many drivers waved at them. My parents never called it a wave. They would say, “I don’t know who that was that throwed their hand up.”

  • Reply
    Pam Moore
    April 19, 2012 at 8:54 am

    I learned the “wave” in the Ozarks. Must have something to do with altitude.

  • Reply
    April 19, 2012 at 8:49 am

    We do this quite often, maybe it’s a small town thing! I sometimes find myself thinking too hard and won’t notice a friend waving until they let me know I didn’t even look and wave back! I went over and checked out Lises blog too this morning. Nice to have new blog friends!

  • Reply
    April 19, 2012 at 8:44 am

    i wigggle all four fingers with hand on wheel and the nod i do a lot. but down here, with the traffic we have, there is not much waving going on except the one finger we dont want. i never do that one, but it is common. not friendly like where you are. i really enjoyed this post.

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    April 19, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Out here on the edge of the plains, you see pretty much the same series of waves that Lise mentions, but only when you get away from the bigger towns. I’d say that the one-finger wave predominates.

  • Reply
    April 19, 2012 at 8:35 am

    Love it! Am heading over to check out her blog as well.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    April 19, 2012 at 8:21 am

    Back in my late teens, it would have been completely uncool and sissy for a teenage boy to wave to another teenage boy. The proper salutation was to throw your head back (raise your chin) at the other feller. Waving at a girl was the accepted protocol, though.
    As for keeping two hands on the wheel, there’ll be some folks here who remember the three hand signals for left turn, right turn, and stop. Those same folks will remember a time when it was especially important to use them – when you took your driver’s license test.
    But I also bet you there are some readers who don’t know them.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 19, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Yep, we do all that, we’re a friendly people. I live in a residential area of a small town. As I drive down the road folks out in their yard are apt to wave or “throw up their hand” as I’ve heard it called all my life.
    So much of life is now sterile and distant and just one little wave brings life and warmth.
    We suthuners are a warm friendly people, y’all come back now!
    Thanks Lise.

  • Reply
    April 19, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Part of the year we live in an adult over 55 community where you wave to all coming in and going out. It is a rather interesting concept, but we participate. Who knows – maybe we might meet a new friend.

  • Reply
    Jenifer Mullis
    April 19, 2012 at 7:59 am

    I moved from Wisconsin to NC more than 28 years ago, but even before that, our family vacationed often at Lake Toxaway, and one of the very first things we noticed was how everyone waved from their cars.And yes, on those curvy mountain roads, it took some practice before we could return the wave. I’m glad to say that I am a regular waver, using many of the mentioned styles, because it’s just a friendly thing to do.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    April 19, 2012 at 7:58 am

    Good observations, Lise, and welcome to our mountains! You’ve done a fine job of observing and describing our waves. Like Tipper, I had not given the “types” much thought–but you’re right-on to how we say hello while traveling here! My late great husband was a good example of the “meet and greet” type with for his friendly manner reached out to everyone, friend and stranger alike. I get a lot of pleasure in the hand-wave, but find that here in Middle Georgia where I live now, the wave is not returned very often, unless the person in the other car recognizes me. (Even though I’m out of the mountains, the mountains and our ways willl never be out of me!)

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    April 19, 2012 at 7:55 am

    I am generally a one finger(pointer of course) and a head nod waver unless I recognize a friend then I go with the four finger or jokingly shake my fist. Like Pap I was raised acknowledging everyone and didn’t realize this wasn’t the custom in other places until a friend of mine moved from Gaston Co. and went to work on the Police Department. We were working one Saturday and everyone we met was waving in some fashion, my friend was driving and not being used to the mountain custom commented; ” these are the wavingest folks I’ve ever seen, I think I’ll buy one of the hands which sticks by means of a suction cup to the windshield and waves automatically.” I laughed and asked him if folks in Gaston County didn’t wave at Police Officers. He advised me that some did but most of them just waved with the middle finger. Once again I was proud to be from Applachia where almost everyone is genuinely friendly. Later when I started doing some genealogical research I came up with possible reason for this custom, in small populations like Swain County odds are that the majority of those you meet are related to you either by blood or marriage and often both. I don’t know for a fact that this is the reason for the friendliness but it’s a possibility. If Lise’s family continues to live and marry in the area for about three generations they will be from “around here” and realize how true this theory is.

  • Reply
    Sherie Rowe
    April 19, 2012 at 7:54 am

    I love the waving, smiling, friendliness of Appalachia and the South in general! I’m not sure why outsiders think it’s weird, except that they must be so caught up in their own little worlds that there is no real sense of friendliness to strangers. Anyway, this is me with the full wave AND a head nod & smile!

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    April 19, 2012 at 7:18 am

    Here in the Ozarks, the ‘wave’ is still practiced. Maybe not in as many forms as Lise describes, but most of the drivers on our 2 lane roads do wave or nod.
    It always seems odd to me when we go somewhere else, we will be doing the coureous wave to passing drivers, who tend to look at us like we have lost our minds.
    One ‘wave’ that has fallen out of fashion in recent years is the ‘down point wave’ an extended forefinger pointing toward the roadway, indicating there is either a problem with your vehicle or something on the road ahead to be aware of.

  • Reply
    Gorges Smythe
    April 19, 2012 at 6:54 am

    I guess it says something about where I live thatI knew exactly what she was talking about. I’m sorry to say, though, that my neighborhood has been invaded by city-slickers who ignore you as they try to run you off the road. Now, those waves are a sort of secret fraternal sign between those of us who remember the old days.

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    April 19, 2012 at 6:04 am

    I have heard a lot of folks that come from other parts of the country talk about folks down here are so friendly, whether it be passing vehicles or just speaking as you meet each other in the store, and it is chocking for us to go North of the border because for some reason those folks don’t do that there. Reminds me of the time they came out with the movie The Beverly Hill Billys and Granny went out to California and learned the California Howdy, or that is what she thought it was, we call it shooting someone the “Bird”. Folks are just not as friendly as we Southerners…

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 19, 2012 at 5:43 am

    Howdy, Sister Lise! Good work! Today’s guest post was another goodin. I never thought about how an outsider, trying to become assimilated into mountain ways, would have to learn to wave. I have and continue to use all the waves depending on the terrain and the weather. If the road is fairly straight and its warm and sunny my arm will be out the window. So the other driver gets a Full Wave, a nod and a smile.
    The only time I don’t wave is on one of those pig trail roads so crooked that the next car you meet might be you coming back.

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