Sunday, July 13, 2014

On Waving

A charming niece of Paul's got married this spring and moved to the Midwest where, she says, summers are not like summers in Oregon.  There is humidity, she says.  And mosquitoes.  And it doesn't cool off at night.

Anyone who has lived in both places is aware of the unbelievable perfection of Oregon summers.  Sunny, dry, well-behaved.  Largely mosquito-free.  So reliably rain-free that people leave their car and bedroom windows open all summer.  And when they go on a road trip to the Midwest, they have unpleasant surprises when they get in their car in the morning after a midnight thundershower.

However.  There's one thing very right about the Midwest, summer or winter, and that is waving.

I don't know how it is in cities, but in rural areas you wave at everyone.  Say you're driving to town for some Atrazine or Purina pig chow.  You wave at the guy out mowing his lawn, and at every driver you meet on the road.  If the guy on a tractor is within reasonable sight, you wave at him too.  You wave at the people on the sidewalk.

[Edited to add:  Maybe I should clarify that I know this is true for Minnesota and Oklahoma, so I use the term "Midwest."  But it might not apply at all points between and beside.]

In Oregon, you wave only if you know people.  In fact, waving at everybody is considered odd at best and boldly invitational at worst.

Maybe not everyone in Oregon is like this, but I learned from my mother-in-law, who feels strongly enough about it that she once got in the car and drove down the road to correct little Matt, who was walking from Grandma's house to the warehouse and waving at all the trucks going by.

She implied that waving in such a way sends a message you don't want to send.  Waving at truck drivers was somehow more dangerous than waving at people in smaller vehicles.

However, like I said, you ARE supposed to wave at people you know, no matter what they're driving.  I keep getting into Awkward Moments with waving and its social expectations.

1. The Itchy Eyebrow.  I'm driving along and what looks like Bonnie's blue minivan is coming the other way, so I wave and smile and ... oops!  It's definitely not Bonnie, so I quickly scratch my eyebrow and/or adjust the mirror.

Sometimes it's worse.  Recently I was driving to town and saw Simone in her car at her in-laws' place, and in the field right next to them was a big yellow combine growling along, and I very quickly extrapolated that Simone must have dropped off her daughter Dolly, who is driving their new combine--didn't they buy a Case?-- this year despite some physical challenges, and that must be her out there, how cool is that, yay for her, the brave little thing, and so I smiled hugely and waved happily and exaggeratedly, and then I saw through the dust that it was most definitely not Dolly but someone much bigger, older, and maler.  Who I hoped couldn't recognize me.

2. ABCDEFG, Someone is Ignoring Me.  Often I'm driving along and I don't recognize an oncoming vehicle--or I'm too zoned out to look--and right at the last second I suddenly see that it's... Arlene!!  And it's too late to wave, so I look both oblivious and rude.

Some people are nice about this and some are actually offended.  "Hey, I met your husband on 228 yesterday and he never looked at me or waved."
"Uh, yeah, well he had a lot on his mind.  I'm so sorry."

3. Did She Or Didn't She? [Only her hairdresser knows for sure.]  Well, I guess this probably happens in the Midwest as well and is just as awkward.  I'm biking along Substation Drive in the pleasant summer eve and there's a combine in the field by Milford and Susie's, so I'm sure the driver is someone I know, so I need to wave.  I wave and the bike wobbles.  But it's dusty enough and the sun is just right so I can't see if the driver saw me and waved back.  What to do?  I don't want to be all oblivious and rude, so I wave again a hundred feet down the road.  I still can't tell, so I wave again.  Then I turn around by the bridge and repeat the same thing on the way home.

4.  The Rude Returner.  I go back to the Midwest for a visit and run into town with my brother.  He waves at everyone with a forefinger that pops up automatically from the steering wheel like a spring-loaded flag.  I do not.  He is taken aback at how I've lost my manners.  In the grocery store, everyone I meet in the aisles looks at me and says hi, a custom that is just as important as waving.  The first two times, I jump and almost shriek.  Then I think, Ah, I'm back in the Midwest.  Where they get the humidity and mosquitoes wrong, but where they get a lot of things right.

Wouldn't that simplify things to have a single rule: Always Wave at Everyone If You're Driving.  And Say Hi To Everyone If You're Not.

Quote of the Day:
"Oh dear.  I'm gonna be a terrible mom.  The cats were looking at me with these big pleading eyes and I'm like, 'You have food.  You have water.  DEAL with it.'"


  1. I grew up in a little town on the Oregon coast. My grandparents lived 20 miles inland, in a very tiny little town that had a nice, country feel to it. When I'd go stay with them (1980s/early 1990s), I'd always notice that everyone waved at each other. When I visit my grandma now, I've noticed that no one waves at each other and the area has undergone a change of sorts. People have passed away or moved away, and an influx of Californians have come in. No one waves at each other. My grandma hardly knows anyone now. When I went to visit this spring, one of the last remaining "old timers" was out on his ride-on lawn mower. We waved at each other. It felt being a kid again in the 1980s/1990s. Sadly, a few days later, he passed away. Thanks for your post. It really brought back memories for me.

  2. in response to the quote of the day - i tell my cat all the time to be content with such things as you have.

    if you meet a young man by the name of Vernon King, who is out helping with harvest (not sure on exactly what) he's my brother. he likes your part of the world, but i hope not too much, cause we'd rather have him around here.

  3. You can add Iowa to your list of places where waving is a way of life. I'm trying to adjust to life in the East. This did my heart good!

  4. When I moved to Oregon to attend college, the incoming freshmen were told that the campus had a policy of greeting each person with a "hello", stranger or not. It felt uncomfortable to me at first to speak to strangers, but I did it because I was a rule follower. Forty years later I still greet most people I pass on the street with a hello. Most people respond, but some do not.

  5. You may like SC then where we are somewhere in the middle!

  6. I live in Spokane, WA. Even in the 'rural' areas around here, we wave; however, not in the city (unless it is someone you know). Montana is a waving state as well :-)

  7. Your single rule is great. When biking I wave at everyone, because each person is just that...a person; and needs to be recognized as such. In other words, each person is more than a fence post and precious in the sight of God. Louise

  8. When biking I wave at every person. Why? Because they ARE a person and not a fence post. Precious are they in the sight of God. Louise