The Power of a Wave

25 07 2011

While traveling to Alberta to a family reunion last week, my wife and I noticed on our long drive that all motorcyclists wave to each other in a unique way. It’s not actually a wave as much as a quasi-open-palmed, “low-5” gesture – but without the contact. The hand never extends above the handlebar plane. And more than that, hog riders don’t seem to exert any extra energy beyond their left arms – no eye contact, no neck movement . . . well maybe a smile, but ultimately the hand disengages from the handlebar in a lazy cadence, the low wave gesture is made and then returned again in a smooth motion like nothing ever happened. These guys and girls are the ultimate in cool and I’ve noticed that the peculiar greeting is reserved only for others in the bike fraternity.

I should know. I tried to wave back at them in this way from the confines of my vehicle, but to no avail.

How come no one told me of this style of greeting for 2-wheelers before? Do truck drivers and scooter riders have such a deep affinity for one another that they too have a common acknowledgement? And why do we even wave anyway? Who invented that?

My curiosity led me to uncover that in ancient times, people would wave to each other to show the one they are greeting that their hands are free from weaponry. These days, it’s a universal peaceful greeting and a gesture of friendliness. On the rest of our trip, I deliberately began noticing how people wave to each other, I took stock of the types of waves that I’ve seen (and given) and with the help of some others, came up with a few other reasons for waving:

a) the “Your Welcome” wave you give when you let someone merge in front of you. The mystery driver is grateful to you and they give you highway payment because they know that you’ll be arriving at your destination one car length later because you let them in.

b) the “Red Light Squeeze” wave. This one needs a bit of explanation, but we’ve all been on the receiving end of this scenario: You pull up to a red light and the guy in front of you squeezes into the intersection an inch at a time so that you can make your right turn faster. Pure joy. As you pull up to make your move, it’s time to thank that special someone  for shaving 2o seconds off your travel time.

c) the “Pre-wave” as in, I’m thanking you because the front of my mini van is already pointed into your traffic-jammed lane and I know that you see me so please just let me in. Sure, you can try to avoid eye-contact, but that wouldn’t be friendly at all. Besides, I’m determined to Pre-wave you to build up some motorist goodwill.

d) the “Apology” wave. Although this looks similar to the Thank-You wave, don’t be fooled. The Apology wave is usually accompanied by a big grimmace instead of an eyebrow raise. So the next time you almost sideswipe a fellow traveler because your attention was diverted trying to recover a french fry that fell into your lap, be sure to offer a heartfelt Apology wave.

e) And finally, the “Go-Ahead” wave – my absolute favorite. You know the one. You roll up to a four-way stop at exactly the same time as another car and you (in your state of motorist generosity) decide to let them proceed first. Maybe it’s a sweet old lady barely peeking over the wheel or maybe you just want to avoid the world’s slowest car accident. Either way, you give them the most pleasant, open-palmed Go-Ahead wave, which is sort of how the pretty ladies on The Price Is Right unveil a new washer and dryer set.

I’ve noticed that proper courtesy-wave etiquette keeps the non-verbal, two-way talking alive on our streets and highways and prevents mayhem from ruling the motorways. So when you do something generous, keep watch for a wave and when your needing a highway favour, be sure to give the acceptable hand gesture – in the form of an appropriate wave.

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