Saturday, September 8, 2012

Doing the Wave

In small towns in the South, they wave.  At cars, at people walking, at joggers, at bikers, whether they're walking or driving.  (A friend here tells me that you drive with one hand at the 12 o'clock position to facilitate a casual wave that doesn't require you to take your hand off the wheel.)  It doesn't matter whether they know you or not, they wave to you.

Only sometimes they don't.  And sometimes they say, "How ya doin'?" and other times they look at you funny if you say anything.

As an outsider, I have spent the last several weeks attempting to figure out the rules: when do you wave, when do you not wave, and when do you actually say hello?

Here are my preliminary findings, subject to revision upon further field research:

When not to wave:
- When you are walking and the car approaching you is going more than 35 miles an hour.
- When you are driving and the pedestrian you're passing has his or her hands full, making the obligatory reciprocal wave more inconvenient than it's worth.
- When there is an obstruction, like a crepe myrtle tree, between you and your potential waving partner.
- When you're driving in a town big enough to have more than two stoplights, or more than one elementary school.

When not to say hello:
- When you are driving with your windows up and they can't hear you anyway (duh).
- When you are walking and the person you pass is farther than 20 feet away (for instance, folks sitting on a porch when you pass by their lawn).

Circumstances that oblige one to wave regardless of the factors above:
- If you have made eye contact.
- If you think you might have made eye contact.
- If you are the only two people in sight.
- If the person has a baby or dog in tow (usually requires additional complimentary comment).

Circumstances that oblige one to say hello:
- If you pass each other on a sidewalk, or in any scenario that brings you within 5 feet of one another.
- If the other person says hello first.  (Note: "How ya doin'?" is not a question.  The proper response is either "Good morning" or "How ya doin'?" which, in turn, does not receive an answer.)
- If you know the person.  In this case, crepe myrtle or no, you stop and say hi, even if it's raining or you're running late.

Emendations and suggestions are welcome.  The 20-foot rule for obligatory vocal greeting is still very much in the experimentation stage.  Porch-sitting produces a very complex social situation completely foreign to northerners, who might have porches but who never use them.