17 April 2013


Steve waving at you
I was driving home today along our little country road, about one kilometer from the highway to my house. It's a popular road with people going for walks - not that it's a particularly interesting road, just sort of straightish and flattish, wending its way through orchards and houses on largish lots, some pretty, some not-so-pretty (I'll give you three guesses which category my yard falls under. No, not that one.). Actually, looking to your right, as you walk northwards, you see the lake. I guess that's pretty spectacular, all right, so it probably accounts for the popularity of the road.

Anyway, point being: I was driving home. And there were people walking on the side of the road. So I waved a greeting at them. It's what we do, us country folk - we greet people who walk on our road. When I was a bike-riding teenager in the countryside of the Bavarian Alps, I used to take fiendish delight in startling poor unsuspecting tourists, hiking along the roadside, by shouting a cheerful "Grüss Gott!" at them as I whizzed past on my bike. You see, being city folk, out in the country on holiday, they weren't used to being greeted by strangers; in the city you stare straight in front of you and avoid eye contact. So being said hello to always made them jump. It was quite amusing.

But around here, people aren't as jumpy, so it's not actually for entertainment value I greet them. I just do it for ordinary country-folk friendliness. So there was one stranger with her dog, and I waved at her as I passed. And then there was another one, stepping out with a brisk exercisey kind of stride, and I gave her the same wave. She waved back at me, and then I recognised her: she was a neighbour, someone I know by name and like to talk to. But by then I had already passed her, and could no longer amend my wave.

Because, you see, there are different kinds of greetings. There's the ordinary for-anyone greeting, a generic wave, just a lift of the hand or, if you're on foot yourself, a "HE-llo!" or "GOOD morning!", called out in a cheerful sort of voice that says you don't know this person, but isn't it a nice day and you hope they're enjoying their walk. Sometimes the from-inside-the-car wave amounts to a kind of Albrecht-Dürer-ish hand signal - I don't even raise my whole hand, just the first two fingers, and the thumb and remaining two fingers form a little ring below them. (Pax vobiscum, my children.)

 And then there's the I-recognize-you-as-my-friend kind of greeting. On foot and verbally, that's a "Oh hi, [insert name of person if you know it]!" said energetically (with a higher pitch on the "hi"). It means "I recognize you and am glad to see you, personally". The from-inside-the-car equivalent is an energetic wave - your hand has to waggle back and forth at least a couple of times, with the express purpose of making sure the other person has seen you and your wave and knows they've been acknowledged. Usually they'll waggle right back

I think my friend today recognized me before I did her; I'm pretty sure I got the more enthusiastic wave from her. But that's okay. Next time I see her, I can wave at her extra-energetically, so it'll be evened out again. Or perhaps a special emphasis on the "HI!" if the encounter is verbal?

Life, the Universe, and the Fine Art of Roadside Greetings. How're you doing today?

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