Hooniverse Asks- Do You Expect the Courtesy Wave?

courtesy wave
Let’s say you’re cruising down the freeway, traffic’s a little heavy and there’s someone with their signal on, dutifully waiting for an opportunity to merge into your lane to make a quickly approaching transition. Being the attentive type, and respecting their use of proper signaling, you ease up on the gas to create a space for them, which they quickly enter. Then comes the moment that might just make or break your whole day: the courtesy wave. Sure enough, you see through the other car’s back window a hand go up and a quick wave of thanks. Phew.
Or maybe you don’t and it doesn’t matter to you, you just move on with your life. Our society is structured on such common courtesies. They act like the glue that holds us together, lest we kill one another out of frustration over minor slights. What’s your take on the courtesy wave, is that still both a nicety, and an important unwritten contract between drivers? Or, is it a legacy of a more genteel but long bygone era?
Image: beautybybeccarod

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  1. PotbellyJoe★★★★★ Avatar

    In NJ you don’t really let people in unless it’s clear that it wasn’t their fault that they are in the wrong lane. Therefore if a window goes down and a hand comes out of it, I’m not expecting a thank you.
    To be fair, we are fairly judicious at merges where you go every other car from each lane. If someone screws it up, they are more times than not a teenager, a New Yorker, or trying to get ahead of the person from Pennsylvania.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      I’ve had several educational experiences in slow moving traffic where people wouldn’t want to let me merge in the righteous, principal way of (one from this lane, one from that lane). It always helps to be the one who is not afraid of getting marks and dings on the car.

      1. nanoop Avatar

        Yeah, they are overwhelmed by density, easily. I had people behind me honking because I crawled so slow into the merging area that TWO cars could merge in.
        I suck at hitting an apex, but I am a star when it’s about general average speed of traffic!

  2. Maymar Avatar

    Yes, always. I mean, I try and show a modicum of courtesy if the other driver isn’t obviously either a selfish ass or completely brain-dead, so I get a little irritated if I don’t get the wave back.
    On a quasi-related note, around here, we have a handful of Wendy’s and Tim Hortons integrated into one building – usually with drive-thrus on opposing sides of the building. I was in line for Tims yesterday

    1. mzszsm Avatar

      Oh man I only got a thank wave you yesterday. There was a van leaving a parking spot and cause it was tall I saw that when it left there was a car waiting on the other side. Both that driver and I were unsure who had stopped there to wait first. I asked my wife, he looked to be talking to his wife too, it was sort of awkward. Then I noticed someone a bit behind him and closer to the store entrance turn on the reverse lights and point frantically. He notices, backs-up, and waves. I took the spot I had been waiting for. I was really relieved, my wife thought it was funny, I guess she does war in the parking lots of the midwest more often than me and has thicker skin.

    2. Batshitbox Avatar

      Wendy’s and Tim Hortons integrated into one
      Is that called a Wendy-Ho?

  3. Moparmann Avatar

    While driving my Dad around one day, I let guy in who had been frozen out by a number of drivers in front of me. When he drove off without so much as anything resembling gratitude, I sarcastically said “Well, thank you very much!” My Dad asked me “did you let him out because you wanted him to thank you, or did you let him out because you hope someone would do the same for you?” Looking at it from that perpective changed my whole outlook! Now, if they wave/thanks/or not, I go on my happy way! 🙂

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      Well, that’s a nice attitude, but we humans are communicative in everything we do. The effort necessary to thank someone for this kind of attention is close to zero, it costs nothing. And I’d also interpret a “thank”-wink as a confirmation of: “Yes, I’d do the same for you, fellow driver”.
      Thus, I respectfully disagree.

  4. dukeisduke Avatar

    Well, it depends on whether I’m doing someone a favor, like holding a line of traffic on a two-lane road so an oncoming driver can make a left turn (I do that occasionally) or letting someone out of a parking lot into traffic, versus just not violating the law (like waiting in a line of traffic and not blocking an intersection). I do get annoyed when I do someone a favor and don’t get a wave.

  5. Sjalabais Avatar

    Yes. In the dark times that is the winter, the wave is replaced by one – 1 – blink. Driving a lot on one-lane-roads, courtesy signals when waiting for oncoming traffic are essential.

  6. Vavon Avatar

    The courtesy wave is nice, but I would prefer seeing everyone use these…

    1. JayP Avatar

      If you have your signal on for a lane change, I will let you in.

      1. Tanshanomi Avatar

        You obviously aren’t from Kansas City. Here, for some reason, a flashing turn signal is taken to mean, “Warning!, close up your following distance to less than one car length! Some bastard is trying to butt in line in front of you!”

        1. JayP Avatar

          That happens to me but I drive that dented truck, I’ma coming over anyway.
          When I see a driver bother to use a signal I’ll let them in. I hope to get the same in turn… sometime.

          1. Sjalabais Avatar

            The tiny every day rage behind not letting people in – with turn signals on and everything – is responsible for a sizable chunk of Russian dash cam videos. I just realized I have been watching these for almost five years. Still hooked. Irrational behaviour in traffic like that, including speeding, accounts for the vast majority of these mostly avoidable collisions.

          2. Vavon Avatar

            Same here, and I still wonder if all cars in Russia are capable of warp-speed!

          3. Sjalabais Avatar

            Oh yes! In cities, any Lada can outrun the speed of light. Or a street light, sort of a matter of semantics if your blood alcohol level can be measured with a lighter.

    2. njhoon Avatar

      I am from NJ. What are these? And why are they illuminated?

      1. Vavon Avatar

        It’s kind of a secret wave to indicate you are part of the Illuminati!

  7. Tanshanomi Avatar

    Sometimes, but really only when I am changing lanes on the freeway and somebody in congested traffic makes me a hole. Otherwise, I don’t really care what you do. Either I have to yield to you or you have to yield to me, regardless of what you do with your hands inside the car. No amount of smiling or waving changes the rules of the road.
    Not really part of the question, but I especially hate people who “wave me on” at a four-way stop. Um, NO. If you arrived first, GO, damnit. If we arrived at approximately the same time, the car on the right goes. If you didn’t, sit there and wait (without doing me any perceived favors). That’s the way it has to work, period. What happens when you “wave”, I pull out, then you hit me? All you need to do is say you batting a fly from in front of your face or some such thing, and I’m at fault.
    And don’t get me started on people who stop dead in a proceeding lane traffic to wave a left-hand-turner in front of them. Right-of-way is right-of-way — your dear, kind heart doesn’t change it.

    1. Batshitbox Avatar

      San Franciscans at a 4-way stop is maddening. They’re all competing to be the most laid-back, and so take pride in being able to “hang out for as long as it takes you to decide to go first, I mean, if you want to be all alpha about it and that’s your thing…”
      As a scooter messenger, and a Bostonian, I could read a locked up 4-way from a half block away and sail through it full tilt boogie knowing they’d all be there for a while “abiding”.

      1. dead_elvis Avatar

        Same deal in Seattle. “No, no, you go.” Screw it – I’m from the NE, loved driving in Boston, and logged far too many miles delivery pizza/Chinese food in college to have the patience for that kind of BS. You hesitate? I’m going, while the rest of the wrongly polite dither.

  8. GTXcellent Avatar

    I live in far northern Minnesota – we wave at everyone and everything. All the time. Just because it’s nice to be nice.

      1. Vairship Avatar

        Ah, so THAT’s why they have those funnily-shaped antlers: so that they can use them to give each other a friendly wave!

    1. Drzhivago138 Avatar

      SW MN here–can confirm. See the section on “The Art of Waving” in Howard Mohr’s indispensible “How to Talk Minnesotan.”

  9. LEROOOY Avatar

    No, for the same reason that I no longer expect any sort of lane-keeping discipline. People didn’t learn it when they learned how to drive, and they’re never going to learn it because learning implies progress and/or intellectualism, and people can’t be bothered.
    And that’s why every time a heavy truck gets into the left lane, people try to rush past on the right and are baffled and astonished to discover an obstruction.
    I do give waves though, and getting a wave is so amazing that I wish there was a way to “tag” vehicles, Waze-style in an database that I could review on my commute every day. I could have special highlights for people that are really dumb, but I could also highlight people that are attentive and use radar detectors, or wave.

  10. Drives Dead Marques Avatar
    Drives Dead Marques

    I got a wave this morning, event the 5 finger kind. I was expecting the light to turn green from those turning left coming from the other direction, so it took me off guard when our side turned green for straight, I didn’t notice until the guy nex to me went, so I didn’t sit there forever, but when I looked in the mirror there he was, waving as we pulled away. He eventually passed me on the right (I was going 50 in a 40) and turned left in front of me. I made sure to wave, with 5 fingers, back at him.

  11. alex Avatar

    I try very much to be a courteous driver. With limits. If you use your turn signal, you will almost always get a space from me. Unless you are on your cell phone. Then I would not give you a space if my life depended on it.
    When the courtesy comes my way, I always try to give the wave. I really appreciate it when I get one in return. But, I’ll still give you the spot as long as you’re not on the phone.

  12. Batshitbox Avatar

    I’m indifferent to it in automobiles. I like to give the wave, but don’t expect it in return, sometimes the driver just has too much going on, especially if they have a manual and are making a 90 degree turn.
    It’s the snot nosed Harley Davidson riders that I really reserve my ire for. Motorcyclists always at least raise the fingers on the clutch hand at oncoming bikes. (In the SF BAy area, this means a lot of waving!) But these Hog pilots who always go on about the brotherhood of the road won’t deign to wave at anything non-Harley. Some brotherhood. The animosity started with the WW2 generation, and their bigoted hatred of “The Japs” even after they surrendered. Those guys are in their ’80s now. These younger riders are swimming in Japanese products (Toyota, Sony,…), and yet feel all “patriotic” when the give the cold shoulder to a rice burner.
    The standard line is, “If I was on a Harley, I’d be afraid to take my hand off the bars, too!”

    1. LEROOOY Avatar

      I remember being really disillusioned when I found out the motorcycle community snipes at each other as much (if not more) than Ford/Chevy trucks, etc. You’d think they’d unite more over the experience of riding, but as with everything else, experience is harder to quantify and sell than brands and ‘looks.’

    2. dead_elvis Avatar

      I did a cross-country ride (southern VT to the Bay Area) 20+ years ago, on a ’78 Suzuki GS550. Not only did H-D riders generally not wave, more of them gave me the finger than I ever would have expected.
      Of course, when I had a flat on I-70, an old guy on a Harley was the one to stop & see if I needed help.

      1. Batshitbox Avatar

        I might have been right behind you! I went from Portland, Maine to SF in the fall of ’94, after Labor Day so camping was easier. Back roads, only on the 70 when I had no choice.
        I got the last laugh over those Hog Snobs, though. My bike was Italian, “like ya mutha” as we used to say.
        A GS550? You must have packed light. I was on a Laverda 1000. Oddly enough, I ran into the only other Laverda triple I’ve ever seen on the road on the first day, in southern Vermont. I chased him up the 91 and it tuned out he’d just ridden from California! He was on his way to Putney.

        1. dead_elvis Avatar

          I was a couple years ahead of you (June ’92, IIRC). Most of the trip wasn’t on interstates, fortunately. And nope, not packed particularly light. I had a big ol’ sissybar on that thing with a couple of overstuffed backpacks lashed to it, a sleeping bag & tent on the seat behind me (surprisingly comfy, effective bumstop), and the biggest tank bag I could find at the time. The only place it really suffered was up above 8500′.
          Commuting through Berkeley that summer, a guy on a spotless R80GS pulled up next to me at a stoplight & asked “did you actually ride that here from Vermont”? (Yeah, that’s part of the reason it has 40K on the clock, poser!) To his credit, he followed that up with “I’d be too much of a pussy”, before smoking me when the light changed.
          ETA: I have a feeling I may know who he was going to see in Putney.

          1. Batshitbox Avatar

            It was a guy on a Laverda 1200 Mirage with CA plates, and not his first time around the continent on that thing, either. Coincidentally, one of my first housemates in SF had gone to the Putney School. I never heard anything about Putney either before or since those months.

          2. dead_elvis Avatar

            Warms my heart to know that kind of bike is out there, properly racking up the miles.
            If you’re ever in the Putney area (say, within 3 hours, especially if it’s a nice day and you’ve got something entertaining to ride or drive) & have a craving for ribs, do NOT miss Curtis’ BBQ. http://curtisbbqvt.com/ It’s worth the trip.

    3. Maymar Avatar

      I try and wave at everyone on two motorized wheels* (except e-bikes), and always feel minor pangs of guilt if I see someone too late, or I’m clutching or something.
      *nothing against normal cyclists, I just don’t think they’re part of the wave.

  13. 7FIAT's Later Avatar
    7FIAT’s Later

    In my rural community the courtesy wave is a high art form, not only common while driving, but also while you are getting the mail or taking out the trash can and if you are out walking you can get 20-30 waves from cars coming your direction. Took some getting used to after moving from a decently sized metro-area.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      +1! Also, the need to stop for the inner ring of neighbours basically every time you see them, even if all you have to say is: “Eh, you’re out?”. Quite pleasant, actually. Also: Mail guy knows thy car and will deliver huge packages whereever you are. As in the shop or at kindergarten.

  14. Tiller188 Avatar

    Expect? No. Cynical as it sounds, I find it’s safer to keep my expectations of other drivers pretty low (for example, expecting that the guy with his nose just a little too far into the upcoming intersection is going to pull out and cut me off has probably saved me some paint). It’s always a good feeling to get the wave, though. I try to remember to wave whenever appropriate (usually someone making a space for me to merge into a near-stopped freeway).

  15. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    A wave is nice, a written thank you note and a large sum of money is better.
    My pet peeve is when you go out of your way to offer courtesy and the intended recipient is too dim-witted to notice the offer.
    Say you’re on a two-lane road, you’re doing 80 and you see that the car on the left lane, doing 70 is about to meet a truck doing 60. He starts indicating a lane change so you slow up and flash him to pull out. For what ever reason, he just sits there. How long do you wait?
    Inevitably you’ll give up waiting and accelerate again, and then he’ll damn likely pull in front of you at the last minute.

    1. dead_elvis Avatar

      Hope for the best, expect the worst. You’ll rarely be disappointed.
      (Me? Cynical? I don’t know what you’re talking about.)

    2. Sjalabais Avatar

      On friday and sunday evenings our roads are pretty clogged because all the rich people go to their cabins. Getting on the main road then can be hard. I can’t count how often I’ve tried to blink in someone waiting on a side road, but they’ve already fallen asleep…

  16. CapitalistRoader Avatar

    I waved at at least three cars today riding my bicycle to and from the store. Why not? It’s free, and if it encourages civility it’s well worth it. OTOH I rapped my knuckles on some dizty broad’s ’87 Camry hood ’cause she pulled out into the intersection on a red light with nary a thought of pedestrians or bicyclettes with the right of way. Fuc* her. She’s so fuc*ing important – she obviously has really, very important things to do, like getting here nails done – that she can’t be bothered to stop behind the sidewalk when she has a red light. I find young and middle-aged women have some kind of entitlement thing going on, where they think they don’t need to yield to ped’s and bicycles in the crosswalk. Fuc* them stupid bitches.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      That’s a lot of asterics. These women might be mothers and thus deprived of sleep. A natural cause is a reduction in driver quality. I’ve seen that everywhere…get a kid, lose your edge.

      1. dead_elvis Avatar

        Not only asterisks, but big helping of misogyny, too.