The Fine Art of Hand Waving: What that Person is Really Saying

what hand waving really means

As a frequent walker, I observe many people waving from their vehicles when passing me on the road.

You don’t see hand waving much in the city unless someone’s mad at you.

But as a full time RVer, I’ve noticed more people waving, and the different degrees in which they wave.


People wave in many different styles.

You have the typical wave, short and to the point.

And then there’s the wave where the fingers move up and down like they’re trying to grab an invisible object in the air.

Some people wave with just one finger that barely seems to have enough energy to move off the steering wheel.

You have a double wave when two people in the vehicle both wave, and my favorite; a wave so big and sweeping it looks like the person is trying to defend themselves from a stinging insect or they’re drowning and waving for help.

You can’t help smiling at those people because they’re already smiling at you, happy to see you as if passing you on the road is one of the best things that could happen to them.

And then you have the people that don’t wave at all. What kind of people are they?

Let’s find out why people don’t wave and what the other waving styles mean and the history behind them. 

Everyone doesn’t wave. What are these people saying?
Photo by: Samuel Foster on Unsplash


Historians believe waving is a derivative of saluting as far back as medieval times.

The traditional military salute raises the right hand to the right forehead, with the hand extended flat and the fingers straight.

Now we prefer to wave instead of saluting making the gesture more friendly and personalized resulting in different forms that mean the same thing.

I see you. Hello. Goodbye.

Each wave comes with an interpretation helping you understand the true meaning behind the hand gesture.

Man in silver convertible waving gif.

hand waving styles
you should understand

• The Short & Sweet Wave 🙋🏻‍♀️

The short and sweet wave doesn’t hide. Its meaning is purposeful and straight forward. Typical wavers are letting you know they see you as a courtesy. It’s the closest form to the obligatory salute.


These are the people who let you merge in their lane because it’s the right thing to do.

• Multiple Fingers Wave 🖐

The multiple fingers wave is a friendlier form of the short and sweet wave. This type of wave person is saying hi and that they’re happy to see you.


These are the people who say hello or good morning when you pass them on the sidewalk or in the grocery store.

• One Finger Wave 👆

The one finger wave person is usually an older gentleman driving a pickup truck in rural America. He’s lived in the area his entire life and is delivering hay or going to the propane store. He sees you, realizes you’re not ‘from around these parts’ and you’re just moving through town. So why go to the trouble of waving? A one finger lift off the steering wheel will do.


These are the people who say hello to acquaintances with a simple nod and nothing else.

• The Double Wave 🙌🏼

Married couples create the double wave. They see you and wave together creating two waves in one. I’ve never seen two men or two women wave in unison.


These people are happily married and generally love life. The double wavers are the couples you see in restaurants talking to each other instead of studying their phones.

• The Sweeping Wave 👋🏼

By far the sweeping wave is the happiest, as it always accompanies a big smile. You can’t help to smile back. These people are genuinely pleased to see you and want you to have a good day.


The sweeping wave people are the ones you meet for the first time but feel you’ll known them forever. Their good spirit creates a comforting presence.

• The No Wave 👊

And what about the people who don’t wave? What kind of people are they? Preoccupied? Distracted? Annoyed you are on ‘their road?’ Mad because they’re driving to a job they hate?


These are the people who run their car into the back of another vehicle because their mind was somewhere else. They have a tendency toward road rage, and an overall distrust of humans.


It seems more people wave closer to the weekend than the beginning of the week.

Maybe waving is a state of mind. The happier a person is, the more they wave?

It’s a theory and could be a good Sociology thesis.

But for me, I enjoy people waving; even those who don’t wave because I make sure I wave to them to make sure they see me on the road.

They never wave back.

But that’s okay because the person waving as if they’re drowning has already made my day. 🤗

What’s Outside Our Door explores the full time RV life creating inspiration, wonderment, and knowledge for a freer, simpler, and happier way to live. They share inside travel itineraries so you can explore like a pro, and avoid the crowds! They also publish the free Full-Time RV Life bi-monthly newsletter of 8 things worth sharing about full-time RV living you might find interesting.


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