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It’s The Smallest Gestures

SD friendly

Did you know that in South Dakota, USA, drivers on rural roads wave to one another? They greet each other on the approach, essentially saying, “Hello! I see you…have a good day!”

The gesture is friendly and reminds me how we are all connected and share a desire to belong. It reminds me how we are part of a bigger family, a big, beautiful, diverse one that’s messy and dysfunctional all at the same time.

I’ve adopted the wave even outside rural settings, kind of like a smile to a stranger on a sidewalk, or a simple “hi!” to a fellow human at the store. I even like to wink, so I hope someone doesn’t take it the wrong way…Anyway, it’s easy for me to be busy and focused, determined to cross off my “to-do” lists in an attempt to feel a sense of accomplishment on any given day. But this one-finger wave, or two on the days I’m coordinated, allows for connection and acknowledgement, on the road to wherever it is we are going. It’s more like, “Hello! I see you…I wish you well…Godspeed.”

Clearly I read a lot into things. My counselor says I am a “highly cognitive thinker”…it’s the empathizer and peacemaker in me, wanting to connect all the dots, making sense of the non-sensical, hoping there is a reason or purpose in the day to day, knowing deep down in my heart how much God is in love with every one of us…when we strip everything down and see each other as souls created in God’s image, kindness to a “stranger” driving by, someone we may never meet, may go farther than we might imagine with a simple flick of the wrist. Love can be spread in a zillion subtle ways.

The locals don’t wait to see if I know the wave or not, they just wave because it’s their practice, their nature…and as I “reply,” as modeled in the picture above, I’ve come to feel a sense of belonging…crazy how in a place that’s so freaking cold, I can feel warm and invited. 

56 thoughts on “It’s The Smallest Gestures

  1. We live down a gravel road and when I meet a car or someone walking I instinctively wave. During tourist season it’s not just my neighbors but sometimes (ok, most of the time) it’s a lost tourist trying to find a campground. I’ll wave and my kids always ask who was that. I just smile and shrug my shoulders, and the kids respond with, “oh, gravel road.” Yep, I love gravel road living.

  2. I miss my home state of South Dakota where the people are friendly. For the last 7 years I’ve been stuck here on the US/MX border in El Paso, TX, where the people are not only extremely rude but also very racist towards whites.

    1. Desiree, I’m a South Dakotan in El Paso, too. It is a culture that takes getting used to, but there are good folks here, too. Just stay away from Wal-Mart on Saturdays! FB message me if you want a SD face to talk to.

  3. Where are you from? I have lived in South Dakota my whole life so I found your article very interesting! Keep up the positive motives.

    1. Hi Alyssa! I was born in Ohio and lived there until I was 6, then to Arizona until I was 21…California, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Colorado, and married a boy from South Dakota. We sold our home last year and have been traveling quite a bit, but are “basing” out of SD.

  4. This is very true my girlfriend is from Wyoming an she thinks it’s the funniest thing…I’m from South Dakota an never seen another state do this

    1. Well, Steve, what I’m finding from the feedback here, more states do it than we had imagined…I LOVE IT! We should all get the wave down and start a new trend 🙂

      1. We also in Omaha, motion to trucks on industrial roads. Lots of rude people come into Omaha around college world series time of year. I just laugh, smile, wave, motion with my head and take off highway routes. Know Omaha like tje back of my hand. Borm and raised and proud of it 😉

  5. Being a former South Dakotan this is so true! Even after 25 years in TN I still do this on our smaller side roads on the way home as I figure whomever I meet is a “neighbor” in the SD sense (5-10 mile radius! lol) I sometimes worry they think I am flying “another finger”, but I have gotten return waves over the years..I’m wearing them down!

    1. Julia, so far we’ve got several states checking in on this small gesture! I love it! I love your heart in that whomever you meet is a “neighbor”…if the whole world followed suit, girl, there would be no wars! xoxox

  6. Where I am from people wave at each other, usually it’s a quick flip of the hand and always returned, weather driving,walking riding a bike. Just the way its been. Makes me feel good!

  7. When daughter was very young, she asked me, “why do you wave at other drivers you don’t know and won’t ever see again? ” I told her it’s an act of recognition. I want them to know I not only see them, but i acknowledge them. You see, we don’t know where they’re going, what they may going through in their life, or what’s on their mind as they travel. I just want them to know no matter where they are headed, and no matter the reason, someone thought of them just for a second and wished them well.

    1. Eyvonne, this is AWESOME! YES! Precisely the heart of EMPATHY! If we all did the wave, with the same filter through which you see it, this whole world would indeed be a better place! And your daughter was watching, which means you modeled empathy for her and this next generation will benefit, as well.

  8. I recognize the “wave”and miss it terribly. I have spread the rumor here in Ohio about the “nice”people in south Dakota .I myself was raised from the age of 6 to 15 1/2 in Valentine Nebraska and remember people waving and smiling all the time .we moved to Morgantown wv and haven’t seen it and wondered why but,I personally still wave n smile .people up this way think I’m a very huggy and clingy person in a negative way because of it that DON’T know me .it amazes me that it can b so misunderstood here but, at least it gives some insight to how the world runs I guess .anyway, thanx for reminding me of the positivity and memories of a place I consider home have a wonderful day. blessed be

    1. Sara, thanks for sharing! I say keep up the wave in WV, no matter what! Also, we drive through Valentine every time we go back and forth between Colorado and SD, so I’ll be sure to try the wave out there 🙂 It’s true how every one of us can be misunderstood or labeled as something or someone we are not…I want to encourage you to keep up the love and hospitality wherever you are…we just never know whose life we are impacting on any given day. xoxox

  9. This is legit. I live in Nebraska now but was raised in a small town in east river South Dakota. I came home to visit my parents and the wave comes instinctively. Hope you’re enjoying SD. I have a deep love for South Dakota. Nice to see others recognize the positive. 🙂

  10. I love in kansas and we also greet on coming cars with a slight wave with one finger of course i live in a small farm comunity where its all dirt roads i love it

  11. Raised on a farm East River and grew up watching my dad wave “pointer finger”… It’s just how we were brought up… I still do it n so does he

  12. Some years back I had moved out to Northern VA and was moving back to south dakota (where I’m originally from ) with my boyfriend. We drove and as we got into South Dakota a sheriff passed us and gave the wave Andy boyfriend flipped out. “What was that?” “What’d he wave for?” “What’s that mean?” I couldn’t help but laugh at him and had to explain that’s just how we do things here.

    1. LOVE IT! I wave the to the highway patrol ALL THE TIME, no matter what state! I’m pretty sure they love the hospitality rather than knowing many people would have your BF’s same reaction 🙂

  13. I learned this as a child in Oklahoma following my dad’s example. I’ve noticed that the outside-the-car version is a quick nod of the head.

  14. Good old South Dakota hospitality! As a displaced South Dakotan, the small gestures are what I miss the most about the state. Where else in the world can you have a 45 minute conversation with a total stranger, and walk away feeling uplifted?! Your post made me smile. 🙂

    1. Georgann, glad it made you smile 🙂 I think we can have these kinds of conversations with strangers everywhere…it’s just a matter of striking them up. I just met a stranger on the street corner in Melbourne, Australia, yesterday, because I wanted to ask a real person a question rather than just look it up in my phone. Our kids ended up playing at the park 🙂

  15. I remember growing up in Kansas in the 50’s, my Dad, uncles, relatives, friends and neighbors would give the wave as they met other drivers. I also remember asking my Dad, “Who was that?”, and many times the answer was “Don’t know, just saying ‘Hi’.

    Good people, Just saying ‘Hi’

  16. I had moved to Nevada for about two years and a buddy of mine and I would wave at people every day to and from work which we would maybe meet 50 vehicles each way on gravel and get a wave back maybe once every two or three days. Amazing the difference between the Midwest cultures. Thanks for the story. Great one.

  17. LOVE this. I grew up East River and perhaps it is my fading memory or plain revisionist’s history but I recall doing the 1 finger wave for strangers and 2 fingers with a near wave (hand almost off the steering wheel) for folks we knew. It was a mostly gravel road behavior as I think back; a shame, really. It feels so good on the receiving and giving side. A comforting, safe, road hug.. May it continue and spread!

  18. Love the article! I love living in South Dakota minus the cold winters! It is amazing how people come to help when people are in need. Happy smiles, friendly waves and thank goodness people acknowledge others with a hello!!!! I have gotten some strange looks when traveling out of state and I greeted people with a smile and hello while walking down the street. The big city life is not for me.

  19. Both of my parents grew up in South Dakota, & much of my extended family still lives there. My grandfather used to tell me that waving to passers-by originated in the days of horse-and-wagon. It was a sign to show you came in peace.

  20. I’m from ND, living now in Iowa (both good places), but it’s the craziest thing – when I visit relatives in Huron, SD, I can tell when I’m getting close because people start waving. It’s beautiful.

  21. My wife and I are from SD. We have been in OK for the last ten years; we were in TX before that for three years. We recently drove up to see some family. On a two-lane highway I encountered a waver. I still remember my reaction. My eyes got big and I said, “Wow, I forgot they wave here.” It had been a long time since I saw that. It was almost alien to me. I’m sure there were other wavers before him, but he was the first one I noticed. Unfortuately, down here it’s not just waving that’s been put away. I’ve been stranded on the side of the road probably three times in the last ten years and no one ever stopped to help me (even after slowing down to gander). It seems like there’s something more to it than just a friendly “hi.” Maybe it’s a way of showing that we’re not so conumed in our own individual worlds to stop and help. I’m guessing that something so small can easily carry over into bigger things in life.

    1. Yes, Stephen, I really believe it can carry over, just as you said. I’m sorry people haven’t stopped to offer road side assistance…I really believe it’s part of the growing fear that everyone is a “bad guy” rather than, “How can I help?” and, “How would I feel to be stranded?” The questions of empathy start to build bridges. Thanks for stopping by.

  22. This isn’t just a South Dakota thing. Every state I have lived in, in the rural areas we wave. Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota. Also states I’ve visited does this as well.. New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Maryland, Michigan, Idaho… it’s more of a rural America thing. 🙂

  23. I loved your response to Desiree. Having lived away from my home state of South Dakota for over 30 years, and in 5 different states from Alaska to south Texas, I often had people comment about how friendly I was and how I could make conversation with anyone. I would respond it’s “just the way I was raised”. I was living by the example of my parents. Even though living in different places enriched my life and exposed me to many different cultures, I learned that we all want to be acknowledged and made to feel significant. If anyone has not been to South Dakota, come and visit. Experience the many things and places our state has to offer. You will be welcomed with a nod and a wave

    1. Paula, yesterday as I walked around Melbourne, Australia, with our kids, I struck up conversations with people at some of the different sights. I told my daughter, who is 13, “Whoever made up the saying, ‘don’t talk to strangers’ missed out on meeting new friends.” Hopefully I’m modeling to them what your parents did for you, too…one generation at a time.

  24. Seven years ago I lost my job in California and came to the mid-west for work, eventually settling in Hot Springs. My wife stayed behind to help our two children finish high school and get into college. When she would come out to visit, she noticed that I had adopted the wave gesture and would laugh at me, thinking i was a weirdo. Now that she’s been living here since early last year, she’s becoming very comfortable with her rural road hospitality. Just one of the many reasons we love South Dakota so much!

  25. Love reading this as I am one of those guys that live in south dakota and I wave at every car or person I pass. It don’t matter what I am driving or riding if I pass you I will wave at ya

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