Jul 29, 2008
I wave. I like waving. I see it as an acknowledgement in a busy and sometimes shallow world. I walk my dog in different West Asheville neighborhoods and frequently throw up a quick wave when I see a stranger meet my eyes. After all, we’re in each other’s neighborhood and perhaps I am saying “I see you and I’m not a threat,” even when the threat can be of having to have something to say to them. It’s a complex enough world that the commitment of a few minutes conversation can be a threat of sorts. So, a wave does it. Sometimes a nod.
According to those self-same behaviorists, we – as part of the primate family – all use the same basic body language when we meet, whether friend or potential foe. We raise our eyebrows. It’s the minimal greeting. It’s nearly reflex and requires work to subvert it. I know because my teenage best friend Bobby read this little tidbid in Desmond Morris’ “Naked Ape” and decided that he didn’t want to greet people, even minimally. His intention, as many shy and uncomfortable teens will bear out, was to blend into the background. To not be noticed one way or the other so that he could be himself without the judgement of his peers, and especially, girls.
So he practiced in the mirror, and practiced on me. It took weeks, but Bobby could come across a store clerk, a passerby, a party full of girls and while speakin in friendly and civil tones, have complete control over his eyebrow urge on first glance. We tried his newfound talent out at a party. We were both kinda shy around girls and hung out near a wall doing the wallflower stand, Bob even folding his arms in what I used to refer to as the “Silent Abu” stance. In the little conversations I did have one girl asked me, “What’s wrong with your friend?” and I realized that Bob was not blending in at all but sticking out with his refusal to greet others in the minimal way. He was perceived as mysterious and unfriendly, leaving people with a vague feeling of distrust. So I told him about it and he quit doing it (but still used it as an ungreeting once in a while when he felt he didn’t want to acknowledge someone.
So where was i? Oh yes, waving as acknowledgement. Acknowledging others and being acknowledged. I also tend to be a forgiving type and I’m not generally hurt when people don’t wave back or even react with a scowl at my wave because they may have a lot on their minds that really don’t concern me – or at least they don’t want to share any of it. My waving is intended to be friendly and there are people who aren’t particularly interested in even playing ‘friends.’
I remember a girlfriend of mine who confided that she was distrustful of people who smiled and waved, as if they had some secret agenda. She bristled at waving as some sort of dark contractual agreement. As if a wave required a wave back in response and she felt pressed to have a positive reaction even though she didn’t feel positive about the transaction. She similarly wasn’t fond of the phrase “good morning” which irked her that people were either pretending to be happy or so simple and profoundly stupid that they actually believed they were happy and if you acknowledge them they will lapse into what she referred to as that “How-de-do morning bullshit.” I remember walking down the hall of an office one morning and a ‘lower level suit’ (a person we referred to that was on the pecking order somewhere between a clerk and an executive), said “good morning” to her. She exploded with “What the fuck do you want from me? That I’m having a good day? That everything is rosy perfect?” She didn’t have the smoothest upbringing and looking back had plenty of reason to be an angry young woman. However, this didn’t go over well in the corporate world.
I prefer to think of her distaste for waving as the exception rather than the rule. I think most people know that waving is a ‘friendly’ and even ‘throw-away’ gesture, but that may be the nature of how we greet people in western culture. I’ve heard (but do not know from personal experience) that the wave is unknown in the East. That acknowledgement is given as a stronger experience of not just “yes, you’re there” but “I am no greater a person in god’s eyes” with the gesture of the folded hands and bow. It seems somehow a greater expression of acknowledgement, and in Asheville I do see both (and not always at BJ’s convenience store). I guess we as Americans or European background are a little more bumper-sticker in our approach to greetings.
Dang… Sleep is overtaking me like water lapping at the edges of my mental boat. I will return to this subject soon I hope.
Because I didn’t say any of the things I wanted to say about waving!
at 10:12 PM