By Ingrid Sapona
Waving is one of the first things we learn. It seems such a
little thing and yet, from a developmental point of view, apparently it’s quite
an important thing. I’ve always found observing a baby transition through the wave
learning steps particularly sweet. The early attempts almost always involve a kind
of backward wave, as babies hold up their teeny little palm facing themselves –
rather than toward the person the wave is intended for. At some point something
clicks and they miraculously begin waving with their palm facing out.
And then, in kindergarten or first grade or so, kids start feeling
comfortable waving hello to strangers. For kids on a school bus – especially if
they’re on a field trip – waving at cars in hopes folks will wave back is
practically a game. I never know whether the game’s about them seeing me, or me
seeing them. Regardless, my natural inclination (and I suspect that of most
adults) is to smile and wave back.
Sadly, at some point, we pretty much stop spontaneously
waving at strangers.
Last weekend I took a day trip to Pelee Island, the
southern-most part of Canada. The island, which sits in Lake Erie about half
way between Ontario and Ohio, is about 16 square miles. About 150 people live
there year-around and about 1500 in the summer. I went there mainly to check
out a winery on the island.
To get to the island you take a ferry. The ride takes about 90
minutes from the Ontario mainland. The day I visited there was one ferry in the
morning and one leaving the island late in the afternoon. Though the ferry is
big enough to accommodate cars, I was told the winery was not too far from
where the ferry lands. And, in terms of exploring the island after visiting the
winery, I decided I’d rent a bike on the island for a few hours, because it was
cheaper than bringing the car on the ferry.
When I got off the ferry I was surprised I didn’t see a sign
pointing in the direction of the winery. Given that my time was pretty limited,
rather than risk getting lost, I decided to ask someone for directions. I saw a gentleman sitting in the ferry dock
parking lot in a golf cart and so I asked him. He pointed in one direction and
said the winery was about a third of a mile. I thanked him but before I could
head off, he said he was just waiting to pick up the daily newspaper that was
brought over on the ferry and if I could wait a couple minutes, he’d give me a
lift to the winery. Though I don’t usually ride with strangers, I figured a
senior in a golf cart wasn’t too dangerous, so I said, “Sure, thanks!”
As we made our way down the road, I chatted with Bob (not
his real name). Turns out he spends summers on the island and has done so for
20 years. As we were chatting, a car headed up the road toward us. When we got close,
Bob waved and the other driver waved back. After we passed the car, Bob said to
me, “Everyone on this island waves.” Frankly, I didn’t think the waving required
an explanation – I figured they knew each other, given how much time Bob’s spent
Later that afternoon, as I was biking around, the driver of
a car that was headed toward me waved. I didn’t think anything of it and I
waved back. Then a car came up from behind and passed me and – as he did – the
driver waved. A few minutes later, another car passed me and sure enough, up –
out of the window – came a wave.
Every time it happened, I thought about Bob’s seemingly
off-hand comment. By the time I was ready to return the bike, over a dozen cars
passed me and nearly every time, someone in the car waved. It was such a
standard occurrence, I suspect the three who didn’t wave were tourists – not locals!
When I dropped off the bike, I asked the two twenty-something
girls behind the desk what was up with the waving? They giggled and one of them
said, “Yeah – it’s kind of an unwritten law around here. Everyone waves. When I
go back to school in Windsor after spending the summer here, it takes me a couple
weeks to stop doing that.”
On the ferry ride back, I couldn’t help but think about the
waving and about how quirky it seemed. Since I’ve been back, I’ve told the story
to a few friends. Their reactions are similar, admitting that a friendly wave
of acknowledgment between strangers is pretty unusual, and yet, kind of delightful.
I’m sure your parents were thrilled when you learned to
wave. And, as a kid, I’ll bet you waved to passing strangers in hopes they’d
notice and wave back. And yet, at some point – like many adults – you probably stopped
acknowledging strangers with a wave. But you know what? There’s no reason you
can’t take it up again – just ask the folks on Pelee Island. I say give it a
try, I think you’ll be surprised at how nice it feels to recognize – and be
recognized by – strangers.
© 2013 Ingrid Sapona