[This is an article from my wise-guy days when I thought I was Vermont’s answer to Dave Barry. Didn’t work out that way, but that’s ok. I’ve left in all the dated references, because the subject is timeless. SB SM]
One of the nice things about Vermont, especially outside the Chittenden Metro Belt, is that people wave to each other, especially on the dirt roads, of which Vermont has plenty. This is behavior without precedent in the animal kingdom.
“Look, look! There’s a member of our species.”
Of course, we do it because we’re stimulus-deprived, but isn’t it odd that the same Vermonters who will not speak to a neighbor until he has lived in the state for two generations will wave to any idiot who happens by in a motor vehicle, even a Flatlander with Jersey plates?
Initially, visiting Flatlanders look away from waving Vermonters, thinking they are about to be hit up for spare change. Then they adopt the practice with a vengeance, sticking their hands in the face of every man, woman, child, dog, and tree they pass.
The Flatlander wave, however, is without panache, an enthusiastic but graceless shaking of the proffered palm that misses the point. Anyone living north of Putney has developed a personal wave that is as much a part of an individual’s identity as a fingerprint. Here are a few classics:
The two fingered tradesman salute (author’s note: I just can’t write “tradesperson”). This jaunty greeting is favored by the working class hero who has at least six months of work lined up on a second home being built by a Wall St. broker with way more money than common sense. The wave is flicked off the top of the pickup’s steering wheel with casual, confident ease. (In some remote areas of the Northeast Kingdom, the index and middle finger are reportedly brought to the brow in a proto-military salute.)
The guess what I did last night wave? This is the salutation following a night of gross over-indulgence. The steering wheel is gripped with both hands, and the wave is executed by lifting the index finger of the right hand approximately three quarters of an inch into the air, barely perceptible. There is no eye contact.
This wave is nearly identical to the I have the flu wave, and can be distinguished only by scholars of the North Country.
No such problem with the I own the whole damn place wave favored by the drivers of full-size pickups. This one originates at the shoulder. Extend the arm fully out the window, as if to bless your domain, spread your fingers, and rotate the entire arm ninety degrees counter-clockwise. It’s optional to gun the engine for emphasis.
“Hi, didn’t I meet you at Curves?” This is the wave exchanged by transplants to the North Country who recognize each other’s Priuses. The wave is brief, vigorous, and overly-enthusiastic, bordering on perky. If you encounter this wave while you are in a “Guess what I did last night?” frame of mind you might have to stifle a retch.
The Alien contempt. This is the wave that native Vermonters use in response to the “Hi, didn’t I meet you …” from transplanted Flatlanders. It is a simple, unenthusiastic motion, usually delivered backhanded. Vermonters don’t express emotions demonstrably, but this one, translated to words, would clearly say “Go back where you came from.”
“I’m the busiest person in the world.” Watch for this one from anyone who drives a car of European origin. It is always delivered without eye contact, because the driver wants you to think that he, she, or it has fifty thousand more important things to do than waving at you. This is surprising, because as far as you know, this person spends his, her, or its time driving aimlessly, looking for people to wave to.
The old Vermontah. This is a genetically-determined wave that non-natives cannot imitate. Usually executed with the right hand, it involves a backhand rotation from the wrist. Important: this wave is always initiated by the native. It’s a wave that speaks volumes, or at least these sentences:
“What’s the matter with you, you uptight refugee from the huddled masses? Don’t you realize that this is the country, and up here folks are folks. We keep our distance, but we’re all in this together, and we damn sure acknowledge it by this simple gesture of humanity. So get with the program!”
So now it’s time for a field test. You are walking on a dirt road. A pick-up truck approaches. It’s not a full-size truck, but one of those little ones. It’s driven by a woman who looks like she has never heard of Curves. Do you let her hit you with “the old Vermontah” or pull the trigger first, risking that she will respond with “the Alien contempt?”
You panic and freeze, a deer in the headlights. You are completely immobile. Something short-circuits in your brain, and you come up with a spastic hand-flop that comes out as a Frankenwave along the lines of a “busiest tradesman in the world who owns the whole damn place.”
The truck rumbles by. The driver stares straight ahead. Just before she passes from the frame of vision, you see it … slow … methodical … brutal … the Alien contempt.
You want to scream “Come back. Give me another chance. I’m sorry. I got nervous.”
But there are no second chances in the wave game. Sometimes it takes a generation or two to get it right.