Gratitude for Driving

Here is another great post about expressing your gratitude while driving. It was previously published in the New York Times and I am re-posting here. I have requested permission directly from them. If they come back and request that I take it down, I certainly will.


Published: May 29, 2009

When articulation is impossible, gesticulation comes to the rescue.

That’s the lesson to be drawn from the unprecedented response of the Lexicographic Irregulars to a question posed in this space recently: For a driver unable to react to the courteous act of another driver in spoken words, why is there no universal hand sign for “thank you”? The global yearning for such a sign — expressive, but safe while driving — elicited 700 replies, providing a smorgasbord of semiotic feedback. Let the voting begin, with 10 candidates:

1. The A-O.K. “I’ve always given the hand signal popularized by the astronauts: form a circle with your thumb and forefinger.” An emendation: “Make sure the other three fingers are upright.” And: “I used this nonverbal sign to show my appreciation for my mom’s potato kugel. It denotes thanks for a job well done.” Drawback: “I like that three-ring sign, but I’m told it’s like an upraised middle finger to a Brazilian.” Others warned of that Rockefinger meaning in other cultures.

2. Thumbs-Up. “A single thumb-up, accompanied by a nod of the head and eye contact.” “Deliver it with an outward roll of the wrist toward the recipient.” “I suggest the European positive gesture of the raised thumb followed by pointing at the person being thanked.” For safety’s sake, “simply raise one thumb up at the top of your steering wheel.” Drawback: This Reaganesque gesture may be too general a sign for approval or encouragement rather than gratitude.

3. Hollywood-Indian How. “I raise my hand, palm forward, and mouth, ‘Thank you,’ because the windows are up, and nod. Sounds complicated, but it’s instinctive, fluid and quick.” And: “A simple raise of the hand, palm out, like Dave Garroway’s famous ‘peace’ sign-off.” But what of my early admonition that “the outward palm silently signals ‘stop’ ”? Reply: “In Hindu and Buddhist art, if the arm is close to the body and bent at the elbow with the hand extending straight up from the forearm, then the outward-facing arm is making the abhaya mudra — the gesture that says, ‘Have no fear.’ ” Drawback: It’s identified with feelings other than gratitude, including overlap with the Western greeting “howdy.”

4. Namaste. “The bow with both hands pressed together as in prayer. While driving, this can be performed with one hand only so as to keep the other hand on the steering wheel.” A yoga teacher also suggested this, admitting, “Granted, it takes two hands, but is a powerful signal worth driving momentarily with your knee.” Drawback: Only make this respectful gesture after parking. Somewhat safer alternative, though hard to see: “Lightly tap your chest/heart and nod.”

5. Tip of the Hat. “The Australian way is a loose-hand ‘hat doff,’ open palm, thumb close to the ear.” The mimed hat tip in the United States is “a two-finger touch to the brim of an imaginary hat. Bring one hand to your head as though removing your hat, then extend your arm (holding the nonexistent hat) and nod.” Drawback: Women don’t tip hats; leaves out half the human race.

6. All-Digit Lefty Wiggle-Waggle. “A raised, outward-facing palm wiggled back and forth, coupled with a smiling, spoken ‘Thank you’ in case my benefactor can see my lips.” (Wiggle is usually applied to body movement; waggle to the fingers.) “The gesture I employ is a one-handed waggling of all five digits. We call it the toodley-doo.” Drawback: It is the favorite gesture of frozen-faced beauty queens atop flowered floats in parades.

7. Brow-Touch Salute and Hat-Doff Combo. “My cocker spaniel, Fortunato, and I face a busy intersection with no traffic signal, awaiting a courteous driver to slow down to let us cross. By placing the tips of my index, middle fingers and thumb high on the side of my forehead, I offer a gesture that combines a hat tip with a more severe military salute and mouth ‘Thanks’ at the same time. Everyone gets it. Should work driver to driver, too.” Drawback: Fails to include a gesture signaling Fortunato to sit.

8. The Hawaiian Shaka. “In Hawaii, the hand sign for ‘thank you’ is a waggle of the upward thumb and forward-pointing pinkie with the middle three fingers curled to the palm.” From other Hawaiians: “This year, President Obama was seen flashing a subtle shaka during the inauguration. Shaka gets my vote.” Drawbacks: “I doubt that this could catch on in mainland America as the shaka probably has too much of a hang-loose, surfer connotation.” As broadly defined as aloha, it can mean “Hi there, buddy” and “It’s a beautiful day” as well. The sign “should not to be confused with the less friendly cornu, a sign of the cuckold.”

9. Wheeltop Index-Finger Waggle. “Acknowledge a gracious right-of-way by raising the right index finger off the top of the steering wheel.” This is probably the safest gesture, leaving the other nine digits on the wheel, while its drawback — an easy-to-miss single-finger wave — can be circumvented by augmenting it with a nod, smile, wink or chin-lifting jaw jut.

10. The Wave. With 23 percent of all entries, this gesture won hands down. (I just deleted “so to speak,” a smarmy phrase that means “don’t miss the wordplay,” which would insult the abundance of sources who have just demonstrated their membership in the logorati.) Two types: (a) the royal wave, exemplified by Queen Elizabeth II, “hand raised to the vertical, fingers together and extended, armrest available for elbow support, with hand rotating slowly this way and that, head nodding and smiling.” And (b) the goodfella wave, a slow, sweeping movement of the arm, palm inward. Popularized by the comedian Jerry Seinfeld in an episode of his television series; when he willingly lets a driver get ahead of him, his companion asks, “Did you get a thank-you wave?” He sticks his head out the window and shouts: “Hey, buddy! Where’s my thank-you wave? Gimme that wave!” Drawback: The goodfella wave could be confused with “goodbye.” n

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Have a  safe trip back, Jo & Joe!

Be Well.

The Gratitude Guru

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