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southern idioms

Advising a Newcomer About Waving

Having lived all but ten years of my adult life in the southeastern part of the United States, I am well aware that this region has some communication customs that are not necessarily recognized in other parts of the nation.

Certainly the language of the South has phrases and idioms that I would have to explain to a newcomer. “Y’all” could mean one or more of you. “Fixin’ to” means we are on the verge of doing something.” “Long tall drink of water” refers to someone whose height exceeds the average quite noticeably.

If a newcomer wanted to know about southern nonverbal communication, I would first explain that almost everybody expects you to wave at them.

“But what if I don’t know them?” you might ask me.

“Doesn’t matter. Whether the person is a close friend, your neighbor down the street, or a total stranger, you wave at them and they will wave back.”

“Yes,” I elaborate, “you need to form the habit of waving at everybody–the guy who delivers your mail, the lady walking her dog, the driver who slows down so you can enter traffic, and the kid riding by on a bike.”

“Well,” the stranger I am coaching asks, “what will they think if I don’t wave?”

“People could draw one of several conclusions. Among them: you are unfriendly, a loner, not feeling well today, or had a bad day at work.”

“Does it matter how I wave? Is there any special method?”

“Nope, just wave. Of course it helps when you smile and make solid eye contact.”

When our conversation ends, the newcomer thanks me for my advice about how to adapt to one of this area’s longstanding nonverbal habits. I knew I had gotten my point across, because as he was walking away he waved at the pizza delivery guy who had just parked in front of my house.