Did They Just Wave?

If you’ve spent some time in the Yukon, you’ve probably noticed the Yukon is full of “wavers”.

This phenomena is particularly evident in the communities, with an apparent correlation between the size of the community and the frequency of waving (the smaller the community, the more frequent the waving).

It is ordinary to have random people waving to you as they drive by, even on the highway, when all you see, for a microsecond, is a blur of waving hands … and you think, Did that person just wave? Who was that?

I have noticed this practice in northern B.C., too, but here it is only practised if you know the person or when on logging roads, and even then it’s not strongly ritualistic. It is less common in Whitehorse, but in the communities or between communities, it’s as common as a raven.

It symbolizes the interconnectedness and courtesy of most Yukoners. It also provides a calming reassurance when travelling in bad winter conditions. When one is new here, it is stirring and, at the very least, a cutesy small-town experience.

But I have noticed that Yukon waving can cause social awkwardness and confusion, and even emotional stress in those who have trouble adjusting to this custom or deciphering its conduct.

A simple example of this would be the Too Late Wave. This is most common when vehicles are travelling at higher speeds, mostly outside town limits. It is caused by one party waving too late for the other person to detect the wave and respond, creating an inelegant moment.

This happens to me all the time, and leaves me thinking, Dang, I hope they realize I didn’t have time to wave and don’t think I’m a jerk. I personally have had this situation destroy a well-intended waving relationship with someone I don’t really know but do know their vehicle and name … and most everything else about them (thanks to town gossip and the local Chatty Cathys).

Another Yukon waving predicament is the Discontinuous Wave. This is when a waving relationship is initiated by one party, and then this same person decides to disrupt the relationship by ceasing the wave.

This leaves the other person thinking, He waved last time. Why didn’t he wave this time? Did I do something wrong? … Maybe he doesn’t like me.

I have seen this one cause severe social anxiety in an acquaintance where the situation became heated enough that she confronted her “discontinuous waver” at a local bar, though I believe Vodka Red Bulls contributed to this altercation.

Ironically, if the Discontinuous Wave stalemate is avoided, one may encounter another waving quandary, the Protracted Wave. This comes about after a harmless waving relationship is started with someone you don’t really know.

You may not even know their name. Courteously and awkwardly, the waving continues for months or even years, but the kicker is you truly don’t know this person, only their vehicle.

What makes this seemingly benign habit questionable is when you meet face to face and don’t introduce yourselves due to having no good reason to, other than having a waving relationship.

This leaves you to ponder, This is weird … We wave to each other at least once or twice a day, but we never talk.

The true impasse, with this particular wave conundrum, is that one is forced to introduce themselves with the creepy icebreaker, “Hey, I see you on the highway … What’s your name?” or to cease the waving, creating a Discontinuous Wave situation.

The final waving conundrum, which I have recently encountered, is the Out-of-Territory Wave rejection. This occurs when a Yukoner, with their Yukon customs, leaves the territory and finds that no one is returning their wave and perhaps they are even receiving dirty looks in response to their wave.

This same situation can occur within the territory when waving to non-Yukoners, including Alaskans. This leaves the Yukoner thinking, Jerks … Why won’t they wave? Or they may question, No one outside of the territory waves to strangers on the highway … Am I the weird one? Have I become a Northern Yokel?

To which the answer is, Yes.

The above rants are not in disapproval of frequent waving in the Yukon: I think it’s great. However, if not practised responsibly, this frequent waving can cause unneeded stress. Therefore, I do recommend some simple reform to Yukon’s waving policy to mitigate the waving issues outlined above.

Firstly and most simply, initiate your wave at least three seconds prior to passing someone on the highway. This will give the person due time to reciprocate and avoid the ungainly Too Late Wave situation.

Both the Discontinuous Wave and the Protracted Wave dilemma can be hurtful, and thus one should adequately consider whether they wish to enter a waving relationship with someone prior to waving even once.

Perhaps a simple criterion to entering the relationship should be whether or not you have actually met and talked to this person and know their name.

And, finally, when waving outside of the territory or to Outsiders in the territory, remember, just because they don’t wave back doesn’t mean they’re jerks; it just means their confused and thinking, Did they just wave? That was creepy.

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