The Funny Rule Southerners Follow About Waving Hello in Public

Greeting etiquette is no silly matter.

Women Greeting Each Other
Photo: Getty Images/kali9

The nuances of social interaction in the South know no bounds. Somehow, the people are just as gracious, such as when welcoming a new person into the community via a casserole or writing a thank you note for even the little things, as they are discerning when others don't return the same energy. It is truly a labyrinth of manners almost impossible to master. Yet, we try.

One topic that Southerners will never stop talking about: the subtleties around greeting others in public. What can be considered a snub in one situation could be a perfectly acceptable choice in another. Passing a loose acquaintance on a power walk through the neighborhood and not extending a casual wave and "hello?" Rudeness that will be reported to the snubber's aunt at the next book club meeting. Greeting etiquette is no trivial thing.

The same politeness goes for places like the grocery store, mall, restaurant scene, church, and beyond. A wave is simple acknowledgement and something expected by Southerners familiar with each other—but the courtesy should be exchanged to strangers, as well. If eye contact is made, why not a greeting to follow? It doesn't cost to be kind, as we like to say. Now, the intricacies arise when talking about groups, and people in the South have their own amusing loophole in that case.

It's been said by many a Southern grandmother in many different ways, but the rule goes roughly as follows. If you're walking past just one other stranger, on the street or otherwise, it is always polite to extend a wave and smile at the very least. However, when passing a group, there's no longer any obligation. No greeting required. Why? We believe the original sentiment began with a touch more sass, asserting that Southerners are nice enough to wave at one city folk, but not a whole group. Over time, it's evolved into a rule of thumb for all, Southern residents or not.

Many places and people no longer see the importance of being outwardly (or overly) polite in public, but Southerners will never stop appreciating the tradition. In the end, whatever you're most comfortable doing is always the best answer, even if it means skirting away from etiquette in some situations. Just know that if you're walking along a charming downtown street on a Saturday afternoon in a small town in the South, you'll be getting plenty of greetings. Might as well smile and wave.

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