RSS Feed

The North Dakota Wave

February 7, 2013 by Hailey Goplen

The other day Blake and I were driving down a road a little off the beaten path. You know, one of those two lane roads where you don’t see another vehicle for miles at a time. A few minutes had gone by and eventually a car was coming towards us in the opposite lane. When the car passed, naturally we glanced over to watch it whiz by. “Oh, no!” screamed Blake as soon as the car was behind us. Now, I know very few of you have met my fiance and I actually don’t write about him often, but one thing about Blake is it takes a lot for him to raise his voice to express excitement, anger, fear, or any other emotion that would typically cause an amplification of your voice. Needless to say, when he does find reason to raise his voice, you know it is time to listen up. “What?!” I questioned eagerly, anticipating a monumental reason for this uncharacteristic exclamation. “They did the North Dakota wave at me and I didn’t wave back!”

For those of you that have no idea what Blake was referencing, I’ll clue you in. When we moved here, we noticed that people in small towns, or on small roads, wave at anyone they pass. But it’s not the typical full hand and arm wave. Instead, it involves just one or two fingers on the hand you are using to drive… typically positioned at the top of the steering wheel. In addition to the wave, some individuals may also include a slight head nod.

This wave is one of Blake’s favorite things about the Midwest and he loves any opportunity to use it. In fact, when we go on these road trips, Blake likes to try to initiate the wave and see how many people reciprocate. Unfortunately, when he misses a chance to wave and somebody does it first, he feels like a horrible human being. This particular missed opportunity was no different.

Mourning his lack of wave, I took it upon myself to assure him that another car would come along sooner or later. “In fact,” I suggested, “Why not make up for it by doing a whole hand wave!” His response? “Psh, no way. That’s not the North Dakota wave. People would think I’m crazy.”




  1. Palin Bree says:

    As I look for a regional word for loose threads on clothing or ravelings, I found this site. I began reading and found sayings that are the same in Texas in the 1800s and wonder if time not place is the strong point. I was looking for a word similar to “ma lav ah lins” but I found I must call the West Texas wave, the “Friendly” wave because it isn’t regional at all.

  2. Hey, cheers for sharing…

  3. I hope you don’t mind that I am bookmarking your site. Can’t wait to call back!

  4. Despite all the negative attacks, renewable jewels energy capacities clocked 1, 360 GW.
    I think we’ll stay very, very well. Last week the government announced plans for households to spend nearly 100 a year subsidising renewable jewelss and nuclear. In a nation where people have grown accustomed to not having to open doors because electric motor-driven doors open automatically, and there is a wide range of purposes. So we expect that that initiative would also increase over the fourth quarter if you can originate the corn.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I have lived in ND my whole life…the wave is one of my favorites!!! That and hotdish.

  6. tom says:

    A one finger wave saves energy while keeping control of the vehicle when driving through 3 foot snow drifts or a foot of mud.

  7. Joni says:

    I moved to Fargo 11 months ago from Bellingham, Washington and let me tell you that I find your enthusiasm for Fargo both admirable and confusing. :-) I am having a really hard time adjusting. I lived in Washington my whole life (44 years- minus 3 years when I lived near Portland, Oregon when I was a young kid). I’m looking forward to perusing through your blog to see if it helps me at all. We thought we would stay here a few years (long story- my husband’s from Wahpeton but has lived in Washington for the past 26 years), but now we are thinking we’ll be lucky if we make it 18 months. 😉

  8. Jodi says:

    Oh my gosh…LOVED this. It is so true!! I have lived in North Dakota my whole life..minus one year in South Dakota…and it is just so natural to wave…and I too feel guilty if I forget to wave!! On that note…one of the first times I visited my husband’s relatives out in Washington, we went to Seattle and we were stopped at a stop light and a few pedestrians walked by. I proceeded to wave…of course…and they looked at me like I was crazy!! My hubby’s family just laughed at me and reminded me that I wasn’t in North Dakota!! And that I had probably freaked those people out! LOL

  9. Ray says:

    A couple years ago I was driving the deserted highwys of central North Dakota when I came across a herd of cattle grazing in a pasture and as I drove by a couple of the cows looked up to acknowledge me. Now, sense the road was so boring, i was deeply involved in a perfectly good daydream and when they looked at me, I gave them the cows the finger wave. There has to be a lesson here someplace.

  10. Michelle says:

    Ha – love this. I’m writing a book about my dad and I mentioned this custom in one of the early chapters.

  11. Pat G says:

    It’s not just a ND thing , or at least only a mteer of degree. Nearly as common also thru Rocky Mtn west generally. Also not unknown in the rural parts of Pa , WV , western Va . Leastways so long as your vehicle and general apearence and vehicle seem semi fitting in to the setting. Also nods and small waves from people on their poarchs , yards , fields.

  12. Paul says:

    I grew up in rural South Dakota. Waving to any car within about a 5-mile radius of town is an almost involuntary action.

  13. Karlos says:

    A family from a small town in NoDak took their first trip to New York City. When they returned home everybody wanted to know how their trip to the big city was. The family said they couldn’t believe how friendly New Yorkers were.

    “Everywhere we went in a taxi, people were waving at us.”

  14. kathy says:

    What a wonderful piece of North Dakota tradition! It would be great if people in the D.C. could learn that variation of the finger wave. Out here, a few fingers from one driver to another typically mean something entirely different!

  15. Shannon says:

    I Love the Wave! I live in South Fargo, not in a small town or on a small road, but I always wave at my neighbors when we pass on the street. It is something I picked up when vising my grandparents in central ND when I was growing up. The best part in my neighborhood is that most of the neighbors have learned to wave back :) It makes a city street feel like its own small town when familiar faces take the time to smile and wave.

  16. jeff says:

    Many years ago my cousin from the cities asked me,”You know all these people your waving at?” me..”Nope”

  17. Dan says:

    20 years ago I was moving back from Colorado, when I was 30 miles south of the ND border in western SD, I new I was home when the finger waves started from all the ND cars.

  18. Chuck says:

    I grew up in PA (50 yrs ago) “back in the sticks” and that was the way drivers waved back then. You made me homesick.:-)

  19. J.D. Taylor says:

    As Howard Mohr put it in “How to Talk Minnesotan,” the secret of the finger wave, or any upper Midwestern wave when approaching an oncoming automobile, is proper timing. Too early and the reciprocal action is missed – and you’re “caught in the dreaded wave vacuum.”

  20. Jane says:

    This reminds me of another small town friendly habit of greeting everyone you see whether you know them or not with a hello or head nod when walking

  21. debg says:

    Oh yeah, made my day too! All so true!

  22. Brianne says:

    This story just made my day!! Love it! :)

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.