When we were back in Ireland last summer, my eldest son was out driving with me in County Cork. A car approached, and the driver lifted his index finger to salute. I automatically returned the gesture.
My son looked at me quizzically, and asked:
“Do you know everyone in Ireland, Mom?”
“No, love,” I replied. “The finger salute is just something people do in Ireland, when they drive past one another on the road. It’s a polite way of saying hello to oncoming drivers, even if you have never laid eyes on them before.”
“Oh!” he said in a slightly unsure voice, as if to say: “This sure is a strange country, Mom.”
This caused me to think. Tourists must really get startled when they first encounter finger-saluting Irish drivers. I truly hope they realize it is the index or pointer finger, not the middle finger, being wagged towards them.
I can just imagine all those American drivers, checking they are still steering on the left side of the road, thinking they have just received a good, old, gestural telling-off.
I pray these unsuspecting tourists ask questions of the first Irishman they talk to, immediately describing this strange behavior. It won’t be long before they learn this finger pointing, wagging, wavering, or whatever form it takes, has developed as a polite way of acknowledging other drivers and saying hello, through a simple method of non-verbal communication.
So let it be known now, for once and for all, the finger used is the index finger or pointer, as it is called in America. The Irish do not use the middle finger for this greeting. They are not “giving you the finger”, in a disrespectful, rude manner, but merely greeting you in the absurd ways of the country.
This is rural hospitality at its finest. On every return visit to Ireland, I am struck by it, as was my son.
But be warned, if the flipped finger is accompanied by a loud, honking horn, you probably are driving on the wrong side of the road.
Hopefully, you won’t pass this crew on the road, because who knows what kind of greetings they use!
Slan agus beannacht leat!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom