Dear Mary Pat,
Being from Wisconsin, I’m curious about when honking hello is and is not called for when driving. I assume it’s always OK, but sometimes I fear I could scare my elderly friends. Also, because I know everybody in my town, I find that I’m basically always honking and rarely paying attention to the road. That doesn’t seem safe, but it seems so rude not to honk. What is the acceptable amount of honking, and must I apologize to someone if I forget to?
Egg Harbor, Wisconsin
Dear The Honker,
Horns were not put in cars as a means to give a friendly hello to your friends and neighbors. Horns are meant to be used to warn other drivers of a potential crash or dangerous road situation. This was covered in driver’s education, but most people probably skimmed or skipped that chapter (every cab driver in New York City, for example).
If you honk at someone who’s walking down the sidewalk – even the short and friendly “Beep! Beep!” – any and all drivers in the surrounding area might think the honking is intended for them. This could cause confusion on the road, which is never a good thing.
If you see someone you know while driving, a quick, one-handed wave is the best way to say hello. If the person sees you, great. If the person doesn’t, it’s not worth getting into an accident over.
Miss Pat was educated at the Finnish Finishing School for Fine Ladies. Eloquent in edifying etiquette, she is fluent in seven languages, including the language of love. Mary Pat has generously extended her counsel to you and will answer any and all inquiries. Email Mary Pat at [email protected].