Paolo the hard of hearing (but unilaterally deaf) friend


It’s my second night in Lima and my friend has invited a few of his friends to meet us tonight. I see you appear looking quite smart, wearing a somewhat fashionable purple raincoat and bright mustard trousers. There is this unavoidable Indian or Peruvian looking ring on your middle finger and you have a rather effeminate posture about you. What really surprises me is you greet me orally, speaking some kind of broken English to say its nice to meet me. Immediately I ask why you are not signing to me and you quickly adjust once you’ve put down a bag. I am not sure if you had spoke unconsciously or whether its that your hands were occupied. You hastily give an introduction, with the sign known internationally for hard of hearing (horizontal palm cuts the ear in half). I acknowledged and introduced myself too, continuing to use sign language for the rest of our evening.

As we wait and wait patiently for one remaining friend to arrive, we get thirsty and I offer to get us all drinks. My main Peruvian friend, Martin, goes with me to the queue. I ask you and the others what you want to drink, and you get up and simply step right in front of Martin and I. I thought this was to look at the options on the head screen. It slowly emerges that you are about to order our group’s drinks for us, in speech and further, facing the barista directly away from us all. I am rather alarmed, never have I seen my own independence as well as could I see Martin’s own independence be removed.

No one asked you to order for us all. You appear helpful, but your overall manner is wrong in my eyes. You don’t just take over, especially when it was I who had offered you a drink. Did you mean no harm, wanting to be helpful? I’m not sure, but it was just how instantly you took over and how Martin and the other 2 friends seemed very accustomed to it. I am rather annoyed, and want to say something but there is a kind of conscious message from my inner self; reminding myself I was in Peru, to accept people for what they are, to remember that its not as advanced as the UK. I remind myself that I should only challenge when its really necessary. I remain quiet for a while and Martin knows from some private glances and hidden conversation with me that I was not pleased but would not approach it.

Later on we all move on to a Pizza-place. We selected our chairs and table. As if the script was written, it was so obvious and predictable. The waitress comes over and gives the menu to you, not us. You immediately take a lead role in canvassing our ideas for which food and drink we wanted as a group. You then ask the waitress your own questions about the choices and relay such information to us. We converse and agree on both Hawaiian and Mediterranean large pizzas to share between us all. We pick our drinks and then you do some maths to work out how much we all had to pay. You collect the money from us all, check your sums slowly and give different amounts of change accordingly. You then head off to order the whole thing and return to our table. I just found this amazingly predictable. Its like the super hearing does the ordering, the money and leading. No one asked you. You just naturally stepped into this rehearsed and regular role.

Regardless, it was a lovely evening of many conversations and questions ranging from Machu Pichu, coming out as gay, gay politics, governments and royalty. I learned a lot from these conversations.

I notice Martin occasionally uses his voice with you, especially when wanting to do a bitchy remark as do our gay boys! Our later conversations about having residual hearing and how we communicate in noisy places. You reveal to me that you are actually unilaterally deaf; you are totally hearing in one ear. In a way this helps me understand you more. It kind of lets me “forgive” some of your approaches.

I think about myself and how I am with speaking and hearing. Everyone knows I have a lot but that I prefer to use sign language and that I would never speak in front of someone who is a strong sign language user. In my 11 years at work I have never spoken in front of any deaf colleagues who do not speak. I have found these situations a little hard at times and my boss totally understood when she asked me in my last 2 weeks a wok how I decided when to speak or not. I explained I did not want anyone junior to me at work to think you had to speak to be able to enter senior roles. My boss endorsed my stance. As a family member of 8 generations of deaf people there have been learning points where I can see how my family members feel when the oral/speaking person just takes over. I just totally get it. I feel I have quite a good steer and that my parents have put me on the right path to make these type of judgements.

To be able to speak and then to be perceived to be more able in comparison to non-speaking deaf counterparts is wrong. But those who can speak have a duty, a need to understand how and when to do. Ordering and sorting monies out in cafes and restaurants is only one example. I also think its good for deaf awareness if we signed only to public services and in the hospitality sector. My friends have sometimes found it annoying when I only sign to restaurant staff etc but I believe they totally understand the point of my doing so. I am a man of principle.

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