I was taught, in my undergrad, that if you are ever in a room with a Deaf/HOH person that you should be signing if you can as well as/alongside of speaking. I attended Deaf Club events where I was one of only a few hearing people, and I got to feel what it was like to being the odd person out who doesn’t understand the conversation.
Today, on my ride home on the train, I had a taste of that feeling again. I got on and started looking for a seat. First car was full to the gills so I moved on, but got stuck in the vestibule between cars. There were two women there with their pushchairs blocking most of the passage way through. They didn’t notice me at first nor did they make any effort to clear the passage, so I stood on my toes to look past them into the next car. Seeing it was full, I let out a frustrated noise that unfortunately got their attention.
One of the women, looking at me like I’d sauntered over and snatched her bald-headed for blocking my way, started huffing about and trying to move her pushchair. I immediately apologized for my outburst and made it clear that the noise I’d made was frustration at the full train and NOT at them. I chose to stop talking before I said “…not at you two, since you’re taking up all the room in this walkway and no one can get through due to your decision to not fold up your pushchairs, even though your children are in your arms…”
Anyway, I decided I’d just stand. It was only about 15 minutes to where I was going anyway. The women went back to their conversation…in French. Aha! I thought, that’s why they looked at me like that, maybe they didn’t understand me! I was all set to launch into self deprecating inner monologue, and to wonder when I could have ever become so arrogant as to assume everyone on a train would speak English, etc., when I happened to overhear something I recognized. I can’t quote it exactly because my French is really abysmal at best, but the jist was that the one woman was wondering aloud why that stupid American had thought it was okay to talk to her in English.
Properly incensed, I glowered for the other nine and a half minutes until the train stopped. How dare she? How did she know I didn’t speak French fluently? Etc. etc. etc…until the cold air hit me in the face and caused me to really think about what had happened. All I’d needed to say was “No no, that’s okay,” when she started to move the pushchair rather than, “No no, that’s okay, you’re fine where you are, that noise I made? That (insert sound of frustration here)? That totally wasn’t at you, that was at the full train, that’s all. Sorry about that.” Yeah, I would have rolled my eyes at me too. Ugh.
But more importantly it reminded me that I never know who might sign, and if I’m going to say something I should make sure I can say it in front of whomever is around.