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Category Archives: Deaf/hearing cultural differences

Can Writing About Food Spread Understanding of Deaf Culture?

Anna: These days, everyone is obsessed with food, posting photos of practically every meal they eat, cook or fantasize about on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Besides being an interpreter, I am a freelance writer and focus my magazine articles on the intersection of food and culture in order to increase Americans’ sensitivity to people from various cultures. I trust that the subject of food is so fascinating that while readers learn about “exotic” dishes from around the world, they may unconsciously absorb some cultural knowledge as well.

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Culinary Arts instructor, Vernon McNece, shares a moment with his students in the F.E.A.S.T. program at the California School for the Deaf – Fremont (photo: Nick Wolf)

But could this strategy work to sensitize Americans to the elements of Deaf culture as well? I think it definitely can. Although Tom and I have written books and produced videos to educate people about the features of Deaf culture, our consumers are usually ASL students or interpreters and not members of the wider public. So whenever I have the chance to write a food article and give some exposure to a Deaf chef or restaurant owner, I consciously include some relevant details that I hope will reveal aspects of Deaf culture to the general public. My initial chance to do so was when I  profiled my friend Betty Ann Prinz, the first self-identified “foodie” in our local Deaf Community. Besides teaching ASL, she cooked, catered, taught wine classes and became a trusted authority whom other Deaf people could go to with food-related questions. After recounting her life journey for my article, Betty Ann added some tips about which are the best seats for Deaf restaurant patrons (depending on the shape of the table, lighting and a non-distracting location). I am sure many hearing readers never considered this before.

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Melody and Russell Stein, owners of Mozzeria in 2011, during their construction phase (notice paint on Russ’ hands)  before their opening night. (photo:Anna Mindess)

The biggest challenge came when I interviewed the owners of the now acclaimed Deaf-owned San Francisco restaurant Mozzeria, Russ and Melody Stein. My meeting with them occurred a couple of weeks before opening night and Melody informed me that she definitely did not want me to give away any secrets about their up-coming menu (like their signature Hoisin duck pizza). So what could I write about for a food-focused website if not the food? The day I visited their not-yet opened Italian restaurant in a historic 1908 building, there was a lot of preparation going on: hammering, sawing, drilling.  Speaking with the Steins, I learned that they had hired Deaf wood refinishers to bring out the warm luster in the old floor, a Deaf electrician who was Melody’s classmate at CSD and a Deaf woodworker to design and make their door, tables, shelves, seating and marble-topped counter. So I mentioned: “As is the custom in collectivist Deaf Culture, the Steins looked first for Deaf artisans and laborers to fill their needs.”

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Deaf food fans on Edible Excursions’ ASL tour of the Berkeley Gourmet Ghetto get a lesson in local butchery. (Longtime foodie Betty Ann Prinz is in the center) (photo: Ken Arcia)

In another article, I wrote about a local food tour in ASL for the many Deaf Bay Area food lovers who aren’t chefs themselves, just regular people (software developers, college professors, actors and retired folk)  who are obsessed with trying out new places and learning about the food history of Berkeley’s “Gourmet Ghetto.” As the tour leader, I knew I would be breaking a rule of politeness in Deaf culture. Due to our tightly planned schedule tasting tidbits at nine places in three hours,  I was going to have to rush the group from one spot to another. In Deaf Culture, I wrote, (despite the advances of email, video phones and texting), face-to-face communication in expressive ASL often has top priority and thus it is considered rude to interrupt signed conversations.

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Students Maribel Vargas and Milana Boren work on their entry for the Deaf Culinary Bowl, while Vernon McNece enumerates the tasks left to do in their timed practice. (photo: Nick Wolf)

My most recent article to pair food and Deaf culture came about when a mutual friend, –who knew we were both food-obsessed —  introduced me to Vernon McNece. Vernon had just moved back to California to become an instructor in the F.E.A.S.T. (Food Education and Service Training) program at the California School for the Deaf – Fremont.  It just happened that the day I visited Vernon’s classroom with a photographer, he and his students were preparing for the 8th Annual Deaf Culinary Bowl. That subject gave me a chance to describe the long tradition of diverse competitions in the Deaf community, such as the National Deaf Academic Bowl, the Deaflympics and even school football games and neighborhood bowling leagues.

Vernon also shared his story of working in a Food Lab, but as the only Deaf employee.  It was a frustrating experience for him, because although he had exceptional talent in creating formulas in record time, his hearing co-workers couldn’t even tell him how well he was doing.  When I turned in my article to the editor of Edible East Bay magazine, she expressed her appreciation of learning so many new facts about Deaf culture and her certainty that her readers would be equally enlightened.

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Vernon McNece explains to Maribel Vargas how to plate her salad to impress the judges. (photo: Nick Wolf)

Here is the full article about culinary instructor, Vernon McNece:

http://edibleeastbay.com/online-magazine/fall-harvest-2017/deaf-chefs-compete/

So if any of you are experts in something, pick your topic: be it sports, dance, art, cars, business and find a Deaf angle to write about. You may be doing a service by educating a new community of readers.

Visit Two Deaf-Owned Restaurants: Taipei’s Lotus and Bravo

Visit Two Deaf-Owned Restaurants: Taipei’s Lotus and Bravo

Anna Mindess 

As the waitress gently places the closed bud of a lotus flower in my pot of boiling broth, it slowly unfurls to show off its bright purple petals. CAN EAT? I sign to my new acquaintances around the table in this Deaf-owned restaurant. I see a chorus of nodding heads. It’s my first night in Taipei, but I’m already feeling quite at home thanks to the warm welcome from a half-dozen Deaf people and a couple of hearing interpreters who have come to dine with me at Lotus hot pot restaurant.

“Hot pot” refers to a classic Chinese DIY dinner, in which diners cook a variety of thinly sliced meats and a garden of vegetables in their own bubbling pots of broth. But Lotus hot pot is a bit different – and not just because its owner and many of the restaurant staff are Deaf – it also features an extra-healthy menu of organic vegetables, therapeutic broths with your choice of “Chinese medicine base” plus a salad bar of wild mountain herbs “to help remove toxins from the body.”

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I look forward to meeting the owner of Lotus and learning his story, but right now, he’s busy in the kitchen. So, it’s time to eat. The server brings out platters of assorted cut-up veggies, sliced meats, fish balls, plus the shellfish I ordered. And here‘s my next challenge. After being an American Sign Language interpreter and hanging out with Deaf people for over 30 years, I am used to one of the consequences of a culture that values face-to-face communication above almost anything else: eating cold food. Sure, the food comes out of the kitchen hot. But since a bit of juicy news or a good story needs to be appreciated in its entirety, it would be impolite to interrupt signed remarks for something as basic as enjoying hot food. The food will still be there, albeit a little cooler, when the story is done.
img_5058In the case of a hot pot restaurant, however, each diner must cook the various ingredients in their broth and carefully remove them before they overcook, so that the vegetables don’t become mushy and the meat doesn’t toughen up. As a novice, I am attempting to juggle my chopsticks, the unfamiliar green botanicals and some slippery shellfish while simultaneously trying to converse with a tableful of guests who know varying amounts of ASL. The woman sitting next to me, Ginger Hsu, a hearing Taiwanese Sign Language interpreter who speaks some English, has been looking up on her phone the English words for unfamiliar ingredients. Once she notices that my timing is off and the vegetables in my pot are becoming limp, she volunteers to help cook my dinner while I chat away. What impressed me most during my two weeks in Taiwan was the caring kindness of strangers.

Thanks to the global network of Deaf connections, this evening was organized for me by Will Chin, a thoughtful Taiwanese Deaf man who lived in the US for nine years while he attended Gallaudet, the University of Maryland and later taught.

The chain of Deaf acquaintances that led me to Will started with Melody Stein, who with her husband, runs San Francisco’s famous, Deaf-owned Mozzeria restaurant, which I wrote an article about on the eve of its opening in 2011. A couple of years later, when I was planning a trip to Hong Kong, I remembered that Melody was born there and asked if she had any friends in Hong Kong who might know ASL. She did and made the connection for me to the wonderful Jenny Lam, who had also attended Gallaudet. Jenny organized a dinner for me, much like this one, with a dozen Deaf people who had spent time in the US. Later, she took me an elegant dim sum restaurant because she knew I was writing an article about dim sum. When planning my trip to Taiwan, I contacted Jenny to see if she knew anyone in Taipei who might know ASL. She introduced me to Will Chin. When I emailed him and mentioned that besides being an ASL interpreter, I also write articles about food and culture for magazines and websites, Will knew I would love to visit this Deaf-owned restaurant.

After we finish eating, Will takes me back to the kitchen to meet owner Lu Chia-Hsun and interprets for me between Taiwanese Sign Language and ASL.

Lu previously had an office job, but in 2009, he worked on the International Deaflympics in Taipei. He had become ill because, he tells me, because he ate out a lot and didn’t make healthy choices. After mingling with Deaf athletes from around the world, he realized the importance of good food. When the Deaflympics ended, Lu looked for another job but became frustrated when he was repeatedly turned down. On his travels around Taiwan, he visited the city of Hualien and discovered a healthy hot pot restaurant, Sakura. He thought that opening a branch in Taipei would meet with success, asked his family to support him in this venture, and they agreed. But when Lu approached the owner of Sakura , he was met with resistance. Other people had tried to open branches of this restaurant but they had all failed. And now a deaf person with no restaurant experience! Lu’s family members negotiated on his behalf with the owner, saying if Lu fails, we will take responsibility. The owner finally agreed.

Lu opened the Taipei branch in 2009 and initially, not many customers came. Then slowly, as word spread about this healthy version of classical hot pot, the spot attracted more and more customers. “Business is very good now,” Lu tells me, “except when the weather is too hot. But when it’s cold outside, we have a huge line!”

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Will Chin showed me Jiufen and two Deaf-owned restaurants

A few days later, after Will takes me to visit the quaint mountain town of Jiufen, we head back to Taipei for an afternoon coffee at Bravo, another Deaf-owned restaurant. This cozy café sports a sunshiny interior, from its butter yellow walls to its taxicab yellow coffee roaster and espresso machine. Since, like Lotus, this restaurant caters to both Deaf and hearing customers, the walls are decorated with illustrations of some crucial signs – especially for caffeine-deprived customers who need to get their morning fix in a hurry. While we wait for our drinks, I practice the signs for “Good morning, “Coffee,” and “Thank you.”

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Johnny Lo makes coffee at Bravo

Will introduces me to husband and wife owners, Johnny Lo and Mandy Chang. Lo tells me that when he decided to open a coffee shop, he was warned that it was a very competitive business. In order to achieve coffee drinks with an exceptional taste, he studied privately with a teacher for a year and a half. And it took six months of practice, he adds, to master the flowers, swans and heart shapes he fashions out of foamed milk to top his coffee drinks.

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His little shop attracts both Deaf and hearing customers. The busiest time is 8-10am for regular customers. Saturday is the most popular day for Deaf customers, who in Deaf cultural tradition, tend to stay all day. After their morning cups, they migrate outside to continue their conversations. On weekday afternoons, like today, there is usually a Deaf group around the table, who can sip and chat for hours. But if some new hearing customers come in, as I observe on this day, the Deaf regulars, quickly make space for them to be comfortable.

Lo and his wife, who are Bravo’s only employees, serve just coffee, cocoa and tea drinks plus waffles (in original, green tea and chocolate flavors). Since there are no hearing employees and Lo and his wife are both Deaf, they provide a large placard where customers can point to their drinks of choice.

As Will and I leave, I wiggle both thumbs to sign a big “Thank you” in Taiwanese Sign Language to Johnny and Mandy.

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Is there a “Tipping Point” in Deaf Culture?

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Tom:

How many times have you gone to a restaurant with a group of Deaf people and found yourself dismayed and embarrassed at the poor tip left on the table despite the good service you received? Is poor tipping a characteristic element of Deaf Culture or the insensitivity of individuals?

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As I discussed in my book, Introduction to American Deaf Culture, there are three categories of social behavior that can be attributed to a culture – Explicit, Tacit, and Emblematic. Some cultural norms are explicitly stated through formal documents such as a constitution, laws, and policies. Equal rights, traffic laws, and age of consent are examples of behaviors that are explicitly dictated by formal documents.

By contrast, many other cultural behaviors are tacitly monitored by community members. Even without formal rules in place, people are expected to follow the expectations of their society. For example, in the United States, people typically walk to their right on a crowded sidewalk, eat with a fork, and wash their hands after relieving themselves.

Yet another category is labeled emblematic. The behaviors in this category are the ones that are not necessarily required or expected of community members, yet are associated with a particular group due to their visibility or uniqueness.   For example, even though most Americans might not order super-sized meals at fast-food restaurants, these huge portions are emblematic of the United States, as they are rarely found elsewhere in the world.

It seems that poor tipping is emblematic of American Deaf people. While most of us would tip appropriately commensurate to the level of service received, servers in restaurants have been known to dread working at tables with deaf patrons due to their past experiences of receiving poor tips.

In discussing this phenomenon with my Deaf students at Ohlone College, I noticed the same pattern among many in the logic of poor tipping. They often consider tipping as an “extra”– a bonus to what the servers are already earning as their regular pay. Therefore, many of them have no guilt about leaving a small tip or none at all, since they consider themselves rather poor as compared to hearing people in general, including those who had served them.

Hallstatt,_Achtung_KellnerThis perception may be surprising to many people, but not to me as a Deaf person. Most hearing people have some experience with the restaurant industry, whether it be working as a server themselves or hearing from family members or friends who have. They either had the first-hand experience of being stiffed by poor tips or had the opportunity to discuss this frustrating experience with others. They know very well how hard people in restaurants have to work to bring home a living wage given the current pay structure, most of which is dependent on the generosity of their patrons. (Many states still allow tipped workers to be paid just $2.13/ an hour, see this fact sheet)

By contrast, most Deaf people do not have any experience with the restaurant industry. They do not understand how tips constitute the bulk of a server’s earnings. Furthermore, many Deaf people are unable to partake in family conversations due to the inability of their relatives to communicate effectively with them. Consequently, they miss out information about the cultural expectations of tipping associated with the restaurant industry and think nothing of leaving a small tip or none at all, after enjoying a meal at a restaurant.

So while poor tipping may be emblematic of Deaf culture, it’s often due to a limited awareness and exposure to the American culture of tipping, rather than insensitivity to the work that servers do. Therefore, I believe that Deaf culture is not to blame for this inappropriate restaurant behavior, but rather the families who have failed to communicate effectively with their Deaf children.   What do you think?

FREE Resource for ASL, Deaf Culture and Interpreting Instructors

FREE Resource for ASL, Deaf Culture and Interpreting Instructors
RBS Workbook now available Free

RBS Workbook now available Free

Anna:
In conjunction with the October release of a new 3rd edition of my book Reading Between the Signs, the  publisher and I decided to make available as a FREE Ebook, the companion Workbook which was published several years ago.

The Workbook contains 22 exercises that help readers develop an intercultural perspective, undertake cultural self-examination and illuminate major contrasts between American Deaf and hearing cultures. Activities may be done either alone or in small groups. It complements all 3 editions of the book. Here is the link to download the whole book:

http://www.nicholasbrealey.com/Reading%20Between%20the%20Signs%20Workbook.pdf

Or you may get a FREE Kindle Version from Amazon 

Here is a sample exercise called: YOUR POLITE IS DIFFERENT FROM MY POLITE

Directions: Read the statements below and decide if they describe an attitude more often found in mainstream American (hearing) culture or in American Deaf culture. Put an H (for hearing) or a D (for Deaf ) in the spaces provided.

______ 1. Sharing personal information benefits us all.

______ 2. The “grapevine” shows people care about each other.

______ 3. Name-dropping is pretentious.

______ 4. Graphic descriptions of bodily functions and surgical procedures often make people uncomfortable.

______ 5. Describing your ties to well-known community members can demonstrate your trustworthiness.

______ 6. Stories regarding your own and others’ illnesses and medical treatments are important to share.

______ 7. Passing along the latest news about mutual friends is considered “talking behind their backs.”

______ 8. Softening a critical comment often makes it easier for the other person to accept.

______ 9. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

_____ 10. Some topics (such as money and bathroom habits) are off-limits in polite society.

_____ 11. You owe it to your friends to inform them if a new hairstyle is unbecoming.

_____ 12. If you have a criticism, tell it straight.

Draw lines between pairs of sentences above that express opposite messages.You should end up with six pairs.

Remember that these are generalizations of tendencies within each group.Individual members of either group may subscribe to the attitude expressed by a particular statement to a greater or lesser degree. (Suggested answers to this exercise appear in book on page 120.)


Please share this free resource with any ASL, Deaf Culture or Interpreting instructors that you know. Thanks!!

Mourning the loss, celebrating the spirit of Dr. Nathie Marbury

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Tom:

We have lost a giant in the Deaf community.  Dr. Nathie Marbury was much loved and well respected by her friends, colleagues and students.   She was an inspiration to many, especially those in the Black community, and in the fields of ASL teaching, Deaf theatre, and Deaf education .  She also was a pioneer in analyzing and documenting Deaf culture.  We will miss her dearly.
 
For a brief biographical sketch of her life, click on this website..
 
 
To view her performance of “To Dream The impossible Dream”, click on this website
 
 
To join her facebook page, click on this website.
 
 
To view one of her discussions on the differences between deaf and hearing cultures, click on this website..  
 

Reporting Bathroom Behavior – Is that really “Deaf Culture”?

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Tom:

These days on YouTube, you can find many attempts to explain differences between Deaf culture and hearing culture.  One good example is the work of  a CODA named Will (CODA8810).  He provides several episodes, which although exaggerated, illustrate how Deaf people can behave very differently from hearing people. One of his scenes depicts graphically the openness and the etiquette related to information sharing regarding what goes on in the bathroom. This kind of openness has long been the subject of debates among Deaf people as to the appropriateness of such disclosures.  You need to watch Will’s 3 short scenes on YouTube: to see for yourself. So, does this truly fit the definition of Deaf Culture?

As discussed in the book Introduction to American Deaf Culture, cultural behaviors can be categorized into three categories – explicit, implicit, and emblematic.  Some behaviors are explicitly regulated through laws or policies.  For example, the government determines the legal age for getting a driver’s license or drinking alcohol beverages.  The legal age for these actions varies from culture to culture.  Other behaviors are implicitly understood.  Rather than being regulated by laws or policies, they are generally accepted and practiced by the community members.  For example, tipping rules also vary from culture to culture.  Here in American restaurants, a tip of 15% to 20% of the bill is expected, but not mandated by law.  The final category is where behaviors are emblematic of the culture but not necessarily practiced by most members of the community.  For example, foul language is often used in American movies, giving an impression to people throughout the world that such behavior is typical of Americans.  While most Americans may not themselves swear as much as certain characters in movies, foul language has become emblematic of American culture.

In the case of Deaf culture, etiquette associated with information sharing about bathroom behavior or personal ailments has been long debated among Deaf people.  Letting others know where you are going when you leave the room is expected of Deaf people, even if the bathroom is your destination.  Adding a vivid description of what transpired in the bathroom is not.  Yet, it is not that unusual to be at the receiving end of a detailed description of a difficult bowel movement or colorful vomit.  This openness can be considered emblematic of Deaf culture…that is it is not customary or expected of Deaf people to be graphic, yet such descriptions are not that unusual within the Deaf community.  CODA Will makes  this point in his another YouTube presentation —  What do you think?

“Why do you ask?” – Web TV Channel Highlights Deaf/Hearing Cultural Differences

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Anna:

Here’s a new web TV channel that highlights Deaf and hearing cultural differences. First installment: a Deaf man asks too many “personal questions” to a hearing woman he just met. It’s in “international sign” with English captions.

http://www.h3.tv/shows.php?show_id=3

(If you look carefully at the credits, you’ll see they were inspired by our materials. Nice.)