I don’t know about other deaf travellers, but during the last two years of travelling around the world with just me and both my hearing aids, I get used to five annoying different sayings I often hear uttered back at me from fellow travellers and locals upon meeting them. How do I respond? With ingenuity…
1) ‘You Can’t Be Deaf, You Wear A Hearing Aid!’
If you see me trickling blood down from my mouth where my teeth has bitten through the inside of my cheek, this is why. This is the most frequent saying I come across and possibly on a daily basis when I’m travelling.
I’m deaf overall even with a hearing aid that enables me to hear sound. But I still don’t hear everything. Think of having absolutely thick mufflers over your ears and you may just get it. My hearing with a hearing aid? I can only hear voices one decibel louder than background noise. Hearing people can hear seven decibels lower than background noise. That’s probably why I still can’t hear you in a meeting place that’s busily humming with other people talking.
If I can’t be bothered to explain, I simply pop out my hearing aid and say ‘now what does this make me?’
2) ‘Show Me the Rude Words in Sign Language!’
I’ll be honest, SOMETIMES I enjoy this saying. It’s a great bonding tool! Nothing brings together a group of people over some rude gesticulating. Particularly if it’s a old Fijian granny who kept insisting I show her.
But what can be annoying is that you asked me this before getting to know my personality. On some occasions within a minute of meeting me. Sometimes I’ll say no and walk off. Sometimes I’ll explain I will show them later once I get to know them. Sometimes I claim I can’t sign. Or sometimes I get my own back…
After the ritual of the rude words being taught, some may ask to learn more sign language. I may just ‘accidently’ teach them the wrong signs for introducing themselves if they ever meet another British deaf person. To my delight in Thailand, there was one travelling through! Oh, how embarrassed my new friend was when I told him after he came back to me, looking confused, claiming the other deaf traveller shot him a filthy look! Not to worry, I explained the situation to the other deaf traveller who rightly agreed with me as she said she keeps getting the same requests! But you’ll be happy to note that they both got their own back at me when I wanted to ask a Spanish beauty if she wanted a drink. Using the Spanish they taught me, I asked her if she wanted a drink only to be snorted at and given a filthy look. Turns out I said ‘Buscas sexo?’ (Seeking sex?) I was truly had and we all fell about laughing after they explained it to me!
3) ‘Can I Catch It?’
My mouth dropped open and became utterly speechless when I heard this. I literally ask him to repeat what the dreadlocked Australian said, thinking I must have spaced out in the frigid air-conditioning in Thailand. He seemed clever and eloquently spoken and yet he thought he might ‘catch’ deafness from me. It’s not a bug writhing around chomping off bits of your cochlear but rather a condition that you’re either born with or by trauma.
Before I answered him, I did entertain the possibility of removing my hearing aid and become panicky shouting out to him ‘Run! The germs are the loose! They are going to get yoooooooooooou!’ But sadly, being the professional backpacker I am (and stopping any sniggering), I explained carefully to him, that you cannot ‘catch’ deafness.
But what amazed me is that it wasn’t the ONLY time I heard this. I heard this in Europe, South America and (I shouldn’t be surprised) Australia. Who’s teaching you this?!
4) ‘But You Speak Really Well!’
‘Wow! So do you!’ is my standard answer. Quickly, they realised they said the wrong thing and smile bemused. Does a disorder of my ear organ affect the voicebox? Nah. But it’s always about the stereotypical view in everyone’s minds from the outdated term ‘deaf and dumb’ that makes them automatically assume that I cannot speak. In fact, in reality it’s opposite. You’ll guarantee that the noisiest person in the hostel/hotel making speaking more loudly than normal is probably deaf. Hey, I get told off for talking too loud about the sexual misdemeanours of the guy sat in front of the tour bus.
A hilarious answer I would offer if I heard that saying would require someone standing close next to me. I simply shake my arms about to point at my ‘friend’ and in a sotto voice to the sayer, ‘it’s not really me, it’s him. He’s the one pulling the strings in my back! Bwahahaha!’ Okay, that may be creepy.
If you want to really congratulate me, say ‘I love your singing!’ I’ve still yet to retrieve any good feedback from my singing of ‘My Heart Will Go On’ when I’m on the toilet anywhere.’
5) ‘Should You Be Travelling On Your Own?’
Smacking my forehead, I keenly exclaim, ‘You’re right! I shouldn’t be! Can you walk with me to make sure I get to the bathroom okay?’
I’ve travelled for two years solo through five continents. I’m pretty sure I’m okay. I’ve dropped my hearing aid down Vietnamese toilets in which I have to fish it out. I’ve had my Cochlear Implant smashed on the streets of Bangkok thanks to an attempted mugging. I’ve had my hearing aids wet on numerous occasions. I’ve overslept my alarm to catch the only ferry going off the island that week. My loop-induced headphones broke and I had to endure 24 hour bus journeys without any music. I’ve had a hearing aid picked out of my ear from a laughing Ugandan kid who I had to chase for an hour. I didn’t hear the taxi driver mistakenly confirm my address on the dark streets of Buenos Aires thus taking me to a dodgy neighbourhood. And plenty more. I’m still here. And plenty of travellers, whether hearing or deaf find themselves in a situation out of their control. It’ll only make you stronger. Just remember to turn your alarm to vibrate so you CAN make the only ferry off the island that week.
What’s other annoying sayings do you hear on the road? Do you think you might have said an annoying saying to a deaf traveller?