Saturday, July 25, 2009
Saying "thank you" in American Sign Language
I was the victim of stereotyping the other day.
"How much is this?" I asked the hardware store clerk. "Ten ninety-five," she said, after scanning the bar code.
"Okay," I said, proffering a twenty.
She made change, handed it to me, and said "Thank you" in American Sign Language.
She had recognized my "deaf speech."
Not so long ago I would have bristled inwardly at the clerk's clumsy lumping together of all deaf people. We do not all speak sign language. Some of us prefer speech and lipreading. However imperfect our skills may be, they help us communicate with the hearing world on its own terms. We have chosen our path and those who believe in ASL have chosen theirs.
Age and experience, however, have led me to realize that in their blissful ignorance most hearing folks in this situation mean well. That clerk wasn't patronizing, trying to be kind, or showing pity. She was simply acknowledging my humanity, even though she may have been clueless about what specific part of that humanity I belong to.
"You're welcome," I said -- again in voiced English -- with a wink and a nod.
She beamed, even though she missed the irony that I had responded in her language.
For her our brief connection must have been a small blessing in a long day.
That was fine with me.
(By the way, "kiitos" is "Thanks" in Finnish. Now you know.)