Those Rude, Rude, Deaf People

I gotta say, this week’s ISL class was exceptionally dull, except for that bit when we’ve gone through the signs for the world’s countries (it appears that the ISL sign for Zimbabwe kinda looks like that thing they do on “Walk Like an Egyptian”.) Also, I found myself surprising the missus that there’s actually a sign for “Macedonia” in sign language. A few months ago, I couldn’t even sign “Greece”.

Usually, I find 3 out of 5 classes particularly indulgent: Ethics, Sign Language, and Deaf Culture. Like I said, SL rocked, but Ethics was rather a snore and Deaf Culture, for the first time, was also kinda dull. Maybe I was just tired, but I just couldn’t relate to the “theme” Gal, the teacher, had in mind. We were supposed to be two opposing (and apposing, now that I think of it) juries in a trial where the defendant is the Deaf Culture. Cool concept, but unfortunately, at the onset, Gal simply abandoned it and simply turned the trial into a class discussion. We’ve basically reached some very old conclusions that didn’t enhance our knowledge at all: the Israeli Deaf are aggressive, callous, crude, direct and frankly, a bit rude and often insolent.

These are facts that both the Deaf Community and the Friendly Hearing (and I think CODAs fit into that category like a glove) conceded a long time ago and normally don’t give it much thought (nor is it a knot in anyone’s knickers. There, I finally found use for that phrase!). Since Gal is the one who brought it up, nobody can say that we were assaulting the deaf “unprovoked”. I always thought that the Deaf are somewhat ruder and more impertinent than the Hearing simply because they tend to be intellectually isolated from the Hearing population, and that leads them to a sort of collective social retardation, easily alleviated by education, exposure and inoculation of the right social skills. This is probably still true, but Gal gave another explanation which I find simply fascinating and elegant:

Deaf people, like all people, are in a constant state of ignorance. To mitigate that ignornace, we ask questions, imitate, go to school, read books or even find out for ourselves the things we don’t know. Even though research and books and even schools are excellent tools for getting smarter and better, there is little subsitute to social immersion, and that, unfortunately, is the great bane of the Deaf experience. As Helen Keller succinctly put it: “Blindness distances you from scenes, Deafness distances you from people” (I paraphrased it a bit, since I couldn’t find a citation I can trust).

The problem for the Deaf, Gal explained, is that for the most part of their lives, they’re disconnected from the most important means for alleviating their horrible affliction: they’re lonely island of silence. Because of that, once they’re finally grouped together, capable of injecting in a hordes a cornucopia of (often trivial) details, they grant no quarter when they’re finally allowed a lively exchange of information and ideas. Sure, the internet allows the Deaf to communicate, sure, signed TV exposes the world to the Deaf, but there’s nothing that can replace the raw trade of ideas, feelings and interactions that exists in one-on-one communication (by the way, this is passionately animated by the new Israeli Deaf trend of using Webcams for conversations.)

So the explanation elegantly explains the cultural “vices” of the Deaf: you insert this kind of psychological pressure, that horrible affliction of social isolation, on members of a society, and you will not find yourself surprised if they skip the formalities and just fire away whatever it is that they want to ask or know. There’s no time for trying to figure stuff out behind people’s back (thought that obviously happens, too), you can’t call the other guy to affirm what was just said, you’re very much confined to the social event, which usually takes place about once a week, and you have the make the most of it at the minimum of time.

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10 Responses to “Those Rude, Rude, Deaf People”

  1. galia Says:

    intersting. i didn’t know that there are such common traits among the deaf. is this relevant to other deaf communities around the world?

  2. freidenker85 Says:

    Good question, and it’s probably not something a lot of Israeli Deaf people know. In the US, there’s probably so many Deaf people that they don’t suffer from the same Israeli seclusion. It’s even more possible that educational institutions for the Deaf are highly developed in other countries that they learn life skills and manners at the onset of their lives. I really can’t say, and my teachers might not, too.

  3. watercat Says:

    Since I wasn’t there, I can’t really judge,but. Reading this has really put a knot in my knickers {^_^} I’m afraid I have way more to say than belongs in a comment…

    Deaf culture on trial? Or Deaf people? For what? Who is judging it? It seems it has already been condemned as rude and crude: But how can a culture have any trait at all except if judged by the standards of some other culture? Is that even possible? Cultures by definition set their own standards for behavior, so if those differ from Hearing society, so what? Must the Deaf conform to the Hearing even in this? Talk about a desire to help the Deaf, while holding a foregone conclusion that they are assholes, is patronizing Audism, not helping.

    Elsewhere you wrote that you have not found a deaf person who didn’t happily accept a Hearie appointing themself as a gaurdian. Given any choice in the matter I think a deaf, but not Deaf, would do this, so I wonder about the state of Deaf Culture in Israel. The state where I live now has virtually no awareness of Deaf Culture, and the deaf here behave as you describe; unaware and unassertive of their rights, willing to let the Hearing “do for them”. In stark contrast, at Gallaudet the social norms were those of Deaf Culture, and we interacted in ways that would be considered rude in Hearing society—but we weren’t in Hearing society! Deaf people there are free to exercise their own preferences, and they follow their own social mores every bit as scrupulously as Hearing follow theirs. The Hearing intruders are seen as rude because they often violate Deaf mores.

  4. more watercat Says:

    Your situation there I’m sure is completely different from mine here, so please don’t think I am attacking; just venting, and trying to give a contrasting (maybe) perspective. You say deaf people are socially retarded. I can’t exactly disagree, but so am I socially retarded when I attend Deaf events—or Japanese events, or Christian events.

    Gal (D or H?) describes what happens when their isolation is temporarily lifted so they have a brief respite from the normal oppression. They take advantage of the opportunity, sure, and if a few Hearies get a knot in their knickers because we are not respectful of their sensibilities, tuff. Payback, bitches! You don’t learn our language, call us dummies, deny us legal rights etc etc, and we are the one who are rude? In a whole lifetime of being oppressed by Hearies, I don’t blame them much when they react with less than perfect respect for Hearing mores, and are willfully obstinate jerks. It’s karma. I’ve been kind of a disrespectful jerk myself in Christian environments, lol.

    Anytime a person operates in another culture they face culture shock, and the cure is to learn about how your culture differs from theirs. Before you can do that you have to learn your own culture—which in the case of deaf persons, they often have not been taught they even have a culture.

  5. freidenker85 Says:

    Oh, oh, we did mention the possibility that deaf cultural mores could just as easily be infringed my careless Hearies (I like that!).

    Listen, about the Deaf being needy – this is perhaps more attributable to the older generation of Deaf people, a la my dad, who would go through seven inches of snow with begging to be helped before he tries to do things on his own. You could say that it’s just him, but this is actually a trait common with Deaf people of his age. Gal said that it might have something to do with the fact that Deaf toddlers cannot associate patience with getting what they want, and this is why they tend to expect immediate gratification.

    It’s a nice explanation, but I take it with a grain of salt.

    Oh, and don’t be so hard on Gal and her “trials”. I think she was trying to impress us with the fact that Deaf people are often considered impertinent by the Hearing themselves, and so they’re “on trial”. There was also the notion that some of the “vices” of the Deaf culture are universal, and the Deaf are aware of them too. Being intrusive and aggressive are considered to be culturally common in the (at least old) Deaf communities here, but Gal spent a lot of her upbringing with Hearing people enough to know that takes the jam out of Hearing people’s doughnuts.

  6. freidenker85 Says:

    Gal is Deaf (doesn’t change the way you feel about it, just a bit?).

    I wasn’t in any way condemning the Deaf for being rude. I think the Deaf can have their way, as long as they don’t actually hurt any Deaf person. About Hearies, well, that’s a different story. Like you said, when meeting a person of another culture, you can’t go around getting hurt using your own set of moral ideas. Another lecturer of ours said that on a visit in China, she told some officials that she lost her baggage, and they laughed at her. She was much aggravated at the time, but later on she realized that in China, laughing is a sign of embarrassment, not only of amusement. Frankly, I’d never laugh out loud out of embarrassment, but who am I judge a civilization that’s entirely different than my own? You’re right, people have to take things in perspective.

    The “rudeness” of the Deaf, then, has to be taken in perspective as well. The only interesting part in all of that is what made this rudeness prevalent in the first place, not that it’s intrinsically wrong to have that in the Deaf. I’ve been living with the Deaf all my life, and I never felt they were that impertinent (then again, maybe it’s because fish don’t have a word for water).

  7. watercat Says:

    Needy deaf—interesting (your dad and I probly would not have gotten on 😉 When I wanted to start a karate club at Gally I was really frustrated by their attitude that there had to be a sponsor. They seemed unable to imagine the idea that if you wanted something you just set it up and did it yourself. I think Gal’s trials are a good idea, it’s just that had they been held here the discussion would have been far different than what you described. The standard example here is that a remark like “wow, you’re getting fat” is not considered rude amongst the deaf. And of course pointing is not impolite—I’ve got stories about that! My own take on that is such mores develop because in sign language it’s difficult to lie. There’s no passive voice in ASL, and I don’t think that’s unrelated; you can’t say things like “Mistakes were made.”
    Whenever we discuss names of countries, there is a big debate over which sign to use; traditional ASL sign or the sign used in indigenous sign language. Most agree that the old ASL sign for Japan was offensive, and now we see the Shuwa (Japanese SL) sign instead.
    You said “i never felt they were that impertinent” but you also said you conceded that “israeli Deaf are aggressive, callous, etc.”–that’s confusing. You said you’ve never met a deaf person who would have a problem with you self-appointing as their gaurdian—that suggests to me that there is not a strong Deaf Pride movement where you are, it’s more like here; little Deaf awareness, deaf ppl isolated, few Deaf social events, political action.(?) It baffled me when you mentioned you have never used sign lg to communicate with a hearing person: how would you even know? What about other CODA’s? At University, all the signers hung together as a clique (as did blacks, Hispanics, Asians, etc) who communicated via ASL, and there was no way to tell if someone was D or H.
    We had many Deaf social events. Most popular was “Silent Night”, for all the ASL students, Deaf ppl in charge, all had to use ASL, pay a fine if you slipped up and spoke. We played games and stuff, like a little county fair every month. Do you have such things? In these settings, Deaf social mores ruled; since I self-idenitfied as Hearing I had to monitor myself to not be offensive, (like by being too unaggressive or circumspect, aka ‘polite’ LOL). A lot of our ASL classes dealt with the formalities of Deaf conversation, so it was odd to see your only example of deaf rudeness was that they skip the formalities. In my experience they are as formula bound as any hearing, just different formulas. Again, the cliché example is introductions. I will suddup now.

  8. freidenker85 Says:

    Needy deaf—interesting (your dad and I probly would not have gotten on 😉 When I wanted to start a karate club at Gally I was really frustrated by their attitude that there had to be a sponsor. They seemed unable to imagine the idea that if you wanted something you just set it up and did it yourself. I think Gal’s trials are a good idea, it’s just that had they been held here the discussion would have been far

    Oh, don’t shut up, I’m reading your comments with extreme delight!

    Well, first of all, before I address anything, be aware that Israel is a small, hunted, isolated and slightly corrupt (politically as well as culturally) country. In the 50’s, when my dad was born and grew up, education for the Deaf was non-existent. We don’t have things like Gallaudet in here, and even though we have Deaf schools, they usually suck. The young Deaf sub-culture has only started to push the boundaries recently, in a quality and passion not unlike the open software phenomenon. The Deaf simply try to mimic Deaf people in other countries who have the resources to be more than what Israel can offer them. This isn’t actually a Deaf problem in Israel, most of my peers are extremely ignorant because the Israeli culture has absolutely diddly respect for education and knowledge.

    Israeli high school teachers get paid about 600-700$ a month, and that’s AFTER they get a bachelor’s degree. It wasn’t always like this, it’s just that Israelis tend to focus on idiot malign “get-money” knowledge and that usually implies dead end careers. Everyone tries to open a business without even having the slightest idea how to push themselves higher, and mostly, everyone who gets an education wants to get education in business and economics, not science and math. In the long run, this leads to enormous cultural and economic retardation, and that hurts the Deaf, too.

    I think you would have LOVED my dad 🙂 I don’t think anyone was ever able not to. Needy (to me, mostly!) or not, he’s one of the most affable human beings I’ve ever met.

    What you told me about Gallaudet brings me to tears. It’s amazing, and I only wish we’d ever reach such amazing development in our Deaf culture (and our acceptance of it). No, I did not sign to CODAs. For some reason, the few CODAS I know (I used to know a lot when I was little and I kinda hated hanging out with them, I think they hated hanging around with each other, because we all felt like all we’re doing is sharing our common “parental problems”. ) – never spoke or speak ISL to each other. Even now, when I’m going to ISL school, the many CODAs (and other ppl) tend to use speech rather than ISL (to the great aggravation of our Deaf teachers).

    I think there’s something that simply makes it uncomfortable for us to use it on hearing people. I can’t put my finger on it.

    I think your idea of why SL tends to be more brutal is fascinating – it’s that SL by nature cannot be watered down in straightforwardness that makes it more “aggressive”.

    You said that there’s a conflict between me knowing the Deaf for being aggressive and not seeing them as that. Obviously – I meant that as a Friend of the Deaf (as CODAs almost universally are), I understand their culture and can see beyond the superficiality of their rudeness (although sometimes in my adolescence I hated it, but mainly because I had the extremely adolescent idea that my parents were retarding my development, which isn’t entirely wrong, Deaf parents or not ;-> ).

    It is only through comparison to the Hearing culture I came to acquaint while growing up that I can say that they’re “rude”. As far as I’m concerned – it’s the Hearing people who’s got the problem!

    BTW, just a tiny curiosity – for many years, the sign for “Germany” was the same as the sign for “Swastika”. This would probably remain the same if it weren’t for former German Deaf people who found it insulting (so much for innate Deaf callousness!) – so we changed it to a sign a bit reminiscent of the Kaiser’s pointy helmet.

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