DAY 4. It’s a Sign

It’s nearly impossible for hearing people who are learning American Sign Language (ASL) not to “eavesdrop” as we try to increase our vocabularies, watching intently to understand even a bit of the conversations playing out before our eyes.

Fortunately, most Deaf people want the rest of us to learn their beautifully expressive language. During the school year they help us out by participating in a “Silent Dinner” at a local food court.

Once a week, Deaf people with a little extra time and more than a little patience mingle with students of sign language, chatting silently with us over dinner and staying for a few hours after to give us “hands-on” experience, correcting our malformed signs and patiently watching as we s…l…o…w…l…y fingerspell the words we don’t have signs for, then showing us the missing sign a couple of times so they don’t have to suffer through that again.

At my first Silent Dinner, I was struggling to tell a small group of Deaf mentors how hungry my boyfriend Bill and I were, trying to find a restaurant in Orlando during dinner rush the previous weekend.

Bill and I kept finding the restaurants swamped with patrons, so it took us an hour of driving around before we found a place to eat. We were very hungry.

I was emphatically repeating the sign for “hungry,” to show that we weren’t just a little bit, but a lot, hungry, when I noticed more than a few people watching my signing, and smiling.


“Hmmm, I must be getting pretty good,” I thought. “People are actually smiling their approval!”

Oh, Vanity, thy name is “clueless.”

It seems that in a very public place, in front of total strangers, I was telling anyone who looked in my direction of my great appetite, all right.

But when you repeat the sign for “hungry,” it changes the meaning: you’re talking about an appetite of an entirely different sort.

One you don’t usually discuss in polite company.

I haven’t been to a Silent Dinner since.

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About Billie Noakes

The writer you want for crisp, clean copy.
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3 Responses to DAY 4. It’s a Sign

  1. Haley says:

    This is a great story — love the “finished” sign at the end. 🙂 I took two years of ASL in college and definitely had my fair share of faux pas at Deaf events. If it makes you feel any better, I had no idea that repeating the sign for “hungry” changed its meaning, but I’ll file that tidbit away now!

  2. Too funny! My 5 oldest children and I took 2 sign language classes together (and another daughter is continuing her study) and I can SO related to this story! Thank you for a delightful post this morning.

    Found you through Blogathon 2011.

  3. Tara says:

    Ha, When I studied ASL (many years ago) we called it “eyesdropping.”

    This is an awesome story.

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