ON HAND: Ordering at a restaurant

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

When I go out with a signing hearing person, I’m often unsure of protocol for ordering. With deaf people, it’s a given that we’ll order for ourselves. With hearing people, I prefer to order for myself–but what if the situation becomes silly and it’s easier to just let the hearing person speak for me? Is that showing I’m not independent enough and “need help”?

A few months ago, I went to a dinner with a hearing friend I hadn’t seen in seven years. When the waiter came around, my friend knew I was going to order a Sprite and spoke for me before I could stop him. I told him that I’d prefer to order for myself, and he was cool about it. But the waiter kept on talking to him, even though I had pointed out my order and had indicated I wanted to write some of the particulars (ketchup, mayo, etc.). Worse yet, the waiter was almost impossible to lipread. I was annoyed, but my friend was an innocent bystander–or was he? Should he have told the waiter, “Please communicate with Trudy directly”? Should I have made a big deal out of it or just let it slide? Where is the fine line between asserting and overreacting?

What about if I’m with a fluent hearing signer? I was at Chipotle’s (a Mexican restaurant with a set-up much like Subway’s), and started to point to a menu–only to find that the order-taker was too short to lean over the counter to see what I was pointing to. So I hurriedly turned to my friend (an interpreter) and asked her to order for me. I felt bad for “depending” on her, especially since she was off duty.

Should I swallow my pride and not worry so much about whether I’m coming across as an idiot to the order-takers, and let the hearing person speak for me for the sake of convenience? Or do I offend the interpreter by “relying” on him/her like many other deaf people do?

Another time, I was at Wendy’s with a CODA. He was new to Deaf culture (although he grew up in it, he didn’t really know about the culture), and I let him order first in order to avoid having him speak for me. As he stepped aside to wait for his food, I wrote my order down. The teenage worker looked at me and spoke. The CODA stepped in to try and interpret, and I signed, “Myself, thanks”–and asked the worker to write. The worker spoke again, and I again gestured for him to write. He suddenly looked behind me, and I knew immediately that the CODA had spoken behind my back. I turned around and said, “MYSELF!” Finally the worker slowly wrote: “Circle one: Single or Junior?”

Should I have just let the CODA take care of it for me? Would the worker have spoken or written, “Circle one” to any other adult? My friend and I apologized to each other later–me for snapping at him, and him for not realizing I wasn’t like his uneducated parents who always relied upon him. He explained later that whenever he went out with his parents and their friends–oftentimes six or seven people–they expected him to interpret for all of them.

So what’s the answer to how protocol should be?

I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

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