I have recently become a regular user of public transport. The interesting thing about public transport is that human behaviour is laid bare. If you sit back and observe, you will see human quirks in all their glory.
On a train you will have a bogan sharing space with the prim and proper. You will have a man in a Hugo Boss business suit standing next to a woman in leotards who is, no doubt, heading down-town to the gym. You will have the grimy the clean, the young and the old, the nice and the foul all sharing a confined space. It is a zoo!
The most amazing thing about people on the train is that they are so nosy. If they are not trying to look at a person’s phone or newspaper over that persons shoulder they are constantly eavesdropping. They give the impression that they are minding their own business by focusing on their phone, listening to their music or seemingly being engrossed in their book/newspaper- but I know better.
I was watching my fellow commuters one morning. There were a group of teenagers and they were typically rowdy. They were talking about god knows what and laughing loudly. They were standing next to an elderly woman. As they chatted away you could see her furtively looking over her shoulder. Perhaps the teenagers were having a Vicky Pollard moment. Their conversation might have sounded something like this:
“Yeah but no but yeah but no but there’s this whole other fing wot you dont know nuffin about so SHARRUP! u SHURRUP! and Tasha ses ur gay but dont listen to er cos she smokes weed and she’s pregnant with Darren’s baby so SHAP u!Doesn’t matter ne way coz we got one of dese (sniffs pritt stick) Come on girls, lets gwo, dis place is RABBASH! takes a bow u like? – “
What ever they were talking about the elderly lady did not look impressed. Occasionally her eyes would widen, as if in shock. Then she would give her head a little shake and gently puff out her cheeks as if to show her disgust. Other commuters would simply roll their eyes. A few would grin. Others who didn’t want to know would reach for their music devices. You could see them adjusting the volume in the vain hope that it would shut out the mindless conversation and worthless noise coming from the youth.
Being deaf I am spared the mindless chatter of my fellow commuters. Nevertheless, I remain fascinated about what I may be missing. Just as an experiment I decided to try and lip-read peoples conversations. At the seat across the aisle a woman was in animated chatter with her friend. Of course trying to lip-read and look inconspicuous is no mean task. I gave my best impression of looking at the scenery through the window and fixed my sight firmly on the woman’s lips. She said something like:
“At this point my father in-law joined the conversation…..”
And this is as far as I got because the woman twigged on that I was looking at her. She leaned forward to her friend and began to whisper. I have no idea what she said but it was probably along the lines that some creepy old guy across the aisle staring at her.
What I really needed was Sign Guy. This is, of course, the wonderful Mark Cave. Mr Cave has become an overnight sensation for his brilliant interpreting of the recent cyclone emergency in Queensland. Sign Guy has become an internet sensation and stories about his exuberant and expressive interpreting have been printed all over the world. I need Sign Guy to zoom in, like Superman, and eavesdrop on conversations on the train for me.
But wait, I have my own Sign Guy. I was travelling this morning with my son, Finlay. I was determined to eavesdrop on a conversation and Finlay agreed to assist me. At first he told me not to be stupid. A bit of bribery in the form of letting him use my phone to while away the boredom of the trip home was all that was needed to loosen his ears.
He sat himself directly opposite two geeky looking guys and relayed their conversation to me. It went something like this:
“They are talking about currency and gold and bronze and something like that.”
“He is talking about being more adventurous with his food and making arrangements for dinner.”
“He made some kind of joke about coming to terms with his gayness.”
“This is the worst conversation in history dad … can I have your phone now.”
You may laugh but there is a seriousness in eavesdropping for people who are deaf, particularly if they are young. For example the discussion on currency could have piqued some interest in a young person. After listening to the conversation of the two geeks they may have gone home and recounted the conversation to their parents. They might have learnt from this of the various currencies all over the world, how the exchange rate works and so on. Simply by over-hearing this simple conversation they have a pathway to learn something new and expand on new concepts.
Or they may gave gone home and mentioned the joke about coming to terms with ones gayness. This may have led to discussions about coming out. It may have led to discussions about the appropriateness of making jokes about gayness. Perhaps over dinner the topic is raised and a discussion ensues about same sex marriage. Through the simple art of over-hearing much can be learnt leading to much maturity of thought and knowledge.
But if you are deaf you miss out on this information. What may seem an inane conversation between people is in fact a wealth of knowledge to be tapped into. It’s a natural learning that occurs through everyday social interaction. It happens on the train, it happens at school, it happens waiting for the bus – IT HAPPENS EVERYWHERE. Yet if you are deaf you miss out on it. The consequences can be profound. New vocabulary is missed, new concepts are missed, diversity of opinions are missed. This can have a profound impact on the development and maturity of the young deaf person.
For me I am simply a nosy old man. But eavesdropping is a crucial part of our social learning and its impact is not well understood. So next time your deaf friend or your deaf child asks you whats going on, take the time to let them know. Just by taking the time to fill them in can help them feel included. More importantly it can be crucial for ones learning and social development – More than most people will ever know.