New Restaurant Builds Intercultural Communication between Deaf and Hearing Cultures

Ever read or watch something, made for one purpose, and realize how completely perfect it is for another purpose? There is definite joy in that, right?

Yesterday Anna Mindess sent me a link to her  latest food blog. As you have learned by now, our Cultural Detective Deaf Culture co-author very deftly combines her passions for food and new restaurants with her passion for intercultural. Her newest restaurant review teaches us so much about Deaf Culture that I’ve added the video to our CDTV channel. Take a look:

What does this short video teach us about Deaf Culture? About hearing culture? About cross-cultural communication? Please share your responses with us by clicking “Leave a reply” below.

For those of you interested, here are a couple of paragraphs from Anna’s original post: “While Mozzeria proudly holds the distinction of being San Francisco’s first deaf-owned restaurant, the Steins prefer that the focus remains on their food. There is no posted sign to alert customers that many of the employees are deaf. Melody and Russ toyed with the idea of putting an explanatory sheet about Deaf culture in the menu or name tags on the servers identifying who was deaf or hearing, but dropped these as unnecessary. Basically, they believe, if patrons enter with an open mind, the communication will work itself out — and it usually does.

This low-profile set-up stands in contrast to probably the first, and definitely the most famous deaf-run dining establishment in the world, Café Signes in Paris, which I visited shortly after its opening in 2003. That cafe’s menu comes with an explanation of culturally appropriate tips — in Deaf culture, not French culture — for attracting your server’s attention. The list is a great example of the universality of much of Deaf Culture* (the sign languages, by the way, are different in each country). A waving hand, a stomp on the floor, a slight tap on the arm, the toss of a light object within the visual field, instituting a chain of taps among neighbors around the room will all work as attention getting devices. But in the end, Cafe Signes installed small light signals at each table so diners need only flick a switch to get attention.

At Mozzeria, having servers who can all sign (regardless of their own hearing status) makes for an accessible “deaf-friendly” environment. It also carries side benefits for hearing diners. In many restaurants, attempting to get the server’s attention for a simple glass of water can often feel like trying to flag down a racer at the Indy 500. Since the eyes are such an important part of Deaf culture, however, most deaf people are especially attuned to visual cues. I was thrilled to find that to attract my server’s attention at Mozzeria, even from the other end of the long narrow space, all I needed to do was to establish eye contact and raise a finger or even an eyebrow. Hearing customers also seem to appreciate the relatively low noise level which permits actual conversations with their tablemates. (Mozzeria’s hearing employees do set background music nightly, but it is never overbearing).

While Mozzeria has become  a new San Francisco must-visit-destination for deaf visitors from across America and around the world, both deaf and hearing diners probably care more about chowing down on some awesome pizza and all signs point to the fact that this is what you’ll find at Mozzeria. In the end, it might not matter that much who made it all possible. Indeed, a recent Yelper (who failed to mention if he had been enjoying some of their well chosen beer on tap or glasses of Italian wine) didn’t even realize that the staff was mostly deaf, “thought they were just being all Italian, waving their arms around and such.”

Check out more videos on Deaf Culture by visiting our CDTV: Cultural Detective’s channel on YouTube. You’ll see a bunch of package playlists at the lower right. Select Deaf Culture, and watch the videos!

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