In Mandarin, goodbye is “zai jian.” In German, it is “Tschüss.” In French, it is “À bientôt.” Short, quick and snappy. After a hearing person says it, she walks away or hangs up the phone – promptly. Now, get your stopwatch for a cultural experiment: Just how long is a deaf goodbye? Not as long as reading War and Peace. It’s sometimes longer than an episode of Switched at Birth (how fitting!). It always feels shorter than the line at the licensing office.
But make no mistake about it: Deaf goodbyes are significantly longer than hearing goodbyes.
In Deaf Culture, “goodbye” is not simply a phrase or a wave of the hand. It’s part of a culture all in its own. You find yourself mentioning that you need to get going soon – your spouse is waiting, there’s a bus to catch, or you’ve got to wake up early for work. Yet as the clock ticks and other restaurant patrons leave and enter, you find yourselves chatting away in a silent reverie. “Last call!” the bartender yells, but the conversation continues. It’s not uncommon to find deaf parties huddled in front of bars well after closing time, shivering in the rain but still so deep in conversation that time hardly exists.
Ask any restaurant owner or hostess, and they may agree that deaf patrons tend to linger. Etiquette tip: Remember that the longer you stay, the more glasses of water or unlimited tea your server refills, and the slower the turnover on tables which would otherwise be occupied by a new supply of paying (and tipping consumers).
Most people – both deaf and hearing – will say there’s nothing quick and snappy about a Deaf Goodbye. That’s because this kind of goodbye is not for efficiency; instead, it’s for good etiquette:
At a party, it is common for hearing people to “simply say good-bye to close friends, then call out a louder general good-bye… for Deaf people, this is ineffective,” according to a DeafHub article. “It is a cultural norm in many Deaf communities that if a person leaves early without saying goodbye, it is considered rude.”
What that means, is it’s polite to say (individual) goodbyes to everyone at a party rather than just abruptly leaving with a wave that’s aimed at “everyone”. Do the math, and it becomes clear how the Long Deaf Goodbye became so darn long!
Another reason for the Long Deaf Goodbye: We never know when our next deaf interaction will be. Think of how a child behaves during a rare trip to the candy store: Ebulliently, and with great reluctance to leave. There just aren’t that many trips to the candy stores, compared to plates of broccoli. As deaf individuals, we get our hair cut by hearing hairdressers, work with hearing colleagues, and speechread at family gatherings until our eyes fall out of our head. Because we live in a hearing world, time with deaf friends is rare and savored.
Lastly, it is hard to say goodbye to people with whom we relate deeply. Bound by the thread of hearing loss, conversation is grounded in empathy and debate: About cochlear implants, about deaf-hearing relationships, about the challenges of accommodation, and so on and so forth. It’s true: The deaf world is small, yet condensed, that gossip moves a mile a minute … especially during a long deaf goodbye.
There’s always so much more to say, and so little time. So we extend it. Which suitably answers another cultural question: Where does the term “Deaf Standard Time” (DST) come from? Stay tuned for more Deaf Culture Awareness, explaining why sometimes deaf people are the most fashionably late folks of the fashionably late bunch – and how to manage time in a hearing world.