“Don’t expect anyone to leave the kitchen.” Charlie Swinbourne’s rules for having a Deaf party

Posted on September 6, 2017

As I write this, it’s Sunday morning and we’ve just finished tidying the house after having a party at our house on Saturday night, with Deaf families from our local area.

As with everything else surrounding deafness, some things are just the same when you’re having a party with Deaf friends, and some things are just a bit different.

Here’s the rules for having a successful Deaf bash… with some lo-fi sketches.

Don’t expect anyone to leave the kitchen

You can go to the trouble of setting up a mirror ball and funky bass-heavy tunes in your living room, set up a cocktail bar on your dining room table, even spark up a barbeque in the garden.

But although you’ll be able to tempt everyone to these areas of your house temporarily, Deaf people will soon return to their most comfortable permanent party habitat – the kitchen.

For the whole night.

No-one really knows why this is.

Is it because the kettle, fridge (and chilled drinks) and all kinds of bits and bobs that people might need are nearby?

Is it because the kitchen is usually a light part of the house compared to other rooms (that might be dimmed), making it easier to communicate?

Whatever the true reason is, I’ve been at many a Deaf party where every other part of the house is empty while the kitchen is absolutely rammed full of people signing to one another.

You can’t fight it. So embrace it. Put everything in the kitchen – except, obviously a barbeque. That’d just be dangerous.

Then put the dog in the living room, where it can have a very quiet night indeed.

Consider people’s exes

This wasn’t an issue at our party on Saturday, but it’s well worth mentioning if you don’t want your evening to collapse with tension and acrimony.

The Deaf community is basically like a village. Everyone either knows each other or of each other.

Some people at your party may have dated before. Some may even have been married before. Others will have been close friends who aren’t as close – for whatever reason – as they used to be.

So when you’re sending out those invites, remember who used to be with who, who used to get along with who, and invite people accordingly.

This will help ensure that a guest does not arrive to the unexpected sight of the girl who broke their heart announcing her engagement to the very handsome man of her dreams.

As *may* have happened to a friend of mine.

Hearing people are welcome – if they can communicate

Some might argue that feeling left out would simply give hearing people a taste of the kind of experience us Deafies often have to endure, but I don’t think any of us would want a friend to feel isolated in a room of people communicating freely.

So invite your non-Deaf friends – if they have experience of meeting Deaf people and some Deaf-awareness skills.

Otherwise, maybe break them in gently by introducing them to other Deaf people at smaller gatherings before working their way up to bigger events.

It’s for the best.

Go hands free – and cook food that you can just throw in the oven

This is probably a good idea for all parties – prepare food beforehand, so you don’t have to mess around cooking while people are arriving and trying to, like, socialise and stuff.

It becomes even more important if you’re a signer and/or a lipreader, because while your hands are busy preparing food, and your lipreading eyes are busy looking at your hands preparing food so that you don’t chop a finger off, you won’t be able to say anything at all.

I say, stock up on pizzas, quiche, sausage rolls. Anything that cooks in about 20 minutes at about 180 degrees.

And leave the complicated cooking to hearing people at hearing parties who communicate without needing to read lips or use their hands – and who presumably think that cooking is more fun than chatting.

Us Deaf folk know better.

Don’t expect anyone to communicate while eating

Your party will be full of laughter, storytelling and moving hands. Until the food is ready, when everyone will go ‘quiet.’

Because you can’t really hold a plate and eat off it and talk at the same time.

This is normal.

Don’t worry that the conversation has run out or anything. It’ll be back.

Once the crisps are finished.

Whatever time you expect the party to end – add three hours

If you’d like your party to end at midnight – tell people that it ends at 9pm. If it’s 2am – tell them to leave at 11pm.

This is the Three Hour Rule – just one of the many laws of Deaf Time.

As people who work in Deaf clubs and Deaf pubs know, Deaf people cannot easily break away from a conversation, (perhaps because our conversations are so visually focused) and nor can we quickly mutter cheerio to ten people as we walk towards the door.

In order to be polite, we have to say a bit more than that, which means we start another ten min-conversations, and consequently, it takes us hours to leave somewhere.

On Saturday, we said goodbye to one person at our party, only to say goodbye to her again an hour later, then half an hour after that.

This is normal. It’s Deaf culture.

Or – now I think of it – maybe she just liked Deaf Hugs.

Read more of Charlie’s articles here.

Charlie Swinbourne is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist and award-winning scriptwriter and filmmaker. Both episodes of his new sketch comedy in BSL, Deaf Funny, can be seen on the BSL Zone website

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