In episode 8, I wanted to talk about the dreaded the ‘Dinner Table Syndrome’, which tends to happen at almost any event; Christmas, birthdays, networking events, restaurants, etc.
In short, DTS is something that most if not all deaf people goes through when there is a gathering of some kind, so this episode will explain what is the Dinner Table Syndrome and how it can affect us.
Listen to the podcast or read the transcripts below:
- Video on BSL Zone entitled ‘Where I Belong’ on the Dinner Table Syndrome
- What is Concentration Fatigue?
Welcome to the Hear Me Out CC podcast, a show where you’ll hear from inspiring people in and around the deaf community, and from your host Ahmed Khalifa.
Welcome to episode eight of Hear Me Out CC podcast. I am indeed your host Ahmed Khalifa, and this is gonna be an interesting topic, especially at this time of the year, because at the time of recording it’s just a few days away until Christmas.
And for many people, it means that there’s a gathering of some sort with your friends and family, and I think you know what I mean, like a big table, you have lots of food in the middle, people around, it’s just a gathering of sorts, whether small or large.
And it doesn’t have to be related to Christmas but it can be in any event really, even like birthdays or networking events or special occasions.
There’s always the dreaded dinner tables involved.
And I use the word ‘dreaded’ deliberately because some people do dread it, and it’s a strong word, but people do dread it.
And that is because of the Dinner Table Syndrome, or DTS as sometimes it is called.
What is ‘Dinner Table Syndrome’?
You think about Dinner Table Syndrome, you think it’s like a disease of some kind, but not like that, but it’s kind of a common word in the deaf community.
And what it is when the deaf person or someone who’s very hard of hearing experiences being left out at the dinner table, because there are a lot of people talking and they’re joking and there’s laughter from the hearing people, and obviously it’s all via spoken words.
And it’s difficult for us to kind of keep up, to understand what’s going on, and to just kind of follow the flow of conversation. And then you have to ask the also dreaded, “What did he/she say?” And the response sometimes tends to be, “Oh it’s not important. Oh, I’ll tell you later. Oh, it doesn’t matter.”
I hate that thing.
But it does happen, and it happens to a lot of people, and that is why this kind of phrase called Dinner Table Syndrome exists.
The effects of ‘Dinner Table Syndrome’
So because of that, that person then becomes isolated, becomes stressed out, lonely, frustrated, angry, feeling unimportant.
And then what then happens is that person kind of seeks refuge by sitting alone or will go read a book or going on the computer or just flick through their phone. Most often in another room as well.
And I guess maybe it’s kind of hard for you to imagine it if you are a hearing person listening to this podcast, but the best way to describe it is to imagine a scenario where for example you have a piece of puzzle, you’re putting it all together, but you don’t have all the pieces.
So you can imagine, what I’m trying to say is that you can only pick up the conversation here and there, but not the whole thing. So you don’t have the bigger picture.
Imagine you’re watching a movie but you miss the start or the ending so you don’t know what happened there. Again, you just don’t know the full story of that movie so you missed out on a lot of things.
Even for example if you have walked into the middle of a conversation and you are trying to catch up. It’s the same thing.
This is kind of what a person goes through in the Dinner Table Syndrome scenario, is that you just kind of have that in and out conversation and you just don’t know where you are.
You try to catch up but more often than not, you just can’t catch up at all.
And for a child, it may be different. I think for a child it’s less of a problem because let’s face it, they don’t always want to sit around a table, they just want to go play with their friends and their siblings and their cousins and you know, they just want to play.
But as you grow older you kind of want to be involved in the conversations around the table, and you sit there but sometimes you can’t.
So for me, maybe I’m not the best example because I don’t suffer as much as other people, but I have been through it and I have had situations where I just give up and I step away or just kind of sit there and just maybe stare at the blank space or whatever.
It does happen, not just at Christmas but at dinner parties and work events and conferences and all these things. There are Dinner Table Syndromes that can happen anywhere.
Interacting with hearing people can get very tiring eventually because you are kind of intensely lip reading people and you’re focusing extra hard.
The link between ‘Dinner Table Syndrome’ and ‘Concentration Fatigue’
And I’ve talked about, well actually written about, concentration fatigue, which can happen as a result of really working hard to focus on what that person is saying.
And this is by listening and/or lip reading and just trying to catch up. But you do get quite tired.
And if you see me or other people who are going through the same thing and they end up being quiet or they don’t stay at gatherings, there’s a reason for that. It just can be very very exhausting.
And then there’s the situation where also if you do manage to get the conversation going and you’re having a conversation with someone, and sometimes you just talk about something related to deafness, which sometimes is okay but you don’t want that all the time.
There are other topics that we would like to talk about instead of just “look what sign language I’ve learnt in college“. There are other topics that I’d want to talk about and not just about deafness.
Just like anybody in the hearing situation in the world, you can sit them around a table, you talk to people, you don’t always focus on that one topic about yourself, it tends to be a variety of topics, doesn’t it?
And if you imagine as well if you are feeling nervous about going into a room and you have to approach someone to chat with them, it’s hard, isn’t it?
But then you can imagine for the deaf people, it’s even worse because they have a fear I guess of whether you’ll be able to understand that person, whether you’ll be able to hear, whether it’s going to be a quiet conversation which is hard to keep up, or whether it’s going to be too noisy and you can’t really pick up that conversation.
But of course if someone breaks the ice it does help a lot, it’s just sometimes there comes a time and a place where it’s difficult to have a conversation.
So it doesn’t matter who you are, there are ways to communicate. And yes you can learn sign language and all that, but not everyone uses sign language. I’m not an expert in sign language, I’m still learning it, but if you’re gonna use it with me, it’s not going to help me very much.
How Do You Communicate With Deaf People?
You don’t necessarily need special skills to speak to deaf or hard of hearing people.
But there are situations, for example, like in a well-lit room where you can see the person lip reading.
You are sitting in the middle of a table, not at the end of a table, that’s kind of important because then you can’t really always keep up with the conversation with the person at the other end. But in the middle, it’s a little bit easier.
That’s another way of doing it.
Technology can also help as well because there are apps which provide auto capture and they are getting better, not perfect, but they are getting better. That can help as well.
And sometimes you just have to clarify maybe one word by typing it in a phone or writing it down. That also can be useful. You do not always have to slow down, and definitely, you don’t have to over-enunciate specific words, but clarity does help.
And when I say clarity I don’t mean loud volume, because shouting doesn’t help. It actually makes things worse at times because it’s not about the volume of the voice, it’s about the clarity of the voice.
And then as well as that, while you’re having a conversation, you can think about maybe if you need to pause between sentences or maybe you need to repeat certain words or names that are difficult to understand again. You just have to kind of work out what that topic is and whether you need to kind of explain again or clarify again. That might be a situation, it does help.
And again I’m trying to explain it to the people who are not suffering from Dinner Table Syndrome, and what does it feel like?
Well, I’m going to put a video in the show notes, and it’s a link to a website called the BSL Zone, where they provide videos created by the deaf community. And it’s created obviously in British sign language, but they’re all captioned as well.
And there is one particular video, it lasts only like seven/eight minutes I believe, and it’s a scene of how one person is going through a Dinner Table Syndrome during a gathering. And it’s only a small gathering, it’s like five people at a dinner table.
And that one person is actually having trouble with the communication barrier because that person is deaf and could not keep up. And it does give you a good idea of what that feeling of isolation is all about because as hard as it is for some people to understand, you can feel lonely in a crowded room.
And what I mean by that is you can be full of people around you but you just can’t communicate with them, you can’t connect with them, can’t get along with them, and you can’t interact with them at all.
So obviously eventually you feel a bit lonely. So there is a moment in that video where even one of the speakers had his hand on his mouth and stroking his beard, speaking away as well, which makes it impossible to lip read let alone understand anything, because that person’s obviously hand over their mouth, mumbling and like [mumbling] just like that. So that doesn’t help at all.
So they give you a few scenarios where you can understand what a Dinner Table Syndrome is about.
But what I should say as well is that it’s not an intentional case of exclusion, it’s an unintentional case of exclusion. They did not deliberately sit by hearing people, and it’s common for them to not understand the effect of it, which is why I want you to watch that video if you don’t understand it.
Because if you’re not going through it then, of course, you’re not going to understand what is it about.
But it happens everywhere in different environments, and I as I say, even like for example a work event or even in an office environment, you can’t always keep up with the gossip in a conversation. Which ultimately then affects your relationship with other people.
And in a work situation, it might even affect your chances of a promotion or having an opportunity to work at a big project that you’ve always wanted to do, just because you haven’t had that opportunity to build a relationship with that person. And that’s kind of unfair, isn’t it?
So I just wanted to make you aware that Dinner Table Syndrome does exist, and it’s a time where Christmas is only a few days away, but it applies to so many scenarios as well.
But at the end of the day, breaking down the barriers can lead to a healthy and beautiful relationship with other people. It’s just about making sure that you are aware of what’s going on and just trying to accommodate someone who is not able to keep up.
And maybe I should highlight as well that it doesn’t have to be a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, it could be someone who is maybe autistic, it could be someone with a learning disability, it could be someone who is a bit of an introvert and just doesn’t want to be in that environment.
It could be someone who just doesn’t feel comfortable being in a crowded room of people. So they just have to be elsewhere like somewhere quiet and less people, maybe less claustrophobic.
There are other situations where Dinner Table Syndrome can affect other people, but I just want to speak from my own experience, that I do go through it, and just to share that story with you of what can happen.
What to be aware of at future dinner tables?
So be aware of that. Be aware of that when you are at the dinner table, at a table of some sort, with food around you, even in a restaurant. That’s not a dinner table, it’s at a restaurant, but the concept is there.
Make everybody aware of it. Don’t forget to make yourself available to people who want to connect with you, or to kind of interact with you, because as I said, it can lead to a healthy and beautiful relationship with each other, with other people, and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m right. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. Tell me, am I wrong? Because I think it’s a good thing.
So let me know, I’ll put the link in the show notes again of the video, where you can get in touch with me, of course, transcript of this conversation is also available there. You can check out there.
And let me know whether a) you have gone through it and how does it make you feel?
And b), if you haven’t gone through it or it’s something you’re not aware of, have you done anything about it? And what are you going to do about it as well? I’m really curious to know what you have to say. Again, link in the show notes, get in touch with me, I’d love to hear from you.
In the meantime, I do want to thank you for listening to this episode. I would love as well if you can leave a review on iTunes, it would really mean a lot to me because then it can help me to reach more people and to share more stories and interviews and tips and advice about the Deaf culture as well.
In the meantime, I will speak to you soon.
- What is ‘audism’? Plus my personal experiences of facing audism - October 27, 2021
- ‘CODA’ movie review: my thoughts on the latest deaf movie to be released - October 13, 2021
- Deafness as a ‘hidden/invisible disability’ - October 6, 2021
Brenda Sue Pickering says
I have been wondering about the maximal towering height of a wine glass table centerpiece at the middle of a large round table where eight Deaf people sit for the friendly Deaf culture.
I understand that the dinner table syndrome describes the phenomenon in which Deaf individuals are perpetually left out of conversations. For an instance, a towering wine glass centerpiece at the middle of a big round table frequently lost in the ongoing communication when Deaf individuals attempt to obtain a turn to chat and sign language, based on eyes looking at the appearance between individuals’ chins and elbows. This experience, wherein Deaf individuals are excluded from the flow of conversations at mealtime because of too tall wine glass centerpiece, is known as the dinner table syndrome.
I guess that the less than 10½” tall wine glass centerpiece is the maximal friendly for the Deaf culture, right?
Ahmed Khalifa says
Interesting discussion. A centrepiece, though it can look elegant and pretty, can be somewhat of a deterrent in a conversation for anyone, and not just thought those who are signing. When you are talking to anyone, you want to make some kind of eye contact. But that does depend on the size of the table and centrepiece respectively.
I never really thought about it in such depth like this though.