I probably wouldn’t be big on eating out even if my hearing was good (I love to cook) but meals out when you can’t hear certainly have their challenges.
Problem one – Busy, noisy pubs, restaurants and cafes with lots of hard surfaces for the sound to bounce off (tiled floors, tables without table cloths, windows without curtains). It’s hard to believe the difference that soft furnishings make to speech comprehension if you have hearing loss, but it’s true. They absorb a lot of the clatter and make speech much easier to understand. Open plan restaurant kitchens are a particular disaster – all that rattling of pots and pans and the shriek of the coffee machines. I’m picturing Pizza Express as I write this. I like Pizza Express, but the acoustics can be terrible.
Problem two – Waiters and waitresses who try to tell you things. Horrors. I like to have a menu in front of me. If there are specials I like them to be written on a blackboard in a visible position. I find it almost impossible to follow a waiter rattling through the specials for the day at the speed of light, using that strange voice that people adopt when they are repeating something learnt off by heart. My default option in this scenario is not to even try to follow what’s being said. Just choose something off the main menu. But that has its pitfalls too, because sometimes the recitation includes information on what is “off”. Years ago, eating out with Nigel’s family when his mum was alive, the waiter did his usual specials-board-gabble and I ignored it. So apparently did his mum, who also had hearing loss. So neither of us realised that the duck was off the menu that day. There seemed to be some kerfuffle going on when mum’s order was being taken, but I couldn’t follow it and I didn’t ask for a translation. (Believe me, if I asked for a translation every time I missed something you would be driven mad). Then MY order was taken and of course I asked for the duck (as had mum). Heartlessly, the rest of the family collapsed in helpless laughter. It must indeed have been funny. The waiter said the duck is off then the elderly woman asks for it. That confusion sorted, a younger woman asks for the b***** duck AGAIN. What is wrong with these people??? THE DUCK IS OFF.
So now I get Nigel to tell me if something isn’t available. What I SHOULD do is persuade the waiter to speak in a way that I can understand, but there are only so many hearing challenges I feel up for on any given day. Some you have to give up on.
Problem three – Dim Lighting. Dimly lit restaurants or pubs render lip reading much harder. Very atmospheric and romantic for people who can hear but an exhausting strain if you can’t. Candles are a big problem, because the flickering makes it worse.
Problem four – Very wide tables. Before I retired I would sometimes have to attend quite formal meals associated with work, where a big group of people sat round massive tables. It was hopeless, even though my hearing was much better then than it is now. The only strategy was to trap people on either side of me into long, deep conversations in order to stay well clear of comments thrown across the table from miles away.
So what to do? My tips would be……
- If you can, choose somewhere that is quiet and well-lit.
- Avoid peak times. Fewer other people eating = less noise from other people chatting. (Chatting? How dare they!?)
- Be assertive about choosing where you sit. Be assertive with the staff – if there are different tables available try to choose one in a quieter place (or ask for that if booking ahead). Be cheerily assertive with your companions (they won’t mind) – I find it best to sit with my back to the direction that most of the noise will be coming from unless that would involve sitting facing a window. (Sitting looking at a window puts the faces of the people in front of you into relative darkness, affecting lip reading).
- I like to sit at 90 degrees to one other eating partner, rather than opposite them. It’s not always possible but worth a thought.
- Think about technology. My Roger Pen helps a lot if I am with just one other companion, although I don’t find it helps with more than one. Some people find that the directional setting on their hearing aids is very useful.
- Get someone to alert you to things that are off the menu…….
Re-reading the above makes it sound as if eating out whilst deaf is well-nigh impossible but in fact it’s perfectly possible to have a very good time. Nigel and I have recently had two close friends from the USA visiting for a fortnight. The first week we went to the Welsh borders and found an excellent local pub. It was modern, bright and welcoming. The tables weren’t too wide. The light was excellent. It was very quiet. The staff were lovely and the food was great. What more could you want? We were so delighted we went three times. (It was Foyle’s in Glasbury, if you are near that part of the world).
Then when we got back here we twice went to our “local”. Early on weekday evenings it is relatively quiet. They have a particularly quiet back room. The food is good. The specials are on the wall. There is carpet on the floor. There’s no background music. I can relax and listen and talk and have a good time, just like everyone else. (It is the Tempest at Elsack, if you are anywhere near Skipton).
Moving on from eating out, eating in any situation presents hearing challenges, especially if people try to talk to you through a mouthful of food. Of course, you shouldn’t talk with your mouth full. We all had that drummed into us in childhood, but, chatting to one’s dearest friends and beloveds, most of us probably do, occasionally. Except please don’t do it with me. It makes your lip shapes all wrong.
Furthermore, what I’M eating makes a difference too. Chewing something soft is fine, I can do that and listen at the same time, but if I’m eating an apple, or a piece of toast, or a radish, or a biscuit the CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH going on in my mouth means that I can’t hear the other person. The crunch drowns out the speech. So please don’t mind if I eat slowly, or stop with a half-eaten mouthful of food and peer at you with intense concentration. (Lovely, huh?).
PS Action on Hearing Loss are running a very good campaign at the moment. Called Speak Easy the intention is to draw the attention of café and restaurant owners to simple things they can do to make it easier for people with hearing loss to eat there – indeed, to make it easier for anyone who likes a bit of peace and quiet whilst they eat. They are looking for people to “test” establishments in their area and provide helpful feedback to the owners. If you feel like taking part (sounds to me like a good opportunity to drag your friends out for a coffee and cake) you can read more about it here.