America: Land of the Free and a Lipreading Mom

The lady ahead of me in the grocery store checkout line seemed puzzled. She pointed at something in front of us, then asked me a question. Her thick Spanish accent made the question difficult for my crazy ears to distinguish.

“Es su hoho?” I thought she said.

It’s only been 20 years since I took high school Spanish, so  I racked my brain for the appropriate response. What’s a ‘hoho’? Doesn’t ‘su’ mean ‘your’?

“I don’t understand,” I said. For some reason, my fingers automatically moved as I spoke. I shook my head and moved my index finger up and down next to my forehead, showing the sign for “understand” (which I didn’t).

Now I’d confused her. Not only could she not interpret what I said, but I’d used sign language which isn’t comprehended by a large percentage of people.

The lady pointed in front of us again. “Es su hobo?”

The something she was referring to was the grocery store bank, which had its lights off and appeared to be closed at nine o’clock  on a Thursday morning.

“Is it open?” she asked me.

Is what open? What happened to ‘es su hobo’?

And that is when it dawned on me. While my 2-year-old son sat patiently in the grocery cart, my face turned redder than the Jonathon apples laying nearby in the produce department. I was the one who couldn’t understand her.

Here I was, pretending to be so knowledgeable of what this kind lady kept asking me. I couldn’t understand a simple three-word sentence. And one spoken in my native language: English.

I wiped the sweat of humiliation from my forehead with the same index finger I’d signed ‘understand.’

“No, it’s Veteran’s Day,” I quickly answered her.

Her face seemed confused. “What?”

And this is when I knew how she felt. Having to repeatedly ask me a question only to not comprehend my answer, the lady probably wondered what was up with me. My son started whimpering in the cart. He was tired of the translation problems going on here.

I chose a different word. “Military. It’s a holiday for the military.”

The lady’s face softened. When she nodded, her eyes almost glistened with understanding.

“Thank you,” she said as we walked toward the front door and outside into the parking lot.

I should thank her. And the veterans and military. The people who truly make this country free. Free to speak Spanish. Free to speak English. Free to use sign language in the grocery store. Free to pretend I understand what someone is saying.

Free to be Lipreading Mom. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, military.


10 thoughts on “America: Land of the Free and a Lipreading Mom

  1. I highly recommend you download Google Translate when speaking with people with foreign accents, which is very difficult to lipread. Google Translate will allow them to speak into your phone and Google will translate into the language you understand. I had to use it a few weeks ago. But, I know this blog is not about her speaking a different language or an application but that we have such a wonderful diversity here in USA and so many other countries are jealous. I am proud to be an American.

    Thanks again for a wonderful story. I got a good laugh.

  2. You know a lot of my experience with the deaf is with Hispanic deaf (because I’m Hispanic too, I just naturally feel more comfortable with them) and the funny thing is now every time I hear Spanish, I also sign at the same time. It’s so funny because I grew up hearing Spanish, but now I associate it so closely with my friends who speak ASL that I can’t stop myself from signing when I hear or use Spanish. Even funnier (and I should probably post something about this) is I learned a sort of Spanglish version of ASL. A lot of the signs I learned from my deaf friends are actually MSL (Mexican Sign Language). lol… aren’t we a fun place to live?

  3. Deep southern accents “K’n I hip yew?” (Can I help you?) are as unintelligible to me as those with a thick Haitian or Chinese or any other accent. I recently heard the word square-L – it was squirrel. That’s Massachusetts talk.

    • Marsha – I grew up in Oklahoma/Texas and have family in MA, so I know all about lip reading these regional dialects. “How y’all doin'” is a favorite expression from my Oklahoma family.

  4. Shanna…. you are a wonder!! What a delightful story about communicating in TWO different languages! Then closing that interesting story with honoring those who are keeping us safe, in this fine country. I LOVE YOU, DEAR FRIEND….

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