Saturday, January 28, 2012

Deaf Dining: Mozzeria

Today marked probably one of the most unique and interesting restaurant experiences that I've had. A friend of mine had seen the following article about Mozzeria, a new pizza restaurant in San Francisco's Mission district, and, along with another friend, today we decided to go:

The cool thing about Mozzeria is that it's owned by a deaf couple, most of the employees are deaf themselves, and nearly all of them sign. The two friends I went with today are both hearing, but both sign rather well (both have been former roommates of mine :) ), and I think the three of us were all excited to see what a signing dining environment would be like.

I admit, walking into this restaurant and immediately having the hostess sign to us, then raise a printed paper in case we were hearing non-signers and hadn't understood, was a pretty amazing moment for me personally. I felt myself shedding much of the communication anxiety I have when I go out in public, especially out to eat when I know I will need to interact with a waiter. Talking with hearing waiters is usually fine for me, and I've done it for years, but I do miss things they say - when they go on about the special of the day or ask other unexpected questions, I'm thrown off and rely on my hearing friends to fill in for me and/or translate. Today I was pleased to discover how reassuring that added measure of communicative clarity felt with sign. Is this the way the world feels for the hearing, so much more open and empowering?

Our brunch/lunch at Mozzeria was in many ways a typical eating-out experience: we took our menus, ordered, ate, and paid the bill amidst our own conversation, interactions with the waiter, etc. But the fresh surprise I felt, despite myself, every time a waiter or other employee reappeared and started signing to me - signing! - made me feel more alive to, as well as relaxed in, my surroundings than usual. Even though I've long detached myself from the Deaf world for a variety of reasons, the truth is that I never feel more at home than when the people around me are signing. I saw busboys and chefs walk by signing across the room to each other. A few of them had hearing aids. Several of the tables were filled with deaf people, and one older lady waved over and started a conversation. I can't remember the last time I interacted casually with other diners at a restaurant. I don't know if it's at all typical for hearing people (minus a very odd extended conversation my family once had with a total stranger in a Chinese restaurant in DC), but for me chance interactions with hearing strangers in public places are rare. At one point, the deaf group left and a hearing party came in to replace them at the table beside ours, and the three of us joked that now it was they who were out of place. Not that Mozzeria did not cater to non-signing hearing people - our waiter was hearing and spoke as well as signed, and the restaurant ran just like any other. But the vibe itself was different.

All of the above points were reiterated for me when, after our stint at Mozzeria, we decided to head over to another place for dessert. This was in some ways another highlight of the day (since after all the dessert was composed of New Mexico-style green chile apple pie! in San Francisco!), but ordering from the hearing woman behind the counter, zoning in on her face and nevertheless suffering a bit of a communicative bobble when she asked if I wanted my pie a la mode, showed me how nice it had been to go to a restaurant so centered around sign. If only once.

Now I hope I can go back sometime - and maybe take another hearing friend or two :)

1 comment:

  1. Fun stuff! Glad you enjoyed the experience.

    From a hearing point of view, Mozzeria was a nice bistro. Yum. It was quite unusual to see people signing furiously at the table next to us; a bunch of cute older ladies and men =]. I wanted to just sit and stare at them for a while, but angle was bad and also that's not polite huh. Their gestures were so expansive compared to the ones I'm used to, and I could understand some signs just by the facial expression/mime.

    Also, when they signed to you, I felt like you must when watching conversations. I see one person pause signing, but by the time my head swivels around it's already too late to catch most of the response. I also felt like they somewhat totally ignored the hearing people in general...even though we revealed that we could sign somewhat. We didn't fit in this time haha.