The Dreaded Deli
We usually do our weekly grocery shopping on Monday, but since that’s Christmas Eve we decided to go a day early. We pulled into the parking lot and Dave exclaimed, “What’s going on?! Why is it so busy?” I reminded him that Christmas Eve was tomorrow and lots of people run out the day before to stock up. It was basically choosing between the lesser of two evils (today or tomorrow) so we took a deep breath and headed in to do battle.
Things went along fine until we got to the deli counter. Neither one of us likes to do deli duty, but it falls to Dave about 75% of the time. Here’s how it works for someone with hearing loss at a busy deli counter in a grocery store:
You go up and pull your paper tab, then see how far your number is from the one displayed on the digital sign. Whether you’re 10 numbers away or 2, you stick by the counter and go on hyper-alert because you can’t hear a freaking thing. People are calling out their orders, the clerks are calling out numbers or asking questions (it’s hard to tell which) – you can’t just hang out and look around, counting on being able to hear your number when it’s called. Instead, you stare at every clerk in turn. (Today was super-busy, so there were probably 6 back there; sometimes it’s as low as 2 or 3, which makes it easier.) You watch them hand back the wrapped items and notice whether the customer asks for something else or they walk away. If they walk away, you stare at the clerk and hope to figure out the number they call by a combination of reading their lips and hearing what you can. You assume it’s the next number on the board but sometimes they move right past it to the next number and then don’t change the board. This is trickier when there are so many people milling around and so many clerks working, because sometimes a clerk all the way on the other end of the counter will call out a number and catch you unawares.
Once you successfully realize it’s your turn, then you have to tell them what you want and hope you can hear/understand their questions if they have them. Many of them have accents which makes it even harder. (One time I was ordering arancini and the clerk asked me, with a heavy accent, if I wanted meat or spinach. I was caught off guard because I didn’t see two varieties of arancini on display so I didn’t expect the question and I had to ask him to repeat it 3 times before I kind of figured out what he was asking. I couldn’t tell if he said “beef” or “meat” but I just said “meat” and figured it would be okay. [It was beef, by the way.]) It is a truly stressful experience from start to finish, but our store has such a good deli that we always brave it.
This brings to mind other situations we avoid and/or loathe as hearing impaired individuals. We never, ever go to bars and rarely to restaurants. When we had our company Christmas party Friday night, we tried a new place for our food. It’s a local sports bar, known for good (if not necessarily healthy) food and so we called in an order and went to pick it up. We made sure Paige went with so she could be our ‘ears.’ We had to go in and walk through the bar to an area where the food pickup was, and it was SO loud and so crowded. We got our food with no problems and as we drove home, Paige said, “Why do people enjoy going to places like that?! It’s so loud and you can’t hear anything!” This is coming from somebody with perfect hearing. I told her it’s even worse when there’s loud music playing. It is so far from enjoyable for us that I can’t really imagine any scenario when we would go to a bar or lounge.
The drive-through is always an exercise in frustration. Even Paige has a hard time understanding what they say through those crappy speakers. One place in our area, Portillos, has a great system though. They are usually incredibly busy (because their food is that good!) so they have employees walk down the line of cars and take the orders in person. It’s great because they lean in your window so you can hear and read lips. They stick an order number on your windshield, then somebody else comes along and takes your payment. By the time you reach the window, all you have to do is grab your bag and be on your way. We very, very rarely get fast food but when we do, we tend to choose Portillos now.
On a happier note, my CIs do make it a little easier to navigate these challenging situations compared to when I had hearing aids. The ClearVoice program does a much better job with background noise. Because of this, if I can handle the communication in a loud place I’ll do that to help Dave, who just has the one hearing aid and his deaf ear, which makes it even harder for him to tell where sound is coming from (i.e., where the deli clerk who called his number is standing in relation to him). Between the two of us, we do a pretty good job of the ‘Deli Dance.’ 🙂