Interpreter Q & A: How to Handle Rude Clients
This article is part of our "Dear BC, Interpreter Q & A” series, which answers questions on interpreting and Deaf culture from multiple perspectives. There isn’t always one “right” answer to every question, and different people have different opinions on how to handle different scenarios. That is why more than one perspective is provided in this series, however, more opinions always exist. These perspectives are gathered from talking with experienced interpreters and deaf consumers from across the United States and Canada and do not solely come from the author.
In the post-secondary setting where I interpret, one particular Deaf student frankly doesn’t have much in the way of social skills. She is just plain mean to everyone and it’s uncomfortable and embarrassing to be around her. She’s either rude or inappropriate or both. Her hearing classmates, upon meeting their first real live Deaf person, try to be friendly, but, more often than not, walk away completely turned off. Please don’t tell me to just not take assignments where she is the client; as a staff interpreter, we don’t always have that choice. She knows she’s a "challenge." I suspect she gets off on it!
An Experienced Interpreter's Perspective:
Maybe your experience relates to cultural differences and the fact that some things hearing people might label rude, Deaf people might attribute to the fact that they are "Deaf blunt." As interpreters we do not regulate anyone’s behavior, and it can be difficult with students, both Deaf and hearing. Offering Deaf awareness activities on campus might be one way to develop understanding between hearing and Deaf students and give them a different arena to socialize. Also, all students (Deaf and hearing) need to learn the ropes of interacting in a university setting, and I think we as interpreters need to take a hands off approach on this one.
Experienced Deaf Consumer's Perspective:
It is hard to determine whether the student in this situation is in fact having a "true" social skill problem or if there is some misunderstanding about what is "culturally" acceptable. Sometimes as a Deaf person, it is hard to "park your culture at the door" and behave in ways that are considered acceptable to our hearing peers. For example, it has been my experience that it is not socially acceptable to interrupt people without letting them finish, but it’s not always clear to me when I can and can’t by watching the interpreter. Appropriate registers are not always there for me to be cued correctly and after years of "jumping in" and cutting people off, I thought this was the way to get your point across or make yourself heard. Of course, later I learned to trust the interpreter or professor that I would have a chance to participate. Without knowing more specifics, I assume the "rudeness" or "inappropriateness" is more of a lack of subtleness between the two cultures. For example, hearing people equate being blunt with being rude, whereas Deaf people consider it being honest or direct. Without more specific information, I would not be so quick to say it’s the student’s problem, but to look at the situation as a whole and to determine what exactly is causing this perception.