Day 89: What did you say? (HÆ?!)

Monitor to catch lies of omission (such as not volunteering important information when selling a used item) and think how would you feel if someone did the same to you.

Our cargo bike is probably my favourite means of transportation. It’s a lot easier to get around in than the car (and a lot less noisy), it’s a lot more comfortable than any of our standard bikes, it’s a lot faster than walking — and whenever one child or two is too tired, they just hop in.

There’s just one catch. I can’t have a conversation with my oldest son.

One thing is his diction: it seems his tongue is too big, and his face muscles too weak, among other things, he has a hard time differentiating between S and similar-sounding letters. (Not a huge problem in Norwegian or Danish; rather more troublesome in Serbo-Croatian, where you’ve got s, c, z,  dž, ć, č, đ, š and ž.) 

Another thing, though, is the way he mumbles. When we walk back from school together, he always seems to talk to the pavement; he starts out looking at me, and talking loud enough so that I can hear, but then he gets caught up in his own thoughts, his train of thoughts leave the station, and he starts to mumble to the ground.

When I tell him to speak up, he manages to speak up for about five words, before he starts to mumble again.

When I tell him, for the umpteenth time, that I can’t hear him when he turns away from me and mumbles, he seems to get confused for a second, just long enough for his train of though to disappear, and we have to talk about something else entirely.

It’s even worse when he sits in the cargo bike. The roof, the sound of the cars, my problems of paying attention to both the traffic and my son’s words at the same time — the end result is that I can’t hear a thing he’s saying.

So I have begun pretending. Aha, I say. Hm, yes. OK. Oh. Indeed. Really? Wow. Cool. M-hm.

Sometimes this can go on for many minutes. He mumbles something in the cargo bike, I listen to his intonation and toss out a few randomly chosen filler words. I catch a key word — Bakugan, Ninjago, Chima, the name of a friend — and i use that word as well. You really like Bakugan, don’t you? Have you told your grandmother that you want a new Chima set? Who is this friend you’re talking about anyway, is he the one with dark hair?

I imagine this must be what it’s like to grow old and lose your hearing. You hear a few words, but you don’t quite understand what the conversation is about. You’re being asked a question, and despite having it repeated, you can’t hear what it is about, so you have to hazard a guess. Most of the time, though, you don’t want to be seen as someone who disrupts conversations, or as someone who’s as deaf as an adder, so you just pretend to have heard everything and give an answer which hopefully won’t be too revealing.

In other words: you lie. Just like I do with my son.

Now, imagine it’s the other way round. You’re having a conversation with someone who nods and says yes at more or less the right places, but who really has no clue what you’re talking about. Wouldn’t you be mad when you find out? Wouldn’t you feel almost betrayed? You have spent much time and effort trying to put your thoughts into words, and suddenly you realise that all that effort was in vain? You would at least feel insulted.

I’ll probably be hard of hearing when I’m old. I’ll probably have a hard time at cocktail parties, or wherever there are many people talking at the same time. I won’t be able to follow  conversation. Should I say so? And if yes, should I say so at once, or should I interrupt the conversation every time someone says something I can’t hear?

That’s what I do now with my son. Either I go “?” untill I hear him, or I tell him, shout to him, that I can’t hear a thing, and that he has to remember that thought till we come back home.

It works. It’s a lot less frustrating for both of us. But it wouldn’t work in a social setting with other adults.

Imagine me going HÆ for every other sentence. I would be intolerable. (Not least because every way of saying HÆ or HEIN or HUH seems impolite for those who say it differently. I still have nightmares about a French women who couldn’t hear her husband when I hitchhiked near Avignon fifteen years ago. HEIN!??!)

And of course, even more intolerable is the person who goes HÆ even though he heard everything in the first place.

I would prefer everyone to hear me, and me to hear them. But sometimes it’s better to pretend, lest we all be intolerable.

A word of warning, though: if you get in my cargo bike, I may have to go all HÆ on you.


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