Window and Door Cultures

The phrase "Door and Wall Cultures" (or as I like to call it in rhyme "Window and Wall") is a metaphor that describes two cultures or behaviors of hearing and h-eyeing (Deaf) people how they and their worlds interact in different ways.

chatting through bus or train window

The Door (or Wall) culture is an illustration of hearing people who can vocally talk to each other through closed doors but cannot see each other. On the other hand, Window culture is a figure that eyeing people can talk to each other in sign language through windows that hearing people may not hear well through surfaces.

In the video: a hearing signer sits inside a fast food restaurant waiting for his order to be delivered, while a Deaf passenger sits in the car, waiting with her sleeping baby. Both are chatting through the windshield and the window.

A common use of the window culture behavior is briefly talking between two Deaf drivers in two lanes or talking when passing in the next lane or stopping behind the car at red light in the same lane. It's typically discussing directions, making a change of plan, greeting each other, chitchatting or joking.

Another common is a farewell talk between signing family members or friends through a train window, a glass wall at an airport, or such at various distances. E.g. a coda and a Deaf from different cities chatted at an airport; as they parted for their flights, they continued their last-minute conversations when the coda stood in front of the glass wall while the Deaf stood on the escalator descending till they both were out of sight. The onlookers watched them in fascination.

An example, though less common, was that a German hearing ASL-learner and a Canadian native-signer were traveling across the U.S. by car one summer in the 1990s. One day, as they were talking in ASL on the multiple-lane highway, an American interpreter noticed them and drove side by side. The Canadian Deaf and the American interpreter exchanged chats for a minute or so through the rolled-down window and then ended the conversation by signing "Nice to meet you!" before they parted on the highway.

More real-life stories

One day in a full, rush-hour parking lot, I found a lucky empty parking spot and parked it to pick up my kid at a shopping mall, where my Deaf parents babysat my kid. As my Deaf parents and I with my kid came back to the parking lot, we discovered that coincidentally, our cars were parked right front to front. We continued our chit-chats as we got inside our cars.

chatting in sign language through windshield
Image source: Jolanta Lapiak, 2019

Sometimes, Deaf friends and Deaf families exchanged small talks via rear mirror or turned one's shoulder over through the rear windowshield of the car to talk with another driver or passenger in the car behind. At red lights, of course.

talking in sign language via rear mirror
Image source: Jolanta Lapiak, 2019. The Deaf drivers talked to each other at red light before they parted for home.

These are a few examples of many to give an illustration of the ways of life in the hearing and Deaf ("heyeing") worlds.

Posted in 2009, updated 2019