Britta Q.T. Pejic
December 5, 2004
Interview with Guillaume Chastel
At the Home of Guillaume and Margaret Chastel
Interpreter; Margaret Chastel
November 10, 2004
Where would you like to begin your story of your life?
That is a general question. Very broad. Let’s see. My life. Well I was born deaf for unknown reasons, unknown origins. Everyone else in my family is hearing. I have four brothers and two sisters. And I am the fourth child. Everyone is hearing, although I do have a brother who is autistic. And I am deaf. My oldest brother had cystic fibrosis. I was born deaf, ok let me think of how I want to explain. I went to school..a public school. They had a small contained program for deaf students. There were six of us who were deaf and hard of hearing. Then at the age of six, I went to a school strictly for deaf students in Marseilles. And I attended that school and was raised there. I grew up attending that school and lived in the dorms until I was in middle school, and then I started commuting home every day. At the school, the teachers did use sign language. Sometimes they used spoken language at the same time. I commuted. And then I went to college to become a surveyor, and that was a three year program with all…you know…a public college and all hearing students that graduated. Had a job for a short time, and then came to Gallaudet University in the United States to become a teacher. I majored in education. I studied for six years here. Got my bachelors and my masters degree. I graduated. Met my future wife. Got married. And we moved to Maine where I got a job at TBSD, The Baxter School for the Deaf. I worked there for five years and now I am working at USM. Well that was quite an abbreviation of my life.
What was going on, in your family, your community, and the world at the time of your birth?
I was born in 1969 in Paris. What was going on in the world, in the community? Let me think. So that would be sort of the early seventies.
Student revolution? ’68?
That’s right, De Gaule’s time. DeGaule was president. ’68-75 was his term. I have quiet a large family and we lived in an upstairs apartment. Because my brother had cystic fibrosis, we weren’t able to stay living in Paris because of the pollution. There was heavy pollution. So we moved to the south of France around that time. That was quite a big change for the family. That move. But in the world? That’s a good question. The community? Let me think. When we moved to the south, my parents bought a house in the country. We were renting an apartment in Aix, or a house in Aix-en Provence. And then about 35 Kilometers from that was where my parents bought a country house. So we would go there most weekends.
So that’s kind of a small rural community near Aix?
Oh, yes. It was a village. There were about two-thousand people living in that town called Riance.
And did you spend a lot of time in this area? Did you grow up here?
Well, I grew up in Aix-en-Provence. That’s really where I grew up and near went to school and work and soon. But, vacations and weekends and so on, we would spend a lot of time in Riance. It was only 35 kilometers away.
And being a deaf person in this community versus Aix-en-Provence? Was there..what did you notice about the difference between the two?
Oh yes, definite difference. There wasn’t a huge deaf community in Aix-en-Provence, but in Marseille, there definitely was. And in Raince, nothing at all. I was the only deaf person there. And we went there really to spend time as a family. Play together. Go hiking. Swimming and so on. It was just really my immediate family and I. And we really didn’t have too many friends there. Occasionally…oh, we were allowed to invite friends from school to join us, or my parents’ colleagues would come. But friends from the community of Riance didn;’t really exist for us. It was mainly my brothers and sisters, my parents. Oh, the friends that I had were mainly from Marseille in that area.
And how about your brothers and sisters. How did you feel growing up in a big family, but you were the only one who was deaf?
I think my brothers and sisters were really wonderful Of course we sometimes fought you know hated each other, that kind of thing. But really, we got along very well. We respected each other and often at the table, lunch or dinner, there was a lot of talking going on, and my brothers and sisters would often interpret for me , and let me know what was going on. I would ask them what was happening. They would sort of take turns. We loved to play soccer together, especially my brothers of course. They would sometimes explain to me what was going on and give me some advice about things. I learned a lot from them. Communication was…we didn’t use LSF (Langue de Signes Francaises) so much as more home sign mixed with with a little bit of French sign language. Like invented signs.
Kind of like the sibling language you can develop?
And how about your parents?
You mean communication with them?
My parents mainly spoke with me. They didn’t sign so much.
Did you learn to lip read?
I did lip read. My mother also is very good at gesturing and can speak very clearly. You can ask my wife, she knows. So. Sometimes I wouldn’t understand and occasionally they’d write down what they were trying to explain. Or my brothers and sisters would interpret for them. So, they all supported each other.
Big family unit, it seemed like you all supported each other.
Oh, definitely. Yes.
Are your parents still in Aix-en-Provence?
Actually, just last year, they sold the farmhouse which has a lot of pros and cons to it.
We have a couple of pictures here, I’d like to show you. (we pause the tape to look at some paintings of the farmhouse that Guillaume grew up in).
So they sold the house and moved back to Paris at long last. They’re very happy there. They found a condo so to speak. Apartment. Condo. Not exactly sure what you’d call it. It’s very nice. It’s in a nice little area right in Paris. Not outside in the outskirts. Right in the middle. So that’s quite a big change in life for them. I’m quite happy for them.
Now, describe your parents to me. What are your parents like?
Ok, let’s see. They have extremely different personalities form each other. My mother is very strict. Was a strict disciplinarian. No means no. That’s it. No arguing with that. Very busy. My mom is full of energy and is constantly in motion. But she definitely has a big heart. My father on the other hand takes things very easy. I guess you might call him lazy. Much lower pace. He’s very cognitive kind of person. He loves to play chess. He loves that kind of cerebral activity. He thinks. He talks about politics and various perspectives. And now that he’s getting older, it seems that..I’m not sure. He’s sort of…I don’t know if you call it daydreaming or…his thoughts wander. My mother was more the…taking care of, raising the children was more of her responsibility. My father would sort of follow her lead. You know, and he did work outside of the home quite a lot. Whereas my mother would stay home. She did work at the house because she taught piano, but the students would come to the house so she could stay there and take care of the children as well. My family is very musical except for me of course.
Did that make you feel left out in a sense?
No. Actually. No, not at all.
You’d feel musical vibration or just the spirit in the house of music?
I always knew that I was different and accepted that kind of difference. My parents accepted me for who I was and I think that was really key. If my parents had been in denial, I think that would have been a problem for me. But they accepted me for who I am. You know, definitely a musical spirit in the home…in the family. Sometimes my parents would be both playing piano and the children would be watching and I would watch as well. Even though I could hear what the music was they were making, it still was a fun time. One of my brothers plays the violin. Another brother plays the trumpet. My sister plays the piano. And you know, everyone has their own instrument. I tried to get involved in it, but really it wasn’t interesting for me. Everyone just accepted that.
We paused the tape because “Jake”, their dog wanted to go out and we wanted to talk about dogs.
What kinds of characteristics do you think you inherited from your parents?
Well let’s see, I think I got some from each of them. I know my father likes to consider things carefully. He doesn’t like to jump quickly to conclusions. He thinks about different perspectives. And I think I got that characteristic from him. Now my mother is full of energy and constantly in motion as I said and I think I got some of that from her. But half and half?
And do you communicate with them from here in France often?
Yes, we do exchange faxes. My parents did try to set up e-mail, but they’re not really technically inclined, which is perfectly fine. The fax works well.
How did they feel about you moving to the United States?
Well let’s see. I worked as a surveyor when I was in France and it was going ok, but I had always wanted to become a deaf teacher for children. It had always been a dream of mine. But I wasn’t sure about how I’d go about it where I could study at University but it turns out that Gallaudet would be the best place for me. In France, at the University, it would be very hard to get in and they would not provide interpreters. So. And my parents were so supportive of me coming to Gallaudet. We just wanted to see how one year would go and we experimented with that. And I flew over. I’m so glad my parents were not nervous or paranoid about me leaving or anything like that. My parents’ philosophy was definitely one of…you know they loved their children but they want them to be independent and go and do their own thing. Off on your own now. Um, so that’s definitely an asset. So I came here for a year and everything went fine and my parents said “Go for it. Go back.” They really wanted me to be happy” so…except for you know the moment…the Chief Executive…you know. Maybe we should go back. I’m not sure…Sorry, I didn’t mean to go off on that political aside, but.
We were in France this summer, and everyone was certain that Kerry would win.
A lot of people in the world were shocked I think, and I feel bad because now what’s the world view of America gonna be? We re-elected this guy? What’s going on? So in any case, I came here. We were happy and happy with my wife my family and our child?
When you say surveyor, what kind of line of work was that?
I did enjoy working as a surveyor.I had actually many kinds of duties. Mapmaking for example. Or suppose there were two houses and they were arguing over where the property line was and we would go in and survey or if there was going to be a new building constructed, we would measure where the cement would be laid in the foundation and so on. So. We did use computerized technology and create maps and that kind of thing. That’s the type of work I did.
And you said you wanted to further your studies by going into University and it was very challenging to get in and they wouldn’t provide interpreters.
That’s right. So I went to college to be a surveyor. Really, its almost the level of education…almost equal to a B.A. A little bit below that. You know how the system is a little bit different. Between an A.A. and a B.A. basically. And I could have continued my studies, but I didn’t choose to. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. But I wanted to attend university to become an educator, to become a teacher specifically. And that would have been very difficult. One reason for the challenge would be the French Education system. In general if someone wants to become a teacher of public school, they would go under the Ministry of Education that their studies would be under the ministry of education. They have specific course requirements and so on. However, if I wanted to teach deaf children, the program is not under the Ministry of Education, it’s under the Ministry of Sante. The Ministry of Health. Very Strange.
How does that make you feel?
Oh, it’s awful. Of course, you know. Their view obviously is what we call a medical view or pathological view. “We need to fix their ears. We need to fix their speech” and so on. And, you know. They don’t understand “How can a deaf person teach deaf children?” And really, it’s just a matter of signing to communicate the concepts. But the French system doesn’t understand that. I have heard some progress has been made. But for deaf people to become a teacher equal to hearing people is still a great struggle. And universities don’t necessarily provide interpreters. Access would have been extremely difficult. So Gallaudet would have been the best place. But sadly, I graduate from Gallaudet, I get the masters degree, I come back to France, I’m not qualified for the job.
Were there changes since you had attended Gallaudet and then had gone back to France?
Because the diploma did not match their requirements or their philosophy, it’s a different system so…Now that…when I first went into Gallaudet, The E.U. was not formed yet, so that now their being more collaborative, changes have been made. But its still not 100%.
Anyway, my parents told me many places in Europe such as Germany, Italy Spain and so on, if a student were to attend a university in the United States, they’re very flexible. The place that’s the most strict about accepting outside Education is France and Switzerland. Those are the two most difficult. I don’t know if that makes sense, but anyway. The government decides.
How do you find the development of deaf education here in America vs. Deaf Education Back home?
That’s an excellent question , really. I find it very interesting, the French government has one curriculum, and you must follow that. Whereas in the United States, it varies by state and so on. In America, the philosophy is much more progressive. Well it depending on the state of course. For example, in Maine, the view of deaf education is really not good. It’s very negative. In other states, for example, such as Maryland, Texas, California, and a few others, they’re very supportive of deaf education and schools are very successful. They support sign language, literacy, so it varies quite a lot. There’s a lot of variety in the United States. Whereas in France its hard everywhere, basically. If you try to set up a private school to focus on deaf education something that is not under the Ministry of Health, it’s quite difficult. You have to get a lot of permits and so on. However, there’s struggle in both places. There’s a great struggle of deaf education in both countries. A lot of parents want cochlear implants, they want their children to learn speech, they want them to be the same as they are. They get very upset if their child is born deaf.
Both places, these things are true. It’s a parallel. I would have to say that depending on the state, deaf education is better in the U.S. Its very interesting to think about the different perspectives. I noticed that in America, that deaf education, the deaf schools are very closely connected with the deaf community so if there’s a problem with the school, there is a lot of support from the community. The local deaf community, anyway. Maybe not necessarily the national association of the deaf, but the community. Whereas in France, it’s quite separate. The deaf community does not have a lot of involvement with the schools if there are problems, they’re not involved. Before 1880, there was a strong connection. Teachers at the school for the deaf would at night get together and maybe have dinner together, and play cards. Different kinds of social activities. And so if deaf children or the deaf students were having trouble, they would become involved in supporting them. Sometimes the principal of the school of the deaf would be president of the deaf association. However, in 1880, there was drastic change. It’s quite a long story. It all of a sudden became a policy that sign language not be used in schools. A lot of deaf teachers were fire and so there became a great distance between the deaf community and the education system. And its still the case today. And the government is in close control of deaf education. Whereas the deaf community is not. In America, there was not quite a drastic change. There’s still a struggle, mind you, and a lot of the funding is cut, or the states make changes, but the deaf community will fight back in this case, in this country. So there’s a greater connection. And again, it varies by state. But its more so true here.
I want to backtrack a little bit. When you were at the university, which university was it to study to be a surveyor?
There was a college called Rene Caille. That’s the name of the college there. It was more like a vocational college.
Where was that?
And how were other students with you? How did you feel about going to a hearing college?
Good question. I remember there were about 20 students in my class. I’d say about half, maybe a third were different. About half I got along with very well, I’m sorry a third each.
What was your earliest childhood memory and with that, how did you discover you were different from your family?
I think my earliest memory didn’t occur until I was older. I look at a lot of pictures, and I don’t remember, you know, the age of two, three four, home movies that kind of thing. What I start to remember is quite late, and I’m not sure why. Of course I do have a few snatches of memory in those early years. And how I realized I was different, I think what happened was, I knew that I was different, but I wasn’t sure how. And you know, I also had a brother who has cystic fibrosis and one who was autistic, so there was a lot of differences going on, not just with me. And so I couldn’t really identify the difference until I went into the school for deaf children. And I realized that I was not the only one who was deaf. There were a lot of people signing, so they were the same as me. I thought I was the only one who was like that. I was the only deaf person in the world sort of thing. But still, that doesn’t quite finish the story. I believe that when I grew up, I would either disappear or become hearing. One of those two things I thought would happen. I finally realized that who I was cleared when I was 19. I finally realized who I was. I wne to a workshop in Paris. It was two weeks. Very intensive. And that helped me to understand things. And that’s when I got the idea to go to Gallaudet and so on. But, I look back and my parents, my family, my brothers and sisters were all very respectful of me. They weren’t embarrassed I was there and I was deaf. I was included in everything, but things were not clear to me.
How did you feel when you realized there were other people like you at this school that you attended?
I was nervous, but at the same time, I felt a little more relaxed. There was a mixture of feelings. Something of relief.
And did you know why you were going to go to this school particularly?
No, I don’t think so. It wasn’t so clear. My parents said you’re going to be going to a different school. But more than that, I didn’t understand. A school far away in Marseilles. My father worked in Marseilles as well, so I was going to be in school near where he worked. But, I didn’t have a clear picture. I remember the first day, it was raining. I was six years old. And we drove to Marseilles. I got there and it was quite a large school. Much bigger than the one I had gone to in Aix. The public school that I was going to was tiny, and this was huge. And it was run by nuns. And I was just totally taken aback. The first thing we went to was the dorm, and there were ten beds in a room, I remember. And all the students were socializing and playing around. They kept pointing to me “Look, a new student. A new student”. I didn’t understand anything they were saying. I was kind of nervous at that point. And I didn’t realize that I would be staying there. I just thought we were visiting. I can’t remember things terribly clearly. But I stayed there and my parents left. And by the next day, though, I think I was ok.
And how did you feel about staying in a dorm situation at such a young age away from home?
It’s a little bit unclear of how I felt. I don’t have a clear memory of it. But luckily, there were ten of us in a room. There were 300 students altogether in the school. And my roommates, so to speak, were very welcoming. They didn’t reject me. They took me in and so on. My parents left. I don’t remember crying all night or anything for a week. Nothing like that. Which is sort of the way it became the way it was. We got up, we had breakfast. Went to school. I think I adapted pretty quickly as far as I can remember.
And these nuns, were they deaf as well?
Oh no, they were hearing.
And this was where you started to learn Langes des Signes Francaises?
Right. That’s right. It wasn’t true LSF. Well, pretty close. It was sign. Signing.
Was LSF something that developed later and became formulated?
There’s such a long history here. It was the Abbaye La Paix, who was a priest. He met two girls who were deaf. He saw that they were signing and gesturing with each other. And their mother explained that they were deaf. He asked if they were going to school. You know, in France, the tradition was the priest would help a save peoples’ souls and so on. It was very religious. So, he set up a school. Originally, it was in his home. But he did not know how to communicate with the deaf students. A lot of the students were very poor of course. And he recruited some deaf students and studied them and saw how they communicated with each other. And that’s how the language started to develop. And actual research on the sign language as a linguistics entity started much much later.
And what year are we talking? What decade? Epoch?
That was in 1776? In the 1770’s. A long time ago.
But the structure of LSF came much later?
LSF was there, the structure the grammar was there. Linguistics research happened later, and the understanding of it happened later. But the structure was already there.
And when you said you didn’t learn LSF right away, is that…?
Well, the school had sort of an off philosophy. It wasn’t 100% supportive of sign language. In some instances, it was not allowed. I entered school in 1975, and at that time, sign language was permitted, but around 1973 or’74, students weren’t allowed to sign in the classroom. They were just supposed to speak. And then just as they started, signing was being permitted again, I came into the school. I noticed that the older children were more oral. They talked more, whereas the younger children used more sign language. So that’s why I say I’m not sure if it was 100%LSF. And the teachers as well were not experts on the language. And so the people who were actually fluent in LSF were actually community members. So later on, that did change at the school as well.
So at the same school, there was an abrupt change near the time you went there.
Yes, it was quite a transition.
This is just a curious question, but L’Academie Francaise, it protects the language. Does that recognize LSF, or is that something completely different?
The government? That’s a good question. In 1976, the government recognized LSF. However, I’m not saying they became encouraging of using LSF in school. They let each school make the decision. However, it was entered into the law. It wasn’t a very strong support, but it was mentioned. Oralism was allowed. Cued Speech.
What is Cued Speech?
It’s a mode of communication. (Margaret steps out of her interpreter role to explain). A way of making each sound or phoneme visible. So that there’s a lot of sounds that you can’t see like (Margaret makes a hard C sound). You can’t see it. So it’s based on phonetics. It’s a mode of symbolizing speech. So all of these different methods were allowed. However, it was recognized as a language, but not required in the classroom.
And, was there just as much of a thrust for formal education that met the criteria for the rest of the country?
I don’t think so. Because their attitude is that deaf people cannot equal the level of hearing people because they can’t hear basically. In other ways, maybe, they could be equal, but educationally, no. They still use the old philosophy of how to teach deaf people, basically you have to fix them. Its not one based on language or acceptance of the person, it’s focusing on the ears basically, still. That old traditional point of view.
Tell me about the Baccalaureat. And the preparation for the bac.
I didn’t get a bac. I stopped at Deuxieme. You know the French school system?
Yeah, Deuxieme, Premiere, Terminale…(the equivalent of 10th 111th and 12th grades)?
Correct. Deuxieme, Premiere, Bac. And I stopped at Deuxieme. And then I went over to the college. The vocational college. So I got the BT. The Technical Bac. So the way that I studied, I got a little help from interpreters, but mainly, my professors were very helpful. Surveying involves a lot of visual, reading, mathematics. There wasn’t a whole lot of theory and lecture. A lot of it was hands on, measuring. Using the tools and so on. So, in some ways it was very easy for me. So I had a very good experience there, and passed the test.
And the decision to stop at Deuxieme, what was that based on?
Another good question. The school for the deaf went up to Troisieme. And Deuxieme, Premiere, Bac did not exist at the time. They tried to set it up. But there were only two of us at the time in the Deuxieme. Do you know Securite Social? They said “Sorry, we can’t support that because there’s not enough students”. Fortunately, the principal was very good. She fought on our behalf and advocated for us. Deuxieme level was difficult, it was very challenging. I tried to figure out “Should I move to another area where they have that level?” But I decided instead to go to college. A vocational college. In France its very very rare for a deaf person to get their Bac.
Still. I have a friend who did that, but still its very rare. My friend Eric has deaf parents and is very smart, and he passed it. But its very rare.
How does that make you feel that it doesn’t fit the same mold as the public school that the deaf school only goes up to Deuxieme or that its rare that people pass the Bac?
It’s interesting. I’ve talked about that with my brothers and sisters. I do have a brother who became involved with horses. He trains horses but all of my other brothers and sister got their bac. I’m not sure about my younger sister though. She got her bac in music though.
I don’t feel necessarily inferior to people who have them (a bac) because I feel very satisfied with my life. I went to Gallaudet. I graduated. I realized I was capable of a lot of different things. I got a good job. I don’t think that education is the number one important thing in the world. I do think its important and its important to have skills. Social skills, emotional skills and so on. I don’t think that academics is necessarily the top priority for life. All my brothers and sisters have quite a variety, and in some ways I have more skills than they do. On the other hand, my brother has skills in different areas. There’s such a variety in individuals. I don’t think that academics is the number one deciding factor.
Did you go to the same school up until Deuxieme, or did you change schools?
Same school. All the way through.
Now tell me about your brother who is autistic. How did you communicate with him?
Really, he does not have a lot of communication. We don’t really communicate with him that much. He’s profoundly autistic. So, he doesn’t actually have very many communication skills. Mainly he points to thinks, or he’ll pull something to show what he wants.
And how did he fit in with your family?
He sort of just followed us and followed our schedule. Went out with us when we went out. Sat at the table. Sometimes he would have outbursts. But mainly just followed along to what we did.
Let’s talk some more about Gallaudet. What can you tell me about Gallaudet?
I did tell you that Gallaudet was a wonderful experience in my life. Really changed my life in so many ways. Even though I have a wonderful supportive family. Went to school. That was positive. But Gallaudet just added so much. Of course, I’m not only speaking of education. But socially. Politically. I was able to understand deaf life. The deaf lifestyle. Political points of view. So many different things. How to adapt and negotiate. I sort of had a deaf identity, but I didn’t understand how to fit that into society. So both Gallaudet and that two-week intensive workshop in Paris really enhanced my life in that way and helped me understand how to fit into the world. A lot of people think that, you know, Gallaudet is only deaf people and they gather together and speak against the hearing world is so not true. It’s almost the opposite. Well, people have a lot of different opinions and points of view about it, but in my opinion, that’s really not what the whole things is about. Some people say deaf people should go to hearing universities and use interpreters and learn how to socialize with the hearing world, but in my opinion, the first most important thing is to understand oneself and one’s identity, and then after that, you’ll be fine, but if one’s confused about those things, that makes life much more difficult. So at Gallaudet, I was involved in a lot of different activities. Sports. The International Club. That was also very important to me because when I came to Gallaudet, culture shock!! So when I joined the International Club, many people had been there for many years and had explained what the culture was like and the culture shock and what that was like and that was normal. And so on. They had the same kind of experience. Frustration. Disorientation. So that was extremely helpful.
What kinds of things did you experience with culture shock initially coming to Gallaudet? Any examples that stick out for you?
When I first came to Gallaudet, a few things might seem trivial, but food? I mean we ate dinner at five o’clock. I never heard of that. Pizza? Pasta? At five o’clock? My poor stomach. So that was one thing. Also, drinks. Soda? In France, you had water, wine once in a while. You know, teachers drinking coke in the middle of class. Students, while they’re doing their homework. It’s like uh, they’re up twenty-four hours a day. I just didn’t get it. It was quite a shock for me. A couple of my friends about a year ago, from France, came to visit. Sorry, it’s a little aside. A couple of my French friends came. I took them around. I took ‘em to my classes to where I taught sign language and almost all my students had a coke on their desk while I was teaching and they were just astounded. “Yeah, that’s…welcome to American life.” In France, that just doesn’t happen. Let’s see, thirdly we have..and of course this is an important one, I am sure you are aware of. Oh you know, every morning, you greet someone. Kiss on the cheek. Talk, introduce them to someone. Greet them in that same way. But in America, I remember, very clearly. I wasn’t seeing people doing that. Kissing on the cheek. Everyone was sort of walking around (Margaret gestures the pointing in acknowledgement sign that people might use in greeting each other). One night in the cafeteria, I met a new friend. I asked him where he was from. He was American. And I told him I was from France. We had a nice conversation. You know. Two hours. So its like “Ok, goodnight. See you tomorrow.” And the next day, I ran into him again, and I thought it would be, you know, just like in France. Shake his hand. Ask how you’re doing. That kind of thing. Kiss on the cheek, or something, possibly. So. And he just walked by. I was just like “Oh my gosh. Did I do something wrong?” Nothing. No. Just. Yeah. And people said “yeah, you just say. Hi. Hi. Hi.Hi.” THAT was very disorienting. So anyway, I got used to a lot of those things. You know this kind of greeting. The macho sort of gun shooting kind of thing (Guillaume makes a pistol shape with his hand). So. That was different. But I really missed that kind of greeting. That was very difficult for me. Oh, yes, and of course. Competition is so important here. Sports. For example, in France, we’ll talk about a race. “Did you lose? Did you come in fifth? Or, you know, whatever. Not so important. But in America, of course not everyone’s this way. But I’ve noticed that sometimes, people work. They work so hard and think if they lose, that’s the end of it. They’re so disappointed. Look down upon. I remember one friend. He worked really hard and competed in a regional competition. A regional tournament. And went into the national competition. And then went into the Olympics. I am talking about the deaf Olympic games. Which to me is so impressive that he would become that successful. National level. And in the Olympics, he came in second. This American competitor. He was so disappointed. So upset. To me its an incredible achievement. But no, didn’t come in first. And so the pride comes into play. But that’s a really interesting thing. In France, if you got into the Olympics, that’s amazing! That’s awesome!! But different values in terms of competition. In France, we don’t focus so much on sports in school. Whereas, I remember one simple example, hold on I’ll show you something. One student at UMA where I teach sign language. This is a letter from the head coach. They said “I have to tell you that this student might compete in the basketball tournament.” I was like “Ok, it’s your choice. If you want to go to the basketball tournament, then you get points taken off for missing class.” But, in my opinion. That’s not my problem. You know, in France that would not happen. The sports would not be the priority. So, that’s very interesting.
Do you see this among a lot of your students here?
Sure at USM, the same thing. A couple of students who competed in track. Their coach warned me that they wouldn’t be here on this day. Thanks for letting me know, but do you think I’m going to give them an A for that? I don’t think so. I’m not necessarily excusing them for their miss. So sports are very valued. And when I was teaching at Baxter School for five years, I had a lot of run ins with the coaches there. A couple of students were struggling in math, but they kept missing for basketball practice and the tournament. The coach kept telling me. “It’s so important that we practice. It’s so important that we win the tournament. And I was thinking “I don’t know if that’s the priority.”
Have you had other run-ins like this with the school because of this? Like maybe with administration because you grade them based on the fact that they were there or not?
Sadly, about half the administrators would support the coach and half would support me as the teacher. A lot of them felt that sports were very important as well. Fortunately, the superintendent at that time was supportive of me and my priorities. And it’s a long story, but we set up new priorities and so on. Another example of conflict? Or cultural conflict? In France, restaurants open for lunch from 11 to 2, and then at nightthey open again, whereas in America, people are going to restaurants at all times of the day. Ten o’clock. Four o’clock. Whatever. That’s shocking to me. It didn’t have a huge effect on me, but it was like “Whoa! That’s something different!” Here’s another important one. In France we really value history and preservation. We want to keep things. Museums. Buildings specifically preserved. Whereas in the US, everything is so new and modern. Things just come along and progress. Whereas in France, we have a lot of rules. How things have to be done. So, that’s another difference.
Now, when you joined the International Club, what kinds of sports and activities were you doing with this group?
Within the International Club? We would have a meeting once a month. It would involve fundraising. And we would have activities. Go for hikes. We might go for a swim. We might go to museums together. We played games. It was quite simple. The types of things we did. We didn’t really have a lot of advice and informational services about cultural varieties. They did have that service in other places. It was more of a social club.
And people were from all over the world in this club?
All over the world. Exactly.
Now this might bring me to the next question. The differences in signing from different cultures?
I remember when I first entered the international club, I knew that there would be gestures because not all signing would be the same. In fact, when I first arrived, I didn’t really know much ASL. And of course the people would understand that I was new and would make adjustments to their communication style. And a lot of them were very good at it of course. They had done the same thing. But once we became adapted to it, we would all use ASL. But your talking in general of sign languages of the world? Are they very different? Every sign language is different. Just as every spoken language is different. A few countries have influenced others with their sign language. For example, in some places in Africa where France colonized, there’s the cultural influence and the linguistics influence. Same as anywhere else. Hard to get back to their native sign language.
Did you notice cultural attributes within the language that people used? Maybe with people from Japan? Maybe from Asian countries?
Oh definitely. I’d have to say so. I’m not an expert or anything, but I would say that you could identify the cultural aspects within the language. A kind of amusing example, you know here, you wouldn’t use “the finger”. That’s not allowed. But in some countries. I can’t remember if its Taiwan or Chinese sign language, but this is the sign for mountain you’re using the finger alternating (up and down gestures). So, that’s an example. And here, this is the sign for toilet or bathroom (thumb squeezed between index and middle finger), whereas in other countries, this symbol…is it Italy? I can’t remember but that’s a swear. There’s a lot of that kind of thing. You have to be very careful. So the world federation of the deaf, their president has to be extremely careful about the gestures and signs that they use at conferences. They have to be very skilled at that.
Now, did you learn English in France? And how did that work?
Of course in France, we’re required to learn English as our second language. When I left for Gallaudet, they started teaching English in Elementary School. But I think I started in Middle School somewhere. Of course when I moved to Gallaudet I learned a lot more. Every day. I was exposed to it and so on. I did have a little bit of English before I got here.
And this was taught at the deaf school you were at?
And I know that learning a foreign language involves a lot of hearing.
A lot of writing and reading. Vocabulary. Sentences. Sentence structure and so on.
I notice now that among deaf people, you speak as well. And so how was that adjustment?
There is some mouth movement that goes along with and part of it is morphology. Some of the movements of the mouth are morphemes. For example, a lot of people misunderstand what the purpose of the mouth movements are. Some of it is imitating English speech, but when people talk and sign at the same time, that’s called what we call simcom, or total communication. That’s not true ASL. For example, I made this movement and that means when I am saying something’s really big, whereas when I am saying something’s very small, you purse your lips to indicate size. Or you might show that “it just barely missed”, so you raise your eyebrows. It’s complex. SO its not the same as word order. And people confuse and think “Yes, you can talk and you can sign at the same time” but its much more complex than that. Sometimes a person will sign ASL and speak at the same time, but I get lost. Because which language are they using? It gets mixed up. I don’t understand. Some people are skilled. And they can watch someone doing both and understand what’s going on. But I really need someone to pick one language at a time. Just signing. You know. *************It varies.
How does the grammar, and word order work?
Of course you’d have to take a class if you want to learn, but I’ll to summarize quickly. Grammar is essentially based on the face. A lot of it is facial expressions give meaning to grammar. I’d say maybe 80% of the grammar is done by the facial expressions. And signed vocabulary is more like 20%. Some people know a huge number of signs. But if they can’t use their face, if they’re stony faced, I can’t understand. It’s really limiting. If they’re vocabulary is limited, but they use their face, I can understand much better. Some people study a lot of vocabulary from books. But certainly, that’s not enough. In any case, some morphemes are done in the mouth, some with the eyebrows. Some with the body. You can have the role shifts so you can indicate who’s talking by the way you turn your body. The structure is very different from English. I’ll give you one simple example. Of course there are many more, but ASL tends to first mention the topic, or the noun so you could say. The things. And then the color. And then the description. You could say red car. Whereas in ASL you can say, the car is red. So you say. There’s that car. And it’s red. And it’s small. Or it’s big. Or whatever. You add the descriptions after the object. That’s just one example of a difference. And WH questions for example who what why. In English, they tend to be at the beginning. In ASL, they tend to be at the end. You go where. You do what? So the WH word tends to be at the end. First is the action and the verb. And then the question word.
That’s sort of like French. Tu vas ou?
It’s interesting because LSF and French have more similarities than ASL and English. That’s just sort of my opinion on what I have observed. That’s nothing that research has proven. But just my observation.
The facial expressions are very much a part of your communicating. But in France, people have very few facial expressions. In a book called French or Foe, they show four pictures of Francois Mitterand. In one of the four pictures, he was smiling. French people did not recognize who Mitterand was because he was smiling.
Of course, Mitterand was unique. Very stony faced. I remember he invited president Clinton at one time for some kind of fiftieth anniversary of World War II. They had a celebration in Normandy. I was in France. I was watching on French television, and Clinton was talking and gesturing, and Mitterand was barely moving his lips. That was very amusing to me to compare the two.
So with that in mind, did you develop your facial communication in France?
Interesting. Because compare France and America, the deaf people use their face almost the same. The use of the face in grammatical structure is almost identical whereas the vocabulary, the signs themselves are different, but the face is very similar. SO when I developed the facial expressions for LSF, I could pick up ASL very easily. The only thing I had to learn was new vocabulary basically. So even though French hearing people don’t use their face very much, the deaf community still developed it in the use of grammar in sign language. But it also depends on which region. Now in France, we use more gestures, where as in the north of France they use it less than Paris altogether. That’s similar for America as well.
Anything else you want to add about your experience at Gallaudet?
There is one interesting thing. When I was growing up, I never believed that deaf people could be equal to hearing. I always thought deaf people were inferior. That’s what the teachers were telling me. That’s what society was telling me. Deaf people can’t be equal. But when I went to Gallaudet, Nooooooo. Some people I could tell were so extremely intelligent. Almost above…way above average. That’s when I first started to realize capacities are equal. In France, job opportunities are limited, whereas at Gallaudet I was told , there might be some jobs that might be totally dependent on hearing. Nothing else really is limited to hearing people. Sometimes when I talk to my French friends, they still believe that deaf people can’t do a lot of different things. And I try to explain that they can. I can’t blame them for the experience that they’ve had. Because I had this awakening at Gallaudet.
And these are French friends who are also deaf?
How long did you spend at Gallaudet?
Six years. And that was enough.
Was that typical for a stay or a stage?
Four years for my B.A. and two years for my Masters.
How did you end up in Maine?
Well, that was quite unexpected, my arrival in Maine. When I was nearing the end of my term, I had to do an internship for education. And I applied to go to California, and the Gallaudet program has a lot of affiliations with a lot of different schools in the country. And so the California program was full. And the program in Maryland was full. This was sort of last minute for several reasons for when I applied for my internship. And so, I had the option of putting it off one semester, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to graduate in May of ’97. So one of my advisors recommended Maine. I didn’t have a great attitude about that. Maine? All the way in the North? How odd. Ok, I didn’t have a lot of choice. But when I came here, I fell in love. In some ways, yes it is strange. But, that’s how it all strated. And fortunately, my wife’s parents live very close by. So that’s very helpful. They live in Massachusetts. And we got married and so on, and here we are.
How did you two meet, and how did it develop? Did you bounce back between either side of the “pond” as the say?
This is actually one of Louisa’s favorite stories? How did you meet? How did you meet, mommy and Daddy? How did you meet at Gallaudet? Anyway. I needed to increase my English skills to improve my reading and writing, so it was recommended that I go to the English tutoring center and that’s where I met Margaret. We started tutoring each other and we liked each other, but we had to be careful, you know, because of that tutor/student relationship. So we tried to keep those boundaries, but as soon as tutoring was finished, I asked her out on a date. Actually, that’s another difference between French and American culture. That word. Date? We don’t have that kind of….One time at Gallaudet, one woman asked me “Do you want to go out on a date?”And its like “Date? I don’t know what date means!!” So anyway. So it’s a cultural conflict. We went out. We went biking on our first date. We went through the forest. Riding up into the hills. Stopped along the little river. Flirtin’ with each other and so on. Came home. I cooked her dinner. And…the rest was history.
And how long ago was that?
We’ve been together ten years and two months. And married for seven years and three months.
Was that shortly after arriving in America at Gallaudet?
It’s quite a while later. Four years later. When I was first at Gallaudet, I was very independent. I lived in an apartment. And then another. .
Did you get married in France?
How did your family think of you marrying an American woman?
My family doesn’t care, American or French. They like her as a person. That’s the important part. Another issue is that I’m deaf and my wife is hard of hearing, so that’s another difference. A lot of time when deaf and hearing people marry each other, there tend to be a lot of challenges. Whereas, with deaf people marrying each other’s in some ways easier. That’s living in the deaf community in any case.
Is this true even from the French perspective?
Now tell me more about your job at USM and Baxter school for the deaf?
Well I quit the Baxter school, and now I’m full-time at USM now.
And how do you like it?
I teach ASL mainly. Some deaf culture. Some interpreter training. But on Wednesdays, like this afternoon, I have to go to Augusta and teach at UMA. I love my job, so far. It’s not actually my field, ASL, and I never expected to be doing this, but the schedule is quite nice. It’s a lot easier when having a child having this schedule. Baxter would have almost been impossible. I mean 7:30-4:30, I was at school. So it was really tough.
In this program, do you teach students to be interpreters or people who learn ASL to be teachers?
The ASL courses are taught as foreign language. There in the foreign language department. Some of them do want to continue on to become interpreters to go up to the higher level. But that’s a relatively small program which we’re expanding slowly.But ASL is one of the foreign language options. I don’t know if you know this, but there is some struggle going on with the department of foreign languages, French, Spanish because they feel the ASL program has stolen a lot of their students. We want to be cooperative, but I don’t know. They feel resentful or something.
Do you think its personalities between some of the professors?
I think it’s both.
I want to know about Louisa, then. The adoption of your daughter.
That’s been wonderful. We’d been planning for quite a while to adopt. We first tried looking in the United States, but we had some trouble finding an appropriate child. We wanted to have a deaf child and couldn’t find one, and so we contacted an international agency. There’s one in Oregon that we contacted. And they gave us a list of a few deaf children and sent us information about them. And we saw a picture of Louisa. We flew down to Columbia, and yeah, it’s been quite an amazing experience. So far.
And it’s been two months now?
I met you the week that she came to town.
At the greyhound rally.
Louisa was there that’s right. That was quite…things were still a little bit overwhelming at that point, but now she’s really adjusting so quickly.
You spent a while down in Columbia preparing to bring her back.
Three weeks. We were there.
Were you communicating before going down to meet her?
No. Well, we did send a small photo album to her. But you, communication was going on. Just talking with the agency and the director of the program. We did send her pictures. So when we went down there, she recognized us from the pictures. And then we took it from there.
And how has been with her development of ASL and what she had learned in Columbia as a deaf girl?
Well, before we adopted her, she seemed to have a very limited language. A few Columbian signs. A lot of gesture and home signs. She didn’t seem to have any formal language. We don’t have any hard evidence of it. But we were surprised when we adopted her, she was quite good at communicating. She paid attention and she wanted to understand. There was a lot of frustration at the same time. Some communication barriers. We’re still uncertain of what the situation was with her language prior to her adoption. But now, she’s picking up ASL very quickly.
And what school is she in now?
She’s at Baxter School for the Deaf.
Do you approve of her being at the school having been on the faculty there?
For now. But I do know her teacher and she’s wonderful. I trust her very much. She’ s skilled. She has knowledge. She (Louisa) is in Kindergarten right now. So, we’ll see what happens when she moves up to her second grade. We have a lot of discussions about that.
What have been some difficulties of having her come into this culture?
Challenges for her?
And for you.
Well, she is adapting quickly, but she does of course miss her foster mother from Columbia. She misses her a lot still. And I feel bad about that. She seems to realize maybe that she’s not going to be seeing her anymore. And I tell her, you know, we might be able to visit at some point. She does talk about her foster family a lot. And her memories with her. Its challenging. It definitely is that kind of adjustment. But in general…
And has she undergone any culture shock?
Not too much. She seems to be good at that.
Was her foster mother deaf as well?
No. She was hearing. And she had two children of her own. I think they were foster kids. I’m not sure. There were two other children in the family.
Is there anything else we could add to this discussion?
No, but if anything else comes up, I’d be happy to communicate through e-mail.