Two thumbs up for sign language cafe in Paris, Café Signes

French language signs for coffee, tea, water, wine, etc.

Ordering lunch or a cup of coffee in a country where you don't speak the language can occasionally feel like a daunting task. One restaurant in Paris offers an easy solution because each of their menus has pictures of all the signs needed to communicate an order. If you're thirsty and would like something to drink, simply make a fist with the fingers of your right hand, extend your thumb and raise your hand towards your mouth. But don't be surprised if your waiter responds with rapid hand gestures because Café Signes is operated by a mixture of non-hearing and hearing staff.

When Sylvia and I met in front of the world's most famous deaf-run restaurant for lunch in September, she asked how I had managed to make a reservation via telephone. Feeling rather sheepish, I admitted that I hadn't thought it necessary to call because the cafe is located on a quiet street in the 14th arrondissement far from the touristy center of town. I didn't anticipate that it would be a problem to get a table. It turned out that I was wrong because the restaurant was already full of animated diners obviously enjoying their delicious smelling food when we walked through the door promptly at noon. As we turned to leave, one of the hearing staff recommended calling in advance because the bistro is a popular destination for people from the neighborhood as well as from abroad.


Anxious to have lunch at Café Signes, I followed the waiter's advice and booked a table for Sylvia's and my first get-together immediately following her return from a recent trip to the United States. While catching up on everything that had been happening in our lives during the last couple of weeks, I asked for an arugula salad and fish the same way I would in any other restaurant. It was only at the end of our meal that Sylvia and I realized that we had completely missed the opportunity to talk with the waiters in French sign language. We didn't even have to follow the suggestions on the menu about stomping on the floor or patting our waiter's arm to attract his attention because the service was so attentive. I don't mind though because it gives me a very good reason to go back to Café Signes. With a main course and a starter or dessert for 12 euros, it's one of the best deals in Paris. Plus, I really like the idea of supporting a restaurant whose goal is to bridge the gap between the speaking and non-speaking worlds.

Café Signes
33, avenue Jean Moulin
75014 Paris
Phone : 01 45 39 37 40
Open: Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm

Many thanks to Anne of "Just Another American in Paris" for sending me the link for an article in the Washington Post that mentions Cafe Signes in the story about Mozzeria, a deaf-owned restaurant in San Francisco.


Edit: After reading Fraussie's comment below, I decided to add this photo that explains how deaf people give sign nicknames to other people. For example, if someone likes flowers, their sign may be "Flower". If someone always wears a hat, their sign may be "hat", etc.

Comments

  1. Is the sign for milk like that of pulling an udder? And chocolate seems to be oozing down a finger. I know the alphabet in sign language but that wouldn't help me much in French as my spelling is challenged, I'm sure. The food looks tasty.

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    1. The sign for milk certainly does seem to be the motion of pulling on an udder. Very clever. I watched two young women communicating in sign language on the metro the other day and it struck me that they never took their eyes off of each other. Instead, they kept their gaze intently fixed on the other one's hands. I guess that you can't tune out of a conversation while signing like you can while you're listening to someone talk.

      Do you ever have the opportunity to use sign language in Chicago?

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    2. I've never had the pleasure of spelling out my communication with anyone here, or ever actually. I learned it in church many many years ago.

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  2. I love some of the signs, I would be tempted to have a tea even though I don't drink it! Joseph - I'm not sure whether the alphabet is the same. I know the alphabet in New Zealand Sign Language, but we use two hands, whereas I think in American Sign Language it's all done with one hand. I don't know about French.

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    1. PS I looked it up - it seems the alphabet for American and French are very similar, whereas NZ and British are similar.

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    2. Fascinating, and as Joseph says, the food looks wonderful.

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    3. @Gwan, Thanks for posting about the similarities between French and American sign language. It has always seemed counter-intuitive that American sign language isn't more similar to the UK (and NZ) version. Here's what I found about the relationship between French and American sign language on the website for Gallaudet University in Washington DC. (It's the world's only university with programs and services designed to accomodate deaf and hard of hearing students.)

      "Abbe Sicard, the director, and the teachers at the Institut Royal des Sourds-Muets in Paris, France used French Sign Language at their school. Legend has it that on the ship back to America, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet taught Laurent Clerc English while Clerc taught Gallaudet sign language. After setting up the American School for the Deaf in 1817, they incorporated many of the signs that were already being used in America.

      Presently, American Sign Language (ASL) and French Sign Language are very different, however there are still quite a few ASL signs that come directly from France. For example, "with" in English is "avec" in French. However, the sign for "with" in ASL uses the "a" hand shape. The same can be said for the word "see" in English. Instead of using an "s" hand shape, the sign is made using the "v" hand shape for the word "voir" in French."

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    4. @Steph, The food at Les Signes is delicious!

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  3. Looks delicious, and such a bargain! I'm definitely going to put this on my to-do list.

    My husband always seems to resort to his own made up sign language when he can't speak a language, so he'd fit right in! :)

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    1. Isn't it amazing what we can communicate with our hands and body when we don't know the language?! I'm going to include this info in a future post but I was told during a guided tour of Galeries Lafayette last week that the store used to prohibit employees from communicating in signs with people from other countries. Instead, they were supposed to get one of the official interpreters who worked for the store.

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  4. A great idea that celebrates diversity in our communities Mary Kay. It is obvious from your post that it is the excellence of the food and service that brings in the diners, an important factor that will make the restaurant sustainable into the future.

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    1. Exactly, Baron! On their website, Les Signes states that they want the restaurant to be a place where everyone receives a warm welcome and that customers have natural and spontaneous exchanges. That's certainly what happened while Sylvia and I were there because the people at the table next to us wanted to know our thoughts on the American presidential election when they overheard us speaking English.

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  5. Thanks for the shout out Mary Kay. Was the food any good?!

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    1. My pleasure, Anne. Thanks again for telling me about the Washington Post article!

      The food was very fresh and tasty. I particularly liked that they included a slice of lime and a big sprig of fresh dill with the salad. For the price, it's an extremely good deal.

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  6. What a wonderful idea! I had no idea it existed. I must go there. I am extremely interested in sign language - it is quite fascinating to see how it works and was developed. It was prohibited in France for a long time. But a Frenchman living in the US learnt American sign language and brought it back to France and adapted it. As a result, there are a lot of similarities between the two, unlike the American and British sign languages, for example, which have very few similarities. Real sign language has nothing to do with alphabets in fact and the way we imagine language. Signers only resort to alphabets if they have no choice. People all have "nicknames" which are often a personal trait such as "fat nose", "funny walk", etc. Mary Kay could be signed as a camera, for example. I'm very curious how you book a table though!

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    1. Thanks for mentioning the nicknames! I almost included a photo of the section of the menu that explains how deaf people give nicknames to each other. As you said, they select a name based on something easily identifiable with a person. Like "flower" for someone who likes flowers or "chatterbox" for someone who talks all the time. I like that you came up with the name "camera" for me! I would pick either "bicycle" or "cappuccino" for you.

      Come to think of it, I'll add the photo about the nicknames. That's what I like about blogging - we can edit a post after it has been published.

      Since there's a mixture of speaking and non-speaking people who work at the restaurant, it's easy to make a reservation by telephone.

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  7. The funniest thing I ever saw were two deaf people signing to each other while one was driving. Since, as you mentioned, they don't take their eyes off each other, it was a bit alarming as they headed for Place de la Concorde, "talking" ten to the dozen!

    The university where I taught for 15 years (ESIT) has a sign interpretation section so I used to converse with my deaf colleagues during university functions. Come to think of it, I never asked them my nickname! I can remember when Sarkozy became president that they were trying to come to a consensus about his nickname.

    I also had a deaf student in my Master 1 translation class last year, but she doesn't use sign language - she lipreads. She amazingly speaks three languages! The other students were always very cooperative but during discussions, it was difficult to remember that she needed to see us when we were speaking. I used to try to summarize what each person said but I didn't always remember. Then I'd see she'd switched off and I'd start summarizing again! It was a very interesting experience and I was delighted when she got through all her subjects.

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