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June 9, 2003

Don't Talk While Ordering Your Food Here

From: The Statesman, India - Jun 9, 2003

The Times, London
PARIS, June 9. — At first sight, it looks like a typically chic Parisian bistro, with an orange awning, chrome tables and highly polished wine glasses over the bar.
As soon as you order your coffee, however, you realise that the Cafe Signes is different. Bruce, the waiter, smiles and shrugs at you. So you shout out your order even louder, only to get the same reaction.
You are just about to yell at the top of your voice "Un cafe, s'il vous plait" when you realise that that there is no point. Bruce, like the other waiters, is deaf and, if you want a drink, you have to write down your order, or learn sign language.
The cafe was opened by the Entraide Universitaire association as part of an attempt to bring deaf people into contact with each other and with the local community. With a grant of euros 54,881 from the Paris regional council, the association renovated an abandoned cafe opposite its headquarters in the capital's 14th district, giving it an elegant, modern decor. It opened for trading in April, but was inaugurated by Ms Marie-Therese Boisseau, minister for handicapped people, last week.
In a city of noise and bustle, the cafe is an unlikely venture, yet it has been widely welcomed. Not only has it given deaf people an opening to the Parisian social scene, it has given Parisians an opening to the world of the deaf.
For people such as Bruce (27) this is a chance to get away from the boring jobs that charities usually find for deaf people. He used to work in a backroom at the association's headquarters, making jewellery, for example.
"I prefer this 1,000 times over," he said, communicating in sign language through a translator. "This job is an open door to freedom and autonomy. I have a place, I exist in relation to others and in relation to myself."
If the cafe is to be a success, it needs to find and keep customers. "I was really frightened that it wouldn't work," Ms Martine Lejeau Perry, an association director, said. After a month, she said, the signs are encouraging.
Already there are regulars and they include deaf people who travel across Paris for a three-course lunch for euros 11.50. "It's impossible for the deaf to meet up otherwise. If they go to a normal cafe, they are completely cut off, so they really appreciate this place."

© 2003 The Statesman