A HoH In Paris

Ah, Paris – it was the highlight of a two-week vacation with the Hearing Husband in Belgium and France. The ‘City of Light’ is busy and noisy and full of wonderful sounds, most of which (I think) I heard.

But really, who cares about perfect communication when you’re gazing open-mouthed, in awe, at the night-lit Eiffel Tower?

And what’s the point of conversation when you’re cruising along the Seine River, under the famous stone bridges and past centuries of grand architecture whose beauty can make you weep?

Why bother speechreading your partner over a glass of wine in an outdoor café, when there are so many other fascinating people to watch?

Last month, we took our first trip to Europe together and because I wasn’t traveling alone, as I often do on business, I didn’t expect any serious communication issues. But just in case, not wanting to tempt fate, I took along my HoH Emergency Travel Kit, which I wrote about in a recent post, and which remained largely untouched during our holiday. I did dip into the spare battery supply and the dry-aid  was handy in the humid weather. But my beloved hearing aids performed well, making the spare backup aids unnecessary except as peace of mind insurance. I didn’t need the shake-awake because who wants to sleep late while in Paris anyway, and there was simply was no opportunitiy to flash my HLAA/CHHA membership cards.

The most important component of my HoH Travel Kit turned out to be the Hearing Husband, who proved useful on more than one occasion. Although our time in Europe was magical, I would be a poor hearing loss advocate if I didn’t mention the few minor communication glitches on the holiday.

Going through airport security, I beeped. For some reason, it was a challenge trying to tell the security person that while she was body-wanding me from behind, I wouldn’t be able to understand her instructions (which are usually just to ‘turn around’ but hey, you never know).  Hearing Husband would have helped me, but he was being frisked in another lane.

On the flights to and from Brussels, the in-flight passenger announcements were so quiet that even my husband couldn’t hear them.  No one seemed concerned, so I ditched my usual practice of asking for repetition from another traveler or the flight attendant.   Our seats were in the exit row, and the extra legroom was heaven for my 6’6″ man.  I can’t sit in this row when traveling alone – why risk, in the ‘unlikely event of an emergency’, not hearing the instructions correctly before I jump out of the plane?

On the boat cruise along the Seine, the guide gave a running commentary in French and English. In profile, I could tell what language she was speaking, but the microphone was glued to her mouth, like lips stuck on frozen metal, and speechreading was difficult. The Hearing Husband did his best to interpret, but his translations were condensed and lacking detail – “a really old church” or  “a royal palace of some dead king.” To be fair, he’s not a trained interpreter, and it’s not easy to listen and translate at the same time. It’s also highly irritating, especially when your wife is used to getting her information in real time.

TV captioning was not available – or we didn’t know how to access it – on the channels we watched in Europe. Because of my hearing loss, I can no longer understand or speechread spoken French, but I can read French captioning, but couldn’t find it.  So, in Paris we watched the Euro 2012 soccer quarter final in French and in Brussels, the final match in Dutch. But really, it didn’t matter what the announcers were saying – those European soccer players are just so gorgeous.

We did get captioning at the Canadian War memorial at Vimy Ridge, the stunning monument to a horrific WWI battle fought and won by Canadian troops. In the interpretative centre, a handful of people were watching a short, captioned film on the battle. The woman sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Are you Canadian?” Turning around to say yes, I realized that I had misheard her. She had asked, “Are you Gael Hannan?” It was Margaret Shenton, a fellow hearing loss advocate from Ontario! More than half a million people visit this memorial every year – what are the chances that two hard of hearing friends from across the world would be there at the same moment?

On a bus trip to Bruges in Belgium, Hearing Husband and all the other passengers used ear buds to listen to an automatic commentary provided in any of 10 languages. I can’t use ear buds and when the Hearing Husband urged me to try them, I gave him a withering “you-hearing-people-think-you-know-everything-but- you-know-diddly-squat-about-hearing-loss” kind of look. Then, when he wasn’t looking, I removed a hearing aid, tried the ear bud at high volume and it worked fine (although it doesn’t usually). I rewarded the man with a “you’re-so-smart” smile.

Near the end of our trip, at a Belgian social function, I talked with a young mom who was struggling to adjust to her recently acquired hearing loss and hearing aids. She knew nothing about assistive listening devices, and our chat armed her for an upcoming discussion with her audiologist. More importantly, this was the first time she had talked with another hard of hearing person, someone who understood her life, especially the bit about a supportive Hearing Husband, because she had one too.

Hearing loss has no international borders, and I take it with me wherever I go, even Paris.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


  1. Hi Gael,
    Bev Speight is graciously sending on your blog. Your trip sounds wonderful, and your amusing remarks do make me laugh. I wonder how long your trip will be, I don’t think I have had all your postings from Bev, but certainly a few.I gather you areb travelling through, France, Belgium,are you going to Holland or Spain?It was great to see you in Ottawa, a good conference I think. I was able to stay a few extra days to visit ex Yellowknifer friends, so that was great . In Setember I celebrate with my Nursing Class at the U of A, our 65th graduation Anniversary!!!, 17 out of our class of 24 Still alive and kicking!!. Have a happy, good hearing the rest of your trip, Gael. All the best, Barb

  2. I am always so thankful and interested on the many, many topics you talk about and you bring it about so real life. Good to have a hearing hubby to help with support. I have a feeling you bring a really interesting life to him. Thank you for adding me to your mailing. Always look forward to your name coming up. You are so right hearing koss has no international borders it follows us wherever we go. Being suddenly deafened after 60 years of perfect hearing certainly brought a shock to my life especially with a brain injured husband. So your writings certainly put a possitive spin on things to let us know there is still a good life to be had. Sharon Crouch

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