Best of the Week
of June 14, 1998


Here are the most intriguing cross-cultural exchanges either begun or advanced during the week of June 14, 1998, as selected by Y? These postings, as well as "Best of the Week" entries from previous weeks, also can be found in their respective archives, which we invite you to browse. There, you will find questions that have received answers, as well as questions still awaiting responses. We encourage you to answer any questions relevant to your demographic background, as well as to ask any provocative question you desire. Answers posted are not necessarily meant to represent the views of an entire demographic group, but can provide a window into the insights of an individual from that group.

First-time users should first make a quick stop at our guidelines pages for asking and answering questions.

 

THE QUESTION:
R351: Why do some black people call white people "honkies"?
POSTED JUNE 19, 1998
Rick W., Virginia Beach, VA
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THE QUESTION:
D4: I work in a small shop. We have an occasional customer who is profoundly deaf. His speech is very difficult to understand, so we usually communicate with notes. He can lip-read pretty well. Is it impolite to augment my responses with sign language (which I know very little)? His written language skills are almost as cryptic as his speech. Am I being impolite to "dumb-down" my written responses?
POSTED MARCH 29, 1998
M. Peacock, 32 <
Arulian@hotmail.com>
Sonora , CA

ANSWER 1:
Your sincere desire to communicate is the most important thing. Deaf people have a lot of experience trying various methods to get a message across - let yourself go with the goal of mutual understanding, and you will succeed. The best measure is to ask questions that can't be answered with "yes" or "no." Some deaf people do not know English very well, so that's why their writing can be hard to understand. (Until very recently, deaf kids had to learn English solely through speech reading. More fortunate deaf kids learned a visual language like American Sign Language first, so they could have a strong language base from which to learn English.) If you know some sign language, try signing the words on the note - it may make more sense. Some deaf people do not know sign language, so if you do sign, a good beginning would be "KNOW SIGN LITTLE-BIT ME. OK-[eye gaze]YOU?" (Translation, "I know a little sign language, would you be amenable to using it?") Whether it's notes or signing, be sure to use whatever visual cues you may have available. If the customer is looking for something, ask them to draw a picture. Offer to follow them to a place in the store if that's what they are asking about. Mime. Charades. Best of luck! (Studied American Sign Language for eight years, freelance interpreter for four years.)
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Jesse K., 43, white female, <
jesse_the_k@hotmail.com>
Madison, WI

FURTHER NOTICE:
As the brother of a profoundly deaf man, I would have to say that it depends on the individual, although frequently the deaf can comprehend written language better than they can write. This has to do with the fact that profound deafness often affects one's socialization and learning skills. Above all, remember: Although a deaf person may not be able to communicate well in spoken and written word, in all likelihood the person you ae communicating with is as intelligent as you are.
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
Tom G., <
tgoode@interhop.net>
Toronto, Canada

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I have a hard-of-hearing child and deaf friends, as well as a few deaf clients at work. From my experience, many deaf people appreciate anyone who attempts to communicate with them in their language. I would also encourage you (and anyone else who reads this) to get some more schooling in American Sign Language. Most deaf people I know like going into a store where there are employees who sign. It is just like using any other language. It also opens up avenues of communication with one of the most interesting cultures in America.
POSTED JUNE 19, 1998
Tim T., 29 <
t2drj@earthlink.net>, Corona, CA
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THE QUESTION:
R237: It seems to me that black males generally have better physiques than white males. Is this true, and if so, why?
POSTED MAY 3, 1998
R.M., white female, Jacksonville, FL

ANSWER 1:
I don't know if you are referring to the general population or to sports figures. Many of the black and white males I know have terrible physiques. I don't think one group has a better physique than any other group. If you are finding that black males are in better shape, you need to broaden your sample of men. As a longtime gym member in three different states, I have found that the black male members are in worse shape than the white male members.
POSTED MAY 4, 1998
Jas, black male <
themoas@aol.com>, Pensacola, FL

FURTHER NOTICE:
I would tend to disagree with Jas' post. As someone who has worked out in many different gyms over the past 20 years, I have found that the percentage of black men with great bodies is far greater than that of white men. But this type of personal opinion is not really useful. I believe the questioner was inquiring whether blacks had an advantage over white men when it comes to getting in shape. One must be careful to avoid broad generalizations and stereotyping in this area, but it is known that the races differ in their muscle/fat ratio, with races from tropical climates having lower body fat than those from colder climes, who evolved with higher body fat for protection. What this means is that a greater percentage of black men would be able to add lean muscle mass without adding fat than is true for white men. This is most clearly evident in bodybuilding competitions. While white men and black men place equally in contests in which bodybuilders use steroids, in contests where drug-testing is firmly enforced, blacks far outplace whites. While one might say that this results from social and cultural realities (who dedicates themselves to the gym and who doesn't), the fact that this discrepancy is not seen in contests that allow steroids indicates white men need growth-enhancing drugs more often than do black men in order to compete.
POSTED MAY 6, 1998
Mark M. white <
marknyc@hotmail.com>, New York, NY

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I think it is important to take into account the degree to which public perception has been shaped in the last 25 years. Since the early 1970s, one of African Americans' first significant post-civil rights successes has been the integration of American professional sports. Some sports now have a 50 percent or higher percentage of black athletes. This is a powerful media image, and one that can create in the mind of the public a perception that African Americans in general exhibit the qualities that are most seen in the sports/media. I would say that African Americans are no healthier relative to other cultural groups, only that their public image is currently dominated by an image of the black athelete.
POSTED MAY 6, 1998
Michael <
msmacharg@aol.com>, Washington, DC

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I guess I'm not really asking about black males who work out in gyms or who are sports stars. I'm talking about the general population of black males and white males that I see in everyday life. In that situation, I tend to see many more black males with good physiques than white males. So it's not an observation I'm deriving from the media (I don't watch TV) or from a small sampling, but from what I'm seeing around me day to day.
POSTED MAY 6, 1998
R.M., white female, Jacksonville, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
To Mark: You made some good points, as each race has had to adapt to the local environment in which they lived. However, even though genetics can give you the potential, hard work and dedication are still the only way to succeed. For the average black male, genetics don't seem to be helping at all when it comes to trying to "get lean." I wasn't talking about "bodybuilders" as you noted, just the ordinary guy coming from work who hits the gym for a quick workout. I tend to agree with Michael that the media has given a perception that blacks have better physiques than the general population (it's hard not to see this in magazines or newspapers). Although R.M. states it's what she is seeing around her, I would like her to give specific examples. I could make the opposite case in my town, where I find more white men working without shirts on (taking advantage of the warm sun) than black men, and the white men have good physiques. I would have to look just a little bit harder, and I probably would find just as many blacks with good physiques.
POSTED MAY 7, 1998
Jas, black <
themoas@aol.com>, Pensacola, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
I, too, have a sense there are more black men for whom muscular development comes naturally, without the requirement of concentrated gym work (despite all the overweight black men with high blood pressure). I know of no research to back up my impression. The possibility brings up an idea that's highly volatile: Genetic difference. Blacks endured the Middle Passage (often-lethal transportation on slave ships to America) and, once here, were subjected to the same kind of selective breeding as farm animals. Because both were hideous abuses and the latter was one of the most offensive aspects of slavery, even broaching the subject raises ire. Still, some believe these realities led to lasting genetic alteration. As I said: A highly explosive concept, and no one has conclusive data. Racists use it to "prove" that blacks have genetically lower intelligence and other negative traits. Others cite it as the reason for black people's athletic excellence. I have no idea what's true, but I wonder.
POSTED MAY 11, 1998
Will H., Euro-American, 48, gay, Dallas, TX

FURTHER NOTICE 6:
Do black men have better physiques? Hmmm, I'm a black woman and I've generally noticed that myself. Whether that is a fact, I don't know. But what I do know is that black men have higher levels of testosterone than white men. This is a medically established fact that researchers believe is part of the reason black men are at a higher risk for prostate cancer. Now, testosterone effects muscle development and (during adolescent years) penile development. This may be the root of many black male attributes. However, the issue is so controversial it is rarely discussed. I hope this sheds a little light on your question.
POSTED JUNE 17, 1998
Sandy, 30, black female <
ThPanther@aol.com>, Elizabeth, NJ
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THE QUESTION:
R345: I'm an astronomer and give planetarium shows with star legends from around the world that I've learned from books and other white astronomers. I've read that some Native American cultures view stories as I do physical property - telling them without permission would be stealing. Would I steal by using the stories? It feels worse to exclude the stories and, thus, First Nation cultures.
POSTED JUNE 17, 1998
Joann B., 45 <
jballbach@sprintmail.com>, Canton, OH
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THE QUESTION:
GE41: Why do women spend so much time, energy and money on their appearances, but then become upset when a man stares at them? And do women really become upset at this, or are they just pretending?
POSTED JUNE 15, 1998
John, 27, Riverside, CA

ANSWER 1:
I like to dress up and look nice because it makes me feel good. I'm not dressing up for men, I'm dressing up for myself. I'm not asking to be stared at. Besides, staring is just plain rude. There are more discreet ways of appreciating someone's beauty.
POSTED JUNE 16, 1999
T.H., 23, female, East Lansing, MI

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THE QUESTION:
R126:
It seems to me that people of Asian (not Asian-American) descent stand closer to other people in public than do Westerners. Why is this?
POSTED MARCH 31, 1998
S. Cook <
taffy@drizzle.com>
Seattle, WA

ANSWER 1:
I had not heard this of Asians, but I know it's true of Semitic peoples (Jews and Arabs). In the West, people's personal space is roughly arm's length. In the Middle East, personal space is half-an-arm's length. That's why if you get into a conversation with a Jewish or Arabic person, you may find yourself moving backward until you are literally up against a wall.
POSTED APRIL 3, 1998
Steve, KS

FURTHER NOTICE:
I am a New York-born Jew and have never heard nor seen that Semitic peoples as a group invade one's personal space more than any other group. It is true that Jews are known to use their hands to emphasize points in a conversation, the old joke being if you force a Jew to sit on his hands he can't talk. You can also make the same observation about Italians. However, these are generalizations not to be taken seriously. If someone who had never reviewed our history were taught this as fact and then saw movies of President Kennedy, they could draw the conclusion he was, through his often used mannerism of pointing his finger, our first Jewish president.
POSTED JUNE 15, 1998
Alan R., 45, Jewish <
bix2@flash.net>, San Antonio, TX
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THE QUESTION:
RE55: How can the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists claim to be anti-Semitic if they worship a Jewish man named Jesus? That seems like a contradiction. Could someone explain how these groups can dislike Jewish people and still claim to be Christians?
POSTED MAY 17, 1998
David O., 31, white, agnostic, Nashville, TN

ANSWER 1:
It will probably take a person of that ilk to answer it. My late grandfather was such a person. We were philosophically miles apart, yet we would both claim we were Christians. I suspect he would have told you Jesus was a revolutionary, rejecting Judaism. He was the original Christian. The Bible doesn't support that belief at all. Mainstream Christianity has something called "Systematic Theology," in which all that we know from the Bible is examined carefully, and then a consistent sets of beliefs or canon is drawn up from what we understand. I would like to see how the Ku Klux clan wrestles with the inconsistencies of its theology.
POSTED JUNE 9, 1998
Stu, 42, stu@interactministries.org, Portland , OR

FURTHER NOTICE:
Just because someone claims to be a Christian, it doesn't mean they fully or accurately understand, follow or even care about the instructions Christ gave. While I consider myself a Christian, I would never align myself with the hatred of such groups as the KKK. Why do they hate the Jews yet profess to follow a Jew? They're confused by a cultural hatred they don't even realize they're enveloped in.
POSTED JUNE 11, 1998
David B., 40, born-again Christian, Riverside, CA

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
To David O. (questioner): As a former white supremacist, I can tell you that the movement does not consider Jesus to be a Jew. KKK members will say there is no scripture that specifically says Jesus was a Jew, but that he was a white man, descended from Isaac and not Esau.
POSTED JUNE 16, 1998
Kerry N. <
kerrynoble@aol.com>, Ft Worth, TX
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THE QUESTION:
GD16: What is the real meaning of the word "schmuck"? I've heard it just means "idiot," and then I've heard it means something really, really bad.
POSTED JUNE 15, 1998
K.B., 28, Los Angeles, CA

ANSWER 1:
As far as I know, schmuck is a Yiddish word that means "large penis." Putz, on the other hand, means "little penis." I once asked my grandmother (a longtime speaker of Yiddish) if this was true, but getting an 80-plus-year-old Jewish woman to use the word penis can be difficult. She did smile and blush and refuse to answer, however, so I assumed if I wasn't exactly right, it was close enough.
POSTED JUNE 16, 1998
Mark B., Jew. <
bakum@bigfoot.com>, San Francisco, CA

FURTHER NOTICE:
A schmuck is literally a penis. A putz is the tip of the penis. Schmuck has come to mean "idiot" and putz a "total idiot."
POSTED JUNE 16, 1998
A.B., 40, Jewish, Baltimore, MD

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THE QUESTION:
SO39: If attraction to the same sex is determined by genetics, either entirely or substantially, then why is it that after hundreds or thousands of generations, this genetic trait has not disappeared from the genetic landscape? If homosexuals and lesbians, on average, don't reproduce, why would this genetic trait still exist in the human species?
POSTED MAY 27, 1998
Doug, whose brother is gay, CA

ANSWER 1:
I'm not gay but I have studied genetics. It is quite easy for genes that carry detrimental effects (in terms of producing offspring) to become established. Think of how many lethal genetic diseases still exist. We have two alleles (one from each parent) for virtually every gene, but only one is expressed. The one that is expressed is called dominant, or if both are expressed, they are co-dominant. The allele that is not expressed is called recessive. 

If a "gay" gene were recessive, it would be extremely easy to spread in a population. Only when two of the "gay" alleles were together would they be expressed, because a "straight" gene would override it. There are also ways in which dominant "gay" alleles could be relatively common, even if we did not take behavior into consideration. For example, it may be a common mutation. 

If we look at behavior, it is even easier to see how "gay" genes may spread. In Western culture, some people who are gay try to pretend to themselves and other people that they are not, and thus often produce offspring. 

I'm not sure there is convincing evidence for the "gay" gene yet. And I do not think that all the answers to questions about our behavior are in our genes.
POSTED JUNE 13, 1998
Beth, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

FURTHER NOTICE:
You need to understand how genetics works in order to understand why homosexuals don't have to reproduce in order to remain a part of the population. Your reasoning - that only a homosexual could genetically produce a homosexual - isn't accurate, since brown-eyed parents can produce a blue-eyed baby. If there is a gene for homosexuality, it could be recessive, meaning it only shows up in certain conditions, and could be "carried" by someone who is heterosexual. Current research into a genetic "marker" for homosexuality has found that this marker (if real) seems to be carried only by women. While they can pass it to a son or daughter, only the daughter can carry it to the next generation. Also, if a gene exists, a parent would transfer it to all of his/her children - some might be gay, some might just be carriers of the gene, but be heterosexual, and pass the gene on to their children. If you really want to understand how recessive/dominant genes work, and how traits can be passed on even by those who don't have the trait, search the web for a genetics primer - here's one that's a little complex, but it's the best I could find: http://www.gla.ac.uk/Acad/Dental/roliver/genetics.html.
POSTED JUNE 13, 1998
Mark M., gay male, marknyc@hotmail.com, NY, NY

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
To Doug: Many gays and lesbians reproduce. I am the proud father of a beautiful teenage daughter and a handsome teenage son. You seem to imply that if it is indeed a product of genetics, homosexuality is an undesirable trait and that evolution should have "fixed" the problem by now. Perhaps the problem lies not in the trait of homosexuality but in the way many people preceive it. My advice: Respect your brother for who he is, accept your brother for "all" that he is and love him, period. Later in life, you will be glad that you did.
POSTED JUNE 14, 1998
Steve N. <
blaster7@hotmail.com>, Dallas, TX
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THE QUESTION:
R291: Why does it seem that many younger blacks have little respect for whites, when older blacks, who lived through segregation, are completely different in this regard?
POSTED MAY 26, 1998
Herb C., 69, Lehigh Acres, FL

ANSWER 1:
Younger blacks have no memory of legislated oppression. Logically speaking, they have no reason to fear or admire whites, so therefore, no cause to pay any respect.
POSTED JUNE 10, 1998
Elliott, 44, black, franrod@wavenet.com, Los Angeles, CA

FURTHER NOTICE:
I think it's safe to say that some younger blacks, just as younger people of almost any ethnic group, tend to have little respect for anyone, including themselves. Just look at their videos or listen to their music. They are who and what we adults have created.
POSTED JUNE 10, 1998
V.B., 41, black female, Miami, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
Older black people have lived throught segregation and racism, younger black people are just getting a taste of it and don't like it, but who does? They have the right to be angry with white people but by being angry with all white people, they are no better than the people who picked on them because of their race.
POSTED JUNE 11, 1998
L.C., 15, white male, lord_chaos_1@hotmail.com, VT

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I confess to an intial knee-jerk reaction to your question because I was wondering if you felt you deserved respect from blacks because you were white, or older, or both. Younger blacks probably don't "respect" white people because we have less to fear. Blacks who grew up in segregated times lived with the very real threat of beatings, incarceration and death at the hands of whites for minor infractions that would be absurd today (for example, making too much eye contact or saying too many words to a white person, especially a white woman).

After the civil rights movement, black people evolved more of a sense of self-awareness, political power and a bit of rebelliousness (which is not limited to young blacks), as well as resentment at what some blacks feel is a lopsided economic and social structure. However, your question is very broad. Could you 1) Give a specific instance where you felt you were disrespected by a young black person? 2) Describe how you feel an older black person might have reacted?, and 3) Discuss why you feel you deserved better? I would like to know the circumstance.

For the record, many blacks your age have the same attitude about younger folks regarding the lack of respect they seem to have for elders. It could simply be a generational problem, not a racial one.
POSTED JUNE 11, 1998
Mark A., 39, black, Los Angeles, CA

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
I believe blacks over 50 repect and value themselves far more than blacks 35 and under. Blacks who lived during the Jim Crow years had to pull together to overcome the ills of this society. Blacks who were qualified for a scientific or political post were denied them because of the color of their skin. But in this post '60s liberal, hippie, socialist era we live in, anything goes, so everything does. Inner-city blacks don't mind the poverty they live in, or the gangs that hold cities hostage. Mediocrity is accepted in the black community (if it were not accepted or tolerated, you would not see it. Plain and simple). I will never let drug/gangstas move into my neighborhood. I would rather die than live under black or white oppression. Spoiling the child has led to nothing but havoc in white and black neighborhoods.
POSTED JUNE 12, 1998
John, 31, black, San Francisco

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
Although I am not old enough to have lived through segregation, I feel that the "respect" that you think comes from older blacks is actually fear. During slavery and segregation, most blacks were taught through their parents, whites and society that whites were better and deserved more respect than blacks. And actions like not giving any eye contact, calling whites "sir" and "madam" (no matter their ages), and doing whatever whites told them to do are not examples of respect, but something taught to make whites feel superior to blacks. And yes, there are young blacks who do still respect older Americans regardless of race, position or power. Please do not judge us (the young and black) from the few bad examples you may have encountered.
POSTED JUNE 13, 1998
Cheryl B, 22, African-American female, CherylB4U@AOL.COM, Memphis, TN

FURTHER NOTICE 6:
I think this is because older blacks are afraid of whites and the younger ones aren't. Older blacks have been put in the place of feeling inferior - which translates into respect. Younger blacks know they are equal to whites, which translates into what you perceive as less respect. Do you feel the older or younger blacks need to have respect for whites in general? What about older whites having respect for older and/or younger blacks? For that matter, what about younger whites having respect for older whites?
POSTED JUNE 13, 1998
Gordon D., Vancouver, B.C., Canada

FURTHER NOTICE 7:
I think that blacks who lived through segregation were not showing "respect" for whites but fear of what whites would do to them if they didn't behave a certain way toward them. You are an elderly man, and I would treat you the same way I would treat my grandfather based on age, not race. I have just as much respect for anyone who respects me. I am young, and I don't think you mean respect in the same way I do. What you are talking about sounds like a patronizing, bow-and- scrape type of behavior. Young blacks don't have to kiss up because it is not necessary anymore. Blacks in the past didn't really have any certain respect for whites because they were white. They let you think that in order to keep the peace for themselves. Everything is not always what it seems. It is always easier to let a person think they are in charge, even if they are not. For reference read We Wear the Mask by Paul Lawrance Dunbar. It talks about how blacks fool whites into seeing what they want to see. It was written just after the end of slavery, therefore I would think that blacks have felt that same way about whites for some time.
POSTED JUNE 14, 1998
Carmela 29, black <
pecola@hotmail.com>, Atlanta, GA
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THE QUESTION:
R251: Please help me in a delicate situation: With Chinese names, how does one know which is the surname and which is the given name? I am in correspondence with a person and am not sure how to address the letter. Also, I can't tell gender. I know I should just ask, but feel awkward and embarrassed to do so.
POSTED MAY 6, 1998
Giah S. <
Nayvay@aol.com>, Detroit, MI

ANSWER 1:
I have lived in Asia for 10 years and am a fluent speaker of Mandarin Chinese. The general rule is that Chinese people write their last name first. For example, if the last name is "Chen" and first name is "Mei Ling," then they will write "Chen Mei Ling." However, it is possible that, in anticipation of a Western reader, they may write the name "Western-style," such as "Mei Ling Chen." Because there are a relatively small number of Chinese surnames, it is generally possible for a Chinese speaker to determine which name is the surname. But I am certain the person with whom you are corresponding will understand your question and would not be offended if you asked which name is the surname. The same goes for gender. I have found that even Chinese people have difficulty determining the gender simply by looking at the Chinese name, unless it is a commonly used female or male name or unless the Chinese Characters are written out and are unambiguously female or male in nature.
POSTED JUNE 16, 1998
B. Lee <
brooklee@hotmail.com>, Hong Kong
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THE QUESTION:
D1: I am interested in how the average person views people who stutter. Do they perceive the handicap as mental, physical or whatever? I am 55 and a former severe stutterer till I was 22. I also have an adult son who still stutters.
POSTED MARCH 11, 1998
Jim Y., Walled Lake, MI

ANSWER 1:
I would have to say I view stuttering as a physical condition. I have however, seen a stuttering friend treated as though he were mentally disabled. People become impatient waiting for him to finish a word or sentence and attempt to finish it for him or excuse themselves while he is in mid-sentence to speak to someone else. They will often try to speak slowly to him and loudly as though he were deaf. This is very frustrating to him and devalues the intelligence he possesses.
POSTED MARCH 20, 1998
Lori C., 33, Bellevue, NE

FURTHER NOTICE:
I can't answer this as an "average" person, because I am a person who stutters. Personally, I believe the cause of stuttering can be either physical or psychological, or both. My stutter, for example, completely disappears when I am alone, or when I speak to my dogs. I stutter worse when I am under stress (like when I have to verbally defend myself). These characteristics seem to me to be psychological in nature. I participated in group speech therapy while I was in high school and came in contact with very severe stutterers, some of whom couldn't utter a sound without stuttering, regardless of the situation. These people, I'm convinced, had a physiological defect that caused them to stutter.
POSTED MARCH 25, 1998
John H., 27, white male <
jhopkins@osscorp.com>
Farmington Hills, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I am a speech-language pathologist, and people do tend to be impatient with people who stutter (disfluencies). I think a good starting point is for the person who stutters to let his communication partners know he/she stutters. This takes pressure off the person who stutters ("the big secret is out") and it also lets the other person know the situation and hopefully be less critical. If needed after the initial explanation, the person who stutters can let the listener know he understands everything, hears well but has some difficulties getting some words out. It is also important for the person who stutters (and the rest of us) to realize that nobody has completely fluent speech - not actors, newscasters - nobody.
POSTED JUNE 15, 1998
L.K. <
Do not post>
San Diego , CA
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