The Simon Heng column

To an extent, we are all curious as to how other people perceive
us. And, to an extent, we manage our public consciously with
clothes and make-up, but much of how we come across is unconscious.
What impression do think you would be making on someone if they
reacted to you like this…

You ask someone what, you think, is a reasonable question, in a
clear voice. The person leans in to within a foot of your face,
speaks ve-e-ery slowly, extremely loudly, enunciating each word
separately and carefully, while keeping a happy smile on their
face. Each phrase is accompanied by large, vague gestures. Do they
assume that you are hard of hearing? That English is not your first
language? That you find it difficult to process information

Someone looks at your wheelchair and jokily says something like: “I
could do with one of those right now!” Or: “Do you have a licence
to drive that?” Or (and this is really funny): “Careful, don’t run
me over!” Are you wearing an angry expression, which threatens
violence to all-comers? Are your driving skills poor? Are they
telling you that they have a physical disability, and that they
need to borrow your wheelchair?

For no apparent reason, sometimes after asking “How did you become
disabled?” someone says, mournfully, “I’m sorry!”. What are they
sorry for? Are you just about to receive some dreadful news (I’ve
seen this look on doctors’ faces)? Are they saying that they caused
your disability? If so, make sure there are witnesses. Are they
apologising for their own existence? Or are they just sorry that
they asked the question?

While window-shopping, you notice in the reflection in the window
that passers-by give you a long, hard stare. Have you inadvertently
dyed your hair pink? Has some Asbo-breaking imp pinned a sign to
your back saying “Bin Laden in disguise”? Have you forgotten to
wash after clearing out the pigsty?

I like meeting people, but if you do see me, don’t grin inanely and
stick two thumbs up. You might be making the wrong impression.

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