Don’t hoard! (Or: Dutch sign language interpreter goes viral)

On 12 March the Dutch government held a press conference with a sign language interpreter present, Irma Sluis from The Hague. This was actually the first press conference in history which used their services, after much criticism from hard of hearing or deaf citizens. One citizen held up a sign behind a reporter during the evening news earlier in March. The sign read “Where are the sign language interpreters during a time of crisis?” (article in Dutch).

The government also received complaints after the tram attacks in Utrecht last year (article in Dutch) where there was no sign language interpreter present even though citizens were being told to shelter in place and not go outside. This was even more noticeable considering New Zealand had a sign language interpreter present during the press conferences after the attack at the mosque last year.

On 15 March, the stage was set for a the first sweeping set of coronoavirus restrictions for citizens: schools, daycares, sport clubs and similar were forced to close. Restaurants and cafes were only allowed to be open for take out or delivery. Everyone who could was told to work from home and/or avoid public transportation. Supermarkets were still open, however.

The sign language interpreter (Irma Sluis) said later that she was chosen because she lived in The Hague and was the closest sign language interpreter. Since Dutch sign language is not her mother tongue she was required to look up some of the words in advance to see how she could best interpret them (Dutch Wikipedia article). Irma went viral with her translation of niet hamsteren or “don’t hoard” (article from iamexpat.nl), digging with her hands like claws and her teeth sticking out. The minister of medical care had said “I would like urge everyone again not to hoard. It is not necessary, there is enough for everyone. Hoarding causes problems for supermarkets.”

Hamsterende gebarentolk Irma Sluis groeide uit tot een baken in de crisis (from nrc.nl, ‘Hoarding’ sign language interpreter Irma Sluis becomes a beacon in the crisis).

Oh, and in that article you can also read that she made one mistake, perhaps due to being from The Hague: she accidentally signed ‘Scheveningen’ when she should have signed ‘beach’. Opps!

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