Comedy Central Interpreting Experiences – Part I
I occasionally see requests from our language forums for contributions of funny instances that have occurred at work. I am never able to remember them off the cuff so I made a special effort to create an ad hoc list to share with you. I recalled several stories, although I am generally of a serious nature, because they have taken place over a period of + 30 years.
In retrospect, I realize that the anecdotes mentioned here could have been avoided if I had been more mindful and not on automatic pilot when they took place. I have duly learned my lesson.
Once upon a time when I was a young housewife, I had a dinner party planned for a Friday evening, when a good client called with a last minute request for an interpreter late that afternoon. We were not able to find someone else to cover due to the short notice so I went. It was a very sad case of a young woman who had gone on her honeymoon to Mexico. Her husband, who had a cardiac condition, had suffered a heart attack and died. There must have been a good eight attorneys asking questions. It was late in the day, there were no signs that the depo was winding down and my guests were scheduled to arrive at home for dinner at 7:00. While I was interpreting I was wondering to myself what I was going to do (fatal misstep!). My client proceeded to ask the witness what they were doing when he had the heart attack and she answered that they were making love. The next question was “Were you engaged in foreplay?” I thought about how to interpret that into Spanish in an elegant/efficient way and I was successful. The woman answered after pausing to think. Still on automatic pilot thinking about the dinner, I blurted out, “We were kicking”. I only realized my error when the attorney turned around quizzically and said to me “Mrs. de la Vega, that’s a strange way to go about it, don’t you think?” The witness had used the verb for “kissing” in Spanish but I inadvertently turned into “kicking”.
Another time, in that same vein, I was interpreting for a plaintiff who was suing a doctor for malpractice. She testified about a number of terrible mistakes that had been made by the physician that resulted in the death of her child. She was then asked when she had decided to sue Dr. Padrón. When I interpreted the question to her, I committed a Freudian slip and unwittingly changed the doctor’s name to “Cabrón”, which means sonofabitch in Spanish. None of the attorneys spoke Spanish and the words sound so alike that they never noticed. I only realized what I had said when she stared at me incredulously and the little “tape recorder” in my brain played back my answer. Without batting an eyelid, I simply repeated the question to her, substituting the correct name. She visibly relaxed and answered, probably thinking she had heard wrong.
One of my all-time favorite war stories happened when I was interpreting at a meeting of the World Boxing Association. Roberto “Manos de Piedra” (Hands of Stone) Durán, considered by many to be the greatest lightweight of all time, was reading a tortuous, flowery speech sprinkled with all kinds of obscure boxing terms about his achievements in the ring. I asked my male booth partner to speak to him during a break and get a copy of the text that he was speed-reading out loud. My partner came back and told me that Durán had insulted him and said he didn’t need to be giving the interpreters anything, that it was up to us to do the job right without any help. I immediately got up to try my luck with him and the guy fell all over himself to get me the copy, hitting on me in the meantime. When I came back to the booth with the papers, my colleague asked how I had gotten them, and not realizing the mics were on, I answered, “because Manos de Piedra is a dirty old man”. There was a lightning-like response as all the press and the attendees wearing headsets roared with laughter, while the honoree looked at them nonplussed. Needless to say, as soon as we were done, I exited the building through the emergency stairs so as not to run into anyone.
I will save the rest of my treasure trove for another day so that we can savor an additional chuckle and trust that you will all be inspired to take a walk down memory lane and share your comical tales with me.