My first interpreting assignment was in a Workers Compensation court. Our fledgling company had a very good client who represented a large insurance carrier. One day, he called in for a last minute job right after I had finished my training to start interpreting. There was no one else available so I went, trembling in my boots. I was 22 years old. My backup plan in the event I needed time to think, or something went wrong, was to “accidentally” spill coffee on my lap during the proceeding.
This attorney had met me during my training when I accompanied other interpreters so he knew I was new and the guy was a prankster. He also had a glass eye which made it difficult to maintain visual contact. In the middle of the hearing he looks at me, winks, wrinkles his bad eye shut, and putting his hand to his mouth makes believe he is putting the glass eye in his mouth and slushing it around… I froze, my heart beating violently, waiting for opposing counsel or the judge to say something. They never did because they knew him and realized he was just having fun with me. Thankfully, I recovered my composure before putting plan B into motion because I had a very limited professional wardrobe.
One of my favorite stories involves my brother, Alberto Salazar, who was a world-class marathoner in the eighties, when he was around 21 years old. I happened to be visiting at my parents’ home in Boston shortly after one of his big wins there when a local Hispanic paper came to interview him. Knowing full well that my brother spoke only “kitchen” Spanish because he left Cuba at 2 years of age, I offered to interpret for him. He looked at me naively and said, “Thanks but I can do this”. Just then, my three year old son ran into the room and went to sit on his uncle’s lap. The reporter asked him in Spanish who that was and with a big smile my brother assertively answered “Ese es mi nieto” (That is my grandson) The woman looked at him puzzled and said, something to the effect of “You are so young to be a grandfather….”
The following anecdote stems from Cuban culture. It took place back in the early 90’s when George H.W. Bush was in office. Our company was called at the last minute, around lunchtime, to provide an interpreter for the President at an interview he was going to give at the Homestead Air Force Base in Florida to a Hispanic TV Station. I had gone home to have lunch and my scheduler found me there. There was no one else available. Remember there were few cellphones back then. My mother-in-law happened to be at home and insisted, like a good Cuban grandmother of her generation, that I take a sandwich with me that she quickly whipped up, lest, God forbid, I should skip lunch and feel faint. There was no time to eat it so I just stuffed it in my purse for later and set off.
I arrived at the site, was escorted to an empty office and asked to wait. The Secret Service then informed me that they would be inspecting the room with a canine explosives search unit. I panicked from embarrassment thinking the dogs would be drawn to my purse because of the sandwich and quickly threw it into the first drawer I saw before they came in. Happily, the dogs were so well trained that they didn’t even blink when they went by the drawer. Even though it was food, it was not what they were looking for. I rescued my lunch after the search and enjoyed it on my way back from the assignment.
Another gem took place in Cancun where I took a team of interpreters in the late 1980’s to work the Miss Universe Pageant. Our Greek interpreter was a Greek Orthodox priest, who worked as a freelancer with us for many years. When the team took a taxi to go to the venue, the driver asked us what we were there for and we explained that we traveled around the world with the Pageant every year. He was awestruck and said how lucky we were to actually have contact with the contestants. Seeing Father’s clerical collar, he asked what he did specifically. Without missing a beat, our interpreter told the taxi driver with a straight face that because of his religious credentials, his job was to physically “inspect” the contestants to certify whether they had breast implants or not. Needless to say, the man’s jaw dropped to the floor. He shook Father’s hand vehemently, wished him luck and said to count on him if he needed an assistant in Mexico.
Have you ever been in a situation where you run into a client that you have to greet but you can’t remember his name? I was in court once, training an interpreter, when I saw an attorney who used our services on a regular basis. I had to say hello and introduce my companion so it was imperative I remember his name. My brain quickly narrowed the possibilities down to two as he approached me. I picked one, smoothly said hello and introduced my companion. I was very proud that I had made the correct choice. He stepped into the elevator to leave the court when as the doors were closing, he glibly called out “Great to see you too Mrs. Suarez…”
That’s it for today. I hope you enjoyed the post and that you will write and share your own stories with me!