Great Expectations and Funny Stories

Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas, NV
The past two weeks were filled with interesting escort interpreting assignment for us on both sides of the Atlantic. Judy spent almost two weeks with a European executive who is trying to break into the American market with a very unique and highly specialized product, while Dagy spent a week with a South American delegation that was in Vienna to visit some hotel and conference venues. 

Just when we thought we knew exactly what clients wanted, we get thrown for a loop and were a bit surprised by some of the unusual expectations. It's a great reminder that escort interpreting is probably the area of our business that's the least predictable, and thus perhaps also the most fun. In the conference interpreting booth and in the courtroom, the lines are clear: we are strictly interpreters and don't mix and mingle with our clients. Escort interpreting, however, can require interpreters to be partial business advisers, tour guides, language coaches, and everything in between. Here are some of our experiences from these past two weeks:

Vienna, Austria. 

  • Dagy was asked to pronounce some tricky German words, which her clients wanted to record with their smartphones. They could not get enough of "Zweigelt," an Austrian wine.
  • Judy's client, who has extensive experience working with interpreters, decided it would be easier for Judy to do the initial presentation to the potential customer instead of interpreting everything. He thought this would make for a smoother presentation, and he was correct. However, it required Judy to learn everything she could about the customer's product in a short period of time. The Q&A session was interpreted simultaneously.
  • Dagy acted as impromptu Vienna tour guide and vacation adviser, as she was asked everything from whether it's better to go to Budapest by train, air, car or boat to what time to see the famous Lippizaner stallions.
  • Judy's client commented that he was very unhappy with another interpreter from a previous business trip to a European country because the interpreter was "all business." Judy pointed out that the interpreter was simply sticking to her role, but turns out the client had non-traditional expectations of the role of his escort interpreter. He felt that there was no personal connection, and for long-term escort interpreting assignments, it's certainly important to have a good connection, so he's got a point.
  • Dagy had to adapt to a wide variety of interpreting situations, all without any equipment. They included PowerPoint presentations given to her trade group in two languages (German and English, and a third one: poorly spoken English), walking tours of conference venues and hotels, which are quite tricky with large groups, and sit-down lunches, during which Dagy served as menu interpreter and recommended meals to her clients, who were obviously unfamiliar with traditional Austrian cuisine.
  • Judy's escort interpreting turned into an impromptu medical interpreting assignment when her client needed medical attention. It was a wholly unexpected turn of events, but as an escort interpreter, you have to roll with the punches.
We'd love to hear from you, dear readers. What's the most unusual situation you have encountered? We'd also very much like to hear your favorite story from the world of escort interpreting. 


Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed many great moments when escort interpreting, but my favorite moment(s) has(have) been twice when I've accompanied clients in a helicopter ride over the (spectacular) island I live on (Reunion Island), most recently last month. It's something I would never have got to do without my job, and I loved it!

Francesca said...

If you ever happen to work with Italian clients whose English is far from perfect, be careful not to use the word escort when describing your job – they might misunderstand what you mean by "non-traditional expectations of the role of [the] escort interpreter". I am afraid nowadays escort only has that one meaning in Italian, another unfortunate legacy of the Berlusconi era.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 19, 2012 at 8:04 AM said...

@asmarttranslatorsreunion: thanks for reading and commenting. Wow, that sounds absolutely wonderful. You are so lucky that you live in such a gorgeous place! And what a fantastic interpreting assignment.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 19, 2012 at 8:06 AM said...

@Francesca: yes, it is an unfortunate term indeed, but that what it is known as in English. It has the same, highly negative connotation in English, and we wish it were called something else. We also use the term "business interpreting," but that's technically not the correct term. No Berlusconi here in Vegas, but still plenty of other activity with the same name, but much different business. Unfortunate indeed.

Cris Silva on July 19, 2012 at 11:11 PM said...

Great to hear about your adventures!
Most recently, I interpreted at the Royal Gorge, in Colorado, with the highest suspension bridge in the world. As Judy's assignment, we almost had a near-miss medical situation, where I had to walk one of the delegates off the bridge, as she was extremely dizzy...
A comment about the terminology: I thought the U.S. Department of State was phasing out the term "escort" because of obvious sexual connotations Francesca points out. I think the term they use now is "liaison interpreting".

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 20, 2012 at 8:10 AM said...

@Cris: wow, what an adventure indeed! Was the client ok? Interpreting on a massive bridge like that sounds scary and thrilling. Thanks so much for letting us know about the new terminology -- that's much better! The ATA still uses "escort" on their categories for the linguist listings. Hopefully they will change that. We also really dislike the obvious connotation. Great to hear that the Department of State changed it.

Cassy on August 2, 2012 at 5:05 AM said...

That was a very nice experiences of both Judy and Dagy. Someone has to be ready and well versed interpreter. A balance work. Thanks for sharing!

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