Interpreting Blunder of the Month

No interpreting awards for Judy today. 
We really enjoy poking fun at our own mistakes, so here's Judy's interpreting blunder of the month. Ready?

During all formal legal proceedings, it's appropriate to address everyone formally when speaking Spanish. As opposed to English, in Spanish we have the informal pronoun "tú" and the formal ''usted," which are both used for the second person singular (you). Now, there are no real hard rules on this, but when in doubt, it's best to address anyone formally in any business setting, unless you are talking to friends, colleagues or children. Judy's unofficial rule of thumb is to address every person who appears to be older than 12 formally. Thus far, this strategy has worked quite well.

However, a few weeks ago, Judy was called to a deposition to assist a young girl. Given Judy's estimate of the girl's age, she addressed her informally, which did not seem to bother the girl in the least. Everything was going smoothly until the deposing attorney asked for the deponent's date of birth, which is quite common during some civil depositions. With one short answer from the deponent, everything changed. 

Attorney: "What's your date of birth?''
Judy interprets: "¿Cuál es tu fecha de nacimiento?"
Deponent: "'14 de julio de 1975.''
Judy interprets: ''July 14th, 1975.''
Judy (internal dialogue): Holy cow! This deponent is older than I am! I can't believe I have been addressing her informally. She sure doesn't look like she will be 38 this year! How disrespectful of me.  Grr. Where can I find a hole to hide in? Ah, there is no hole. I must soldier on. This stinks. Is this deposition over? Oh no, it just started. 

Needless to say, Judy was absolutely mortified, but no one else seemed to notice. Lesson learned: no more guessing deponent's ages. Just default to the formal way of address and stick to that -- it's just safer. Now, it would have been great to find out what skin cream the deponent uses, but alas, court interpreters don't get to ask questions about skin care routines, so we don't know. It's probably just genes. Final lesson: good thing Judy never worked as a bouncer at a bar.


Anonymous said...

I love this! Such a pity you didn't get a chance to ask for the deponent's skin-care regime – or tell her the reason for your "blunder". She'd have been so chuffed!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on January 16, 2013 at 10:25 AM said...

@Marian: Good point, I wish I could have told her! And you know how it is: the people with best skin don't do a thing. They are just born with it. :)

Anonymous said...

Funny post! I find myself musing over “tú” and “usted” more often than I should... and I’m native! My husband is from Costa Rica, and they use “usted” by default. I still need to get used to him addressing our two-year old as “usted” (he knows better than addressing me as “usted”). While our daughter’s nanny is ten years my senior, originally from Colombia, and addresses me as “usted” while I use “tú”. And I have a really hard time using “tú” with one of my good friend’s mom who is from Uruguay, but apparently they almost never use “usted” in casual situations, no matter the age. I have the same “problem” as the deponent in your story and I find it flattering when people clearly younger than me use “tú”. In business settings, I have learned to drop hints to my interlocutor about my age by mentioning my graduation year, or years of experience... otherwise, people think I just started translating the day before yesterday.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on January 17, 2013 at 9:21 AM said...

@dguanipa: Very interesting insight, thanks for commenting! We grew up in Mexico City, and unfortunately, this seems class-based, but in our circles, everyone used "tú" for everyone socially and for everyone they deemed to be in an inferior position (employees, members of the household staff, shopkeepers, etc.) We did, however, address our friends' parents and clearly older people formally. Now, that was back in high school, and these days, I also tend to"tutear" parents of friends. A fascinating topic, and you are right: many countries default to "usted," and we have several friends who address their parents formally, which would have never occurred to us. We think this might merit more in-depth analysis. Que estés muy bien. :) Mira nada más...ya te tuteamos.

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