Business Etiquette: Not Shaking Hands

A few months ago, we had the pleasure of attending a fancy networking event in Europe. It was lovely, and they had free food, too -- you can't beat a great networking event with free food, but we digress. Many politicians and representatives of the European Union were in attendance as well, and we were delighted to enjoy a nice evening with them. During the course of the evening, we ran into a somewhat uncomfortable situation and wanted to share it with all of you to get your input and ideas.

Networking in fancy places. The Wolseley in London.
We were walking up to the hotel's (very fancy) bathrooms, and a well-respected legislator came out of the bathroom. We had met him before and wanted to say hello. He clearly recognized and was happy to see us. In accordance with Central European tradition, we moved closer to shake his hand. However, he quickly pulled back his hand, apologizing profusely that they were still wet after washing them. Now, for those of you who have lived or done business in Central Europe, you know that the handshake is a key element of social and professional interaction, and refusing to shake hands (even it it's for a good reason)  makes all parties uncomfortable and starts the conversation off on the wrong foot, which is what happened in this case. We didn't quite know how to act, as hugging the legislator was not an option, nor was patting him on the shoulder. He clearly felt awkward, too, and kept on apologizing about his wet hands. We kept on thinking that he could have prevented this entire situation by simply drying his hands well before leaving the bathroom. This not-shaking-hands scenario has also happened to one of our lovely colleagues, who wanted to shake a professor's hand at an industry event, but the professor did not shake hands, alleging that she was sick and did not want to spread the germs. That's a good point, but it's probably best to stay home if you are truly sick.

How would you have handled this situation, dear colleagues? It might seem pretty minor, and it is, but it's one of those awkward moments that can be tough to handle professionally. We did not end up having the lengthy conversation with the legislator that we had planned on having, as it just felt all wrong -- amazing what a non-handshake can do. We'd love to hear your thoughts!

Lack of Translation = Death

It's a sad day when our profession makes the homepage of and the national news in every corner in America because of three deaths that could have been prevented if language access had been provided. The case of Deisy Garcia and her two young daughters is truly tragic, and it's incomprehensible that the New York Police Department cannot answer the question as to why previous complaints that she had filed in her native Spanish were never translated into English. No action was taken against her ex-husband, who is the suspect in the killings and was arrested as he was trying to flee to Mexico. Read the whole story here

Screenshot from, February 20
To say that the system failed Deisy is an understatement, and this lack of action in a violent domestic abuse case is almost unfathomable in 2014, especially for a language as common as Spanish. There are plenty of court-certified Spanish interpreters and myriad top-notch translators in New York City (of all places). Courts and police departments across the country go to great lengths (or at least try) to assist non-English speakers, especially if they are the victims of crimes. Although Nevada is no poster child for language access, Judy has spent quite some time at family court (as a certified court interpreter), where she routinely translated abused women's statements into English. These statements would then be used as an official court record on which a temporary restraining order (TPO) against the perpetrator would be based. In essence, these translated documents are a critical link in the legal system that tries to protect both men and women from violent crimes within the family. This is standard procedure, and it is truly incomprehensible that Deisy's cries for help were unanswered because they were not in English. Let us take a moment to think of Deisy and her two young little daughters. After that, we might have to start looking for answers, as will the rest of the nation. Perhaps it's time for interpreters and translators to unite and demand change so cases like Deisy's never happen again.

So there we have it: translation can save lives, and highly qualified translators are readily available, but Deisy still died, allegedly at the hands of the very perpetrator she had already reported. Perhaps this is a wake-up call for all the public agencies around the country to whom language access is merely an inconvenience and not a necessity. Sometimes translation can mean the difference between life and death. It might be labeled as hyperbole, but it's not.

We would love to hear your thoughts on this serious and important topic, dear colleagues. What can we, as translators and interpreters, do to help prevent these tragic deaths? Can we put more pressure on public agencies? Lobby our state legislatures more than we are already doing?

Upcoming Conference: Stridonium in Cambridge

We recently heard about the upcoming Stridonium conference from our friend and colleague Riccardo Schiaffino, who featured this relatively new (well, it's been five years) private online community for professional translators and its upcoming conference on his blog, About Translation. Even though we will not be able to attend, we are happy to spread the word about this one-day conference, which sounds quite fantastic.

Ah, wrong Cambridge. Photo by Judy.
The conference will take place in gorgeous Cambridge (England, not US) on March 24. Have a look a the conference website here. For more information about this community for professional translators, please have a look at their main website.

Free: Practical Guide for Conference Interpreters

We are quite passionate about interpreting, and that includes teaching others. Dagy will start teaching consecutive interpreting (Spanish/German) at the University of Vienna in a few weeks, and Judy has been teaching an introductory course on interpreting at the University of California-San Diego Extension online for a few semesters. When we design our online and in-person classes, we constantly search for great resources for students that go beyond the standard (and truly excellent) textbooks for beginning interpreters. For beginning conference interpreters, AIIC, the International Association of Conference Interpreters, is a fantastic source of information. Membership is only open to the most experienced conference interpreters, but AIIC's website has a wealth of information that's free and available for everyone.

This fantastic free online guide includes the following:

  1. Before the conference: From contact to contract
    1.1 Inquiries, options, and firm offers
    1.2 Asking the right questions
    1.3 Conflicting offers and availability management
    1.4 Recruiters and working conditions
    1.5 Signing a written contract
  2. Preparing for the conference
    2.1 Information sources
    2.2 Glossary preparation
    2.3 Coordination with the organiser
    2.4 The pre-conference briefing
  3. The conference
    3.1 Getting there and setting up
    3.2 Volume and microphone protocol
    3.3 Quality interpreting
    3.4 When you are not interpreting
    3.5 Relay interpreting
    3.6 Crisis management
    3.7 Contact with delegates
    3.8 Media interpreting
    3.9 Consecutive interpreting
    3.10 Recordings
    3.11 After the assignment
  4. Other topics
    4.1 Professional ethics
    4.2 Stress and health issues
    4.3 Keep improving
    4.4 Training
    4.5 Research
    4.6 AIIC membership
  5. Conclusion

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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