...so this is the one about when along with an esteemed colleague I was trying to set up professional development masterclasses for interpreters in the United States. The main feature was to be the new sim-consec technique, which I only mention virally in passing. Any reader wishing to know more will certainly display their interest below, and of course I will oblige. More than a year on then, despite ample accreditation from the right Bodies, a decent following and a technology-based solution powerful enough to rock the industry once detonated, I am still preaching this side of the Pond, and my colleague is successfully doing the same at her end. We never did meet, though any start-up is susceptible to turbulence, and we haven't given up.
The big problem was cost: the air fare I might manage thanks to those miles clocked up around Europe (more of that later), but domestic travel, lodging and hiring the venue broke the camel's back. And, my colleague informed me, "you must offer coffee and pastries", presumably to ensure credibility and happiness. We got a few quotes, mostly reasonable. But I could not help noticing that coffee was measured by the gallon. Not that this was a problem: if you take a cup of coffee or two per person per day, measure the mug's capacity and multiply it by fifty, for example, you might come close to or go beyond gallons. I wouldn't know, as back in Rome we do litres, but that's not the point. The truth is that I had never seen coffee as a liquid. By this I mean something you ingest to quench thirst or wash down food or hydrate the body or warm your innards. In Italy (here I virally hint that I expect my compatriots to contradict me), we do not even collocate coffee with the word drink. We take a coffee, imagining perhaps that it goes straight to the brain or the soul in order to readily produce its effect: the final seal to any meal, the subtle reek announcing to the world "Serenely full, the epicure would say, Fate cannot harm me, I have dined today" [Syndey Smith, 1771-1845]. The process is more akin to taking a drug, in any sense of the word you desire.
Let's get back to travels in Europe, then. I will come clean. Of course I adore espresso. In fact, I make a little hobby of seeking out the best outlet near the conference venue in any country I visit. I brave whatever weather whilst puzzled colleagues tied into less trivial language combinations smile understandingly at my passport protruding from the wallet where I hope to find just a little local currency, as they mix up a few brown gritty pebbles at the bottom of an enormous vessel and drown them in milky water. Also, I am never shy to advise anyone who cares or is standing too close that cappuccino is a breakfast drink and should not be sipped after midday (I remember doing so last week when I made it my business to check out a new start-up at London's Google University - but this post is becoming too viral). When I couple this with the fact that I also enjoy a beer (no pints, just bottles, and only lager/pilsner as a tribute to my all-German mother), I see we have finally got to the point.
What is acceptable varies across cultures and of course time. Yet coffee is on the rise in the parlance of, say, deskbound translators. In the infosphere, when we ask one to summarize their work in three words, we elicit responses such as "coffee, dictionaries and more coffee". Social networks greet us in the morning with steaming cups and slurpy sounds, and of course it is the safest topic booth-side if we wish to conceal our next assignment or who our contact was for this job. In short, the social function of coffee is exactly what whisky used to be for Lieutenant Kojak. The light side, the offline fruitful talk before the word networking was invented, the pardonable weakness every great man must have, perhaps the secret balm to an invisible wound. Getting drunk was never part of it. Not because they didn't, but because most psychologists will tell you that it's not only about the quantity, but about intention as well. Gone are the days when my Russian colleague had (took?) vodka in the booth (not a slanderous sweeping comment: first-hand experience, the noun is in the singular), but the fact is no one thought he was going to pass the line, starting from him. Now, a drink during the evenings between working days is half-frowned upon; not a good idea after a job, at the airport, as one might get dehydrated; bad if you have worked too hard and are tired; possibly a mistake during networking evenings (nothing viral, my dear London friends). But if I don't go for it during the Christmas bash, or on a Friday night, I'm a spoilsport. Anyway, as a Public Service Interpreter on the police scene, am I ever really not working?
How do people cope? My thought: it's all still there, but change the word "wine" (I never drink wine, I do have morals) with coffee. And if anyone seriously lets the "isn't it time to stop now" phrase escape, you can always seriously look peeved: it's just coffee, for crying out loud. It's not like I'm downing brandy...
Speaking of escapes, I almost forgot. The cigarette crowd seems to be excused. I feel now I have to reassure you it's a vice I don't have. But in their case, an I-know-it's-bad-for-me-but-hey smile will suffice, and leaves us all a little envious about the fact that they are really having a great time under that shelter. No ice to break except on the ground, and all united by a subtle understanding. Enough.
But think about it: it's not what's in our cup that makes us virtuous. One can be dangerously addicted to origami, or loud punk music or work or scented candles. One may be more harmful than the other - I'm thinking about the paper cuts - but it is the relationship we entertain with anything or anyone that makes or breaks us as a person, and by extension our professional persona. The effects and dangers of our habits and talk are not what this post is about, and I am not doubting any scientific evidence, to be clear.
We are about words, and words should dress meaning, never mask it. As culture and time progress, and collective lexis needs to hop away from the derogatory meanings perfectly innocent words seem to acquire by (black) magic, it is worth reflecting on the substitutions taking place as we become absorbed in a global movement of consumption. Where what is in and what is out are not necessarily dictated by health or wellbeing, but by a need to buy and sell - witness the enormous contradictions in packaging trends vs. recycling, taxation vs. smoking, insurance vs. healthy lifestyles, charity vs. war, and the list goes on... In short, we are moving away from alcohol-speak and into an apparently more harmless realm simply because we need to devour something new now and again, as the old becomes unacceptable. Such is the fashion of language, or shoes, or travel, in the consumer age. Along with words, we shift our habits, but we do not become better human beings. And changing shoes may be fun, as they do not have a soul (!), and we can still keep the old ones. Respectively, with words there is a possibility that they might, and we might not be able to.
Perhaps I have gone too far. Not so virally, I feel you will let me know. But thanks for humouring me. I swear I too follow all your posts to the bottom, where I read the dregs, and try to fathom what it is you want to say in the spaces between the lines.