Copyright Martin Esposito - All rights reserved
There are few exceptions to the costumer-is-always-right adage. One is possibly to be found in the medical profession, though my ignorance in this field prevents me form carrying out a deeper analysis on the aesthetic surgery segment, where I would imagine demand rules, at least if my conference experiences are anything to go by.
What it really means is that even where the request is ridiculous, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Unless of course it can be proven beforehand that the result will in fact damage the client, in which case it is best to back off lest one gets sued. Okay, thus far it's been egg-sucking time, sorry.
The carry-on language baggage businesses we provide a service to travel with is rarely marked Duty Free. "Fragile" and "Heavy" spring to mind as more suitable labels, as little thought is given to the effect wear and tear have on language. Normally, the highest goal entrusted to a code of communication is "getting through". Speed is a virtue. Simplicity too. And of course unequivocable clarity.
Yet in our own native language of epic tales, love and poetry, they rarely are an asset. Being real, beautiful and evocative come more to the front. Not because we love the complex per se, but because it actually describes things better. Life can be shaded, faded, dazed and confused, and a binary on/off take-home-message choppy soundbite system of meaning transmission may well be an easy tool to use, but frequently turns out to be a blunt one. It is simpler in absolute terms to employ a fork for everything, but when assessed in real context (a soup) it turns out we've oversimplified a little. And anyway complex needn't mean complicated.
You can't blame companies for wanting this: a white and black univocal description increases product saleability and exotic quality, lends sexiness to anything sordid and some say it is even a good way to keep personal opinions and dissent under control. I'm overdoing it? Try getting a mobile phone contract: the first half-hour is really a vocabulary lesson, where you become the unwitting and inevitably weaker party. After that, it's your problem, and they know it.
We are paid to convey meaning. And all in all I feel relieved when a client indicates that all the technical terms (the ones I'm most struggling with, it turns out) can be left untranslated. Great! So I end up with a scattering of syntax loosely wishing together a load of acronyms and other foreignisms. I pocket my fee, I go home. I learn little, and WCS (Worst Case Scenario) after a few editions of the event if emerges that no one is really listening to me. Fast forward a few budget cuts, I never see the client again.
Was it my fault? Not in my view. Did the client appreciate my service? Probably.
Was he/she enjoying it? Probably not - since it sounded awful albeit right - but what sort of a question is that? It wasn't in the contract, and I performed exactly as the end user required.
My point exactly, way up at the beginning of this article.
What, business should not be evocative? I must have misread all those ads then...
And as you leave the booth for the last time and walk past the buffet table, you wonder why the expensive canapés guarded by the expensive-looking stewards who have exceeded expectations yet again - exactly because they did not listen to the customer who knows nothing about food anyway and tailored their choice on what their educated palate would have eaten - are still there and will be for some time to come.
You can't hold a conference without good food, I hear? Sure. Try holding one without good words...
About this blog
A sideways glance at conference interpreting, living bilingual and balancing the composite identity. The poetics of a craft and a repository of past thoughts. (Some links may no longer be active).