Ouch: Mistake of the Month

Because few things are as fun as poking fun at ourselves, we wanted to do a quick post with this month's utterly horrifying mistake. We make many errors, but try not to make the same ones twice. This one was Judy's, so we will let her tell the story.

A few weeks ago, Dagy had the unique opportunity to interpret at an OPEC conference (English booth), and I was to be the back-up interpreter (I also did get to interpret). The setting in Vienna's regal Imperial Palace (Hofburg) was amazing, and the permanent booths were top-notch. As a US-based interpreter, I am usually quite impressed by anything resembling a permanent booth. We checked out the other booths, which are located on the third floor high above the stage, to meet our colleagues from the Spanish and Russian booths, but no one was there, so we reviewed our materials and got ready for the big moment. After we had sat down, a distinguished-looking gentleman walked in, extended his hand (without introducing himself), smiled, and said (in Spanish) that he was delighted to see us. I thought, don't ask me why, that this lovely gentleman was the colleague from the Spanish booth because no one else every ventures up there, so I immediately went into very casual small talk, and yes, I addressed him informally. As if I knew him. As if we were colleagues. As opposed to English, in Spanish we've got two pronouns, the formal usted and the informal (which I used). Among colleagues, we usually use the latter. 
The rest of the morning went better.

The only problem here was that this gentleman wasn't a fellow interpreter, but an ambassador to Austria of a South American country. Dagy had the good fortune of getting a glimpse of his badge, which had been facing away from me, and recognized the name immediately (research pays off; as the badge doesn't say "ambassador," either). She immediately greeted the ambassador with something appropriate along the lines of "Good morning, Your Excellency." This is of course when I realized my error and I was completely utterly mortified. However, the ambassador didn't miss a beat, didn't take offense at all, and just chatted away. I did recover enough to thank him for coming upstairs and for hiring us (yes, he hired us!), and exchange some other pleasantries. So yes, I committed a pretty big faux pas at a high diplomatic level, and I lived to tell about it. It's a nice reminder that people at the top can be very kind and forgiving, and I am grateful for it. I was pretty sure I'd never hear the end of this one from Dagy, and now that we've shared it here, I am guaranteed that it will last forever!

What about you, dear colleagues? Care to share your favorite mistake? We won't tell. Oh wait, this is a public blog....




6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow, you are brave to share. I am cringing here...glad it all work out for you! Thanks for the blog. I am learning a lot.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 15, 2015 at 2:30 PM said...

@Anonymous: It was cringe-worthy indeed. But it is fun to make fun of ourselves once in a while, so we just had to share! Thanks for reading and for commenting.

RAUL LLALLAHUI on October 14, 2015 at 7:45 PM said...

It really was a faux pas, but you survived! I really enjoyed your experience. Unfortunately, I have not gone through such a tragicomedy... yet! I am still a student, but I would love to get that feeling and be able to tell my friends: "I too have survived".

Greetings from Peru!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on October 15, 2015 at 3:47 PM said...

@Raul: Yes, it is nice to know that I survived to tell the tale. And it makes me very grateful for clients' tolerance. And it won't happen again! I would have preferred to tell a different story, namely the one that does not include me making a faux pas, but it was a very valuable learning experience. We'd love to go to Peru one day, BTW! Un gran saludo.

Noemi Rosario on February 26, 2016 at 11:30 AM said...

At the beginning of my over the phone experience as a medical interpreter, I took a call from a gyn Dr.
Dr.- Why did you have your uterus removed?
Patient- porque tuve 6 hijos y el doctor me dijo que mi utero estaba desgastado
For some reason I could not remember the word worn out, so my interpretation was as follows: because I had 6 children and the Doctor said that my uterus was WASTED.��
Dr- The Dr said your uterus was WASTED what type of language is that for a doctor?
At that moment I realized my huge mistake. I can assure you that I have never forgotten the use of worn out but at that moment I wanted to dissappear. At least my coworkers got a good laugh about it and so did the Dr.
Bad word choice and no I was not wasted at the moment.

Noemi Rosario on February 26, 2016 at 11:32 AM said...

At the beginning of my over the phone experience as a medical interpreter, I took a call from a gyn Dr.
Dr.- Why did you have your uterus removed?
Patient- porque tuve 6 hijos y el doctor me dijo que mi utero estaba desgastado
For some reason I could not remember the word worn out, so my interpretation was as follows: because I had 6 children and the Doctor said that my uterus was WASTED.��
Dr- The Dr said your uterus was WASTED what type of language is that for a doctor?
At that moment I realized my huge mistake. I can assure you that I have never forgotten the use of worn out but at that moment I wanted to dissappear. At least my coworkers got a good laugh about it and so did the Dr.
Bad word choice and no I was not wasted at the moment.

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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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