Humor and stories for interpreters: War stories

David Bar-Tzur

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Shows the hustle and bustle of a freelance interpreter's life.

Stained glass bulletASL William Tell.Anita Renfro's William Tell Mom video in Sign Language. [Webmaster: If you want to see the captions for this song, go to Mom Song William Tell (With Lyrics Captions).]

Stained glass bulletHow Do You Sign Bloopers? - Video.

Illuminated letter I had two kinda funky situations happen at the same job today. I am a full time free-lance interpreter, been working about two years - pre-certified, passed the written test. I was working at a social services agency. It was supposed to be a normal two-hour minimum job that ran five hours. For me, this was not a problem as I had no other job scheduled after this one. Because of a scheduling conflict at the agency we were at, we waited about two hours, and then the job itself was very lengthy - almost three hours. As 4:00... 4:30... 5:00... 5:30 came and went, (Situation #1) the Deaf client signed to me that I would make a lot of money today because of his Deafness. It was not said nor meant maliciously, I don't think. It was a comfortable cooperative situation. But, I really did not know what to say. I know that there is a thinking among some Deaf that some interpreters take advantage of Deaf by earning a living from their Deafness. I am not one of those interpreters. Couldn't we say that about all people who work in service jobs? Do doctors or nurses take advantage of sick people when they get paid, etc, etc ?? Do deli workers take advantage of hungry interpreters when they need food ?? :)

The second situation happened at about 5:45 (job was scheduled to start at 1:15): the hearing interviewer said (actually muttered) that I must be happy to be making $60 an hour for five hours. I wish ! But, the first time I did not acknowledge the remark... I kind of ignored it. The second time around, I just sort of mumbled back that I am not aware of what the agency charges. I think that was a pretty stupid thing to say, but I just didn't know that to say. I didn't want to counter his lack of professionalism with more lack of professionalism.

Any advice or feedback ????

- Debbie Warshauer

Response from a Deaf person (Situation 1):

1. Deaf people tend to be blunt (it's a culture thing). So maybe you're judging by your hearing standards.

2. Unfortunately, yes, there are terps who take advantage of our deafness. As a matter of fact, I fell out odds with a certain terp when I insisted because she was a faculty member who should be focused on the meetings instead of terping and also because the dual job was costing me full participation when she 'forgot" to terp things periodically. Moreover, the department thought she was doing this out of generosity but in reality was running down to DRC to make sure she was signed up for receiving payment for this "generosity." When I stopped this things started getting ugly. This is just one of several incidents I have encountered personally over the years as well as watched other Deaf people being "used" in similar manners so I know it does happen. And perhaps more often than you are wont to know.

But in the case above, it seems the DP simply remarked upon what I guess was an actual fact. It reflects the culture of the Deaf to say what we mean. You can choose to ignore it or just say it is not professional to talk about that type of thing betwixt the twain of you. Hopefully the DP is informed enough to realize what you are doing and cooperate. But if not, you should not judge us by your norms. If you're a trained terp you should be well aware of the cultural distinction between the Deaf and hearing and thus able to cope with it professionally.

Same person (Situation 2):

You may shocked at what an excellent bludgeon silence makes.

- James Womack

Response from an interpreter:

"[T]he Deaf client signed to me that I would make a lot of money today because of his Deafness."

If there's time, I tend to point out that interpreters aren't exactly getting rich. I mean, look around. We're not exactly driving hot rods, dressing in designer threads, and wondering which European country we'll visit for this next vacation. Many terps I know shop at Target, drive "sensible" cars, and fuel up at McDonald's. You'll make more that day, mostly because of circumstances, but that'll even out next week when works slows down. No one goes to a doctor and says "you'll be making a lot of money today because of my hypertension." No... the doctor is "making a lot of money" because s/he spent a lot of time learning how to offer a service you happen to need.

There's a perception out there that interpreters are getting rich off the backs of deaf people. Unfortunately, some of the people spreading the perception are hearing "allies" who write books on deafness, and "get rich" because of deafness. It's more than a little ironic.

"Do deli workers take advantage of hungry interpreters when they need food ?? :)"

Yeah! And sometimes they scrimp on the meat.

"The second situation happened at about 5:45 (job was scheduled to start at 1:15): the hearing interviewer said (actually muttered) that I must be happy to be making $60 an hour for five hours."

$60/hour. For a "pre-certified" interpreter. That *is* a bit steep in the markets where I've lived, unless the interviewer is looking at the 2-hour minimum and thinks it's an hourly rate.

Muttering... the protest of cowards.

<fantasy response>
"Yes, it makes my heart go pitter-pat. Thanks for lining my pockets with your inefficiency. Ka-ching!" And turn back to your work with a song in your heart. :-)
</fantasy response>

- Dan Parvaz

Signs of interpreter's boredom.

Jessica Geiger

"Illuminated letter When kids figure out that I voice EVERYTHING signed and do it so I will start cussing (unfortunately, my supervisor told me that I turned red one time this happened. . .any ideas on how to prevent THAT from happening? even if your voice/signs are matching, but some involuntary body reaction occurs that you don't even *know* that is happening? smile)" [quote from TERPS-L, author unknown by me]

[Reply on TERPS-L] I videotaped myself interpreting a recording of an interview . . . I'm seeing my unconscious actions and fifteen minutes later I'm still rolling on the floor. I guess I'm just not that self-conscious; something to learn. Over the last few times I've tried videotaping, I have nearly perfected my best impression of a potted plant . . . it often worked well in the past for boring social occasions and I find it very useful when terping something I struggle with:) That's just a start--I don't know how it would work if I tried it for a lengthy amount of time without sprouting a twig or a bud here or there.

- Rivkah Mentzer

Illuminated letter Just would like to had my two eurocents on this issue [Editor: whether to interpret a Deaf person's annoying remarks that are meant to offend the interpreter].. I was terping for two deaf persons and their boss for a two hours meeting, regarding the opening of a new thing in the workplace (cannot be more precise, because if there are some french interpreters readers, they might find out where this situation took place ;o) One of these two deaf persons is a real sweetheart, the other one is one of the most hated person by terps community... Already had bad experiences working with him, but i was masochistic enough to still accept jobs with him around, though i m never at ease... Well... This day, i was interpreting to signs, standing near the boss, while she was walking and showing stuff... This interpretation in motion led me to bump into something... And at this very moment, this deaf guy had really insultive signs adressed to me... Of course i really did not appreciate it, and even if it was obviously adressed to me, i voiced it, adding at the end of my sentence 'this was for the interpreter'... The guy saw my lips moving and asked me 'but what are you saying?', i replied 'i m just voicing what you signed'.. It really made him mad, and i added in sim-com 'as an interpreter, i sign all what is voiced, and voice all what is signed in this room'. The deaf guy was as red as a sunburnt lobster, and his colleague was ducking, eyes down... The boss said 'yes, it is waht i expect from a professional interpreter', then she went on the meeting...

At the end of the meeting, the boss accompanied me to the exit of the company and told me that she was really thankful that i voiced the insults he signed to me, as she always had feedback from this guy's colleagues that he is odious and insultive most of the time but that she gave him 'reasonable doubts' as he expresses himself in signs, and not orally, now she knows and won't let it happen again in her company... At first i really felt not at ease that my interpretation may lead him to troubles (though well deserved!)... But at second thought, and after talking about this issue and situation with colleagues, i realised it wasn't a bad choice, as we terps are not solely communication tools, but human beings after all, therefore we deserve respect...Already had to deal with deaf men i interpreted for and who made some suggestive remarks as date proposals while i was interpreting... Until now, i always dealt with this issue with great diplomacy but firmeness, but insults, no sorry, i m not supposed to shut up and smile... As i did not want to lower myself to the insult level, i really considered the best way to have my revenge would be to be totally professional and voice the insults... This situation happened to me only (and that is enough) once in my 6 years on interpretation, and i must say that if it happens another time, i ll do exactly the same thing... Fortunately these situations are very rare!!! Sandy, in "Wanna me slap your rude mug???' mood...

- Sandrine Schwartz

Interpreter flipping tie into face while working on stage

(The image above is from Glickman's DEAFinitions.)

Illuminated letter There's one client I know of who consistently requests, um, pneumatically-gifted female interpreters. You can't hire flight attendants on that basis, but for some reason doing that with interpreters is okay? Yeahyeahyeah... the client is always right. Even if he picks his interpreters like bars hire strippers.

Considering surgical enhancement (and a *serious* electrolysis job),

- Dan Parvaz

Illuminated letter One time I was transliterating for a very dramatic speaker, who put a lot of inflection and emphasis into speech in order to keep the audience's interest. Speaker: "I was very tired . I was very, VERY tired! I was VERY VERY VERY TIRED! Out of the corner of his eye, speaker catches sight of me, and is intrigued by how I give emphasis. Speaker: "Wait, I've got to do this one more time. I was very. . ." It was the third repetition before I realized I had become a source of entertainment for both speaker and audience. Trying to go on when my face was so bright red.

I have always since then had a fear of being center-staged again. I still can't decide how much of that incident was caused by me putting too much into my work!

- Carolyn Ostrander

Illuminated letter Bottoms up!

I was interpreting in a class in a case law room, you know, tiered room, two levels. I was working with a partner and I had just finished my hands-up turn, and had just sat in the feed position when all of a sudden the chair I was in started to rock. . .

I was on the upper tier, but of course. Two of the legs of the chair had slid off the tier and I tumbled down, chair and all and rolled down the stair and onto the floor with my legs straight up in the air, flat on my butt. Needless to say, it was summer, I was wearing a skirt, and my underwear (clean, thank you mom for all those years of emergency training!) was exposed for all the world to see.

I was in extreme pain, yet somehow embarrassment was the feeling that predominated. I crawled out from under my tangled chair mess, jumped up, stared down the whole room, and ran out the door. Yeah, I burst into tears.

Interpreter shown with bionic attachments to facilitating communication.

Illuminated letter Is my slip showing?

My most embarrassing situation happened early in my freelance career. The assignment was a one-to-one meeting between two professionals. The Deaf consumer was an individual I knew and had a lot of respect for. It was very important to me that everything went well. The assignment ended and I felt really good about my work. The hearing consumer left and the Deaf consumer indicated I had something on my nose. I checked and sure enough, it was white toothpaste. I had interpreted for more than an hour and neither of them said anything. Needless to say, I now give myself an additional check in the mirror before heading out to an assignment. The mirror, however, can't give me warning about the sheet of Bounce that unexpectedly peeks out of a pant leg.

- Rhonda Champion

Illuminated letter Quality Assurance testing

Had my first experience yesterday of being used by a professor to illustrate a point. This psych professor was talking about phrenology in this big lecture hall (600+ students). Deaf student is in the front row, I'm in a chair in front of her. The prof comes up behind me and says, "Don't jump." He then proceeds to feel my head and proclaim that have a "language bump" (at which point the audience is rolling). Then he said that I actually had a smooth head. The deaf student really got a kick out of this. I must say that it is hard to laugh and interpret at the same time.

- David Duarte

Illuminated letter Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a place beyond sight and sound, of an unspecified context. . . heck maybe it *wasn't* me :-) So I, as a participant in this unspecified event, get roped into interpreting flapping-the-hands kind of interpreting, that is. Flapping-the-gums interpreting was being handled by a talking-signing Deaf person.

So I hear a voice saying something. Whoop! (patented Gary Sanderson sound effect). . . up go the hands. After a couple of minutes of this, I'm thinking, "When is this person going to stop saying the same thing over and over again?" What's more, they were increasing in speed. I could barely keep up without tripping over myself. It was looking more and more like a race, until the presenter (who was an interpreter) stops everything and explains.

It turns out I was interpreting the voicing of the Deaf interpreter, who in turn mistook my signing for participation (and not interpreting), which I interpreted, which *they* interpreted. . . like a tea-cup ride gone berserk. My first experience with an interpreter feedback loop.

- Dan Parvaz

Things that show an interpreter is bored.

Illuminated letter Things people say to interpreters. Ideas donated by: Kip Lewis, Catspaw, Greg, Robin, Martin, Bruce, Linda, Danita, Karen, Mike, Janish, Vicki, Jerry. Based upon an idea of J. Wolf.

Why did you learn sign language?

What's your full-time (or real) job?

What do you do for a living?

Are you a volunteer?

What's the sign for (curse word/dirty word)?

Are your parents/siblings/spouse deaf?

Are you their (deaf client's) friend/relative/spouse?

Do you follow him/her (deaf client) all day?

Have you interpreted for him/her before?

How long have you known him/her?

How long did it take you to learn to sign?

Where can I go to learn to sign?

Puzzled look meaning: Who are you and why are you here?

Do they (deaf client) understand?

Tell him/her....

I'll explain it to you and you can tell them....

We don't need an interpreter, we understand each other fine.

This is really nice of you.

Is sign language universal?

Do you paraphrase? I noticed you didn't sign everything.

I guess you really learn a lot from interpreting this class/meeting, training, etc..

Are you hearing or deaf?

Can he (deaf client) lip read?

Can you lip read?

Who do I speak to, you (interpreter) or them (deaf client) ?

Do you read Braille?

For team assignments: Why are there two of you?

I bet your hands get really tired doing this.

Who do you work for?

You brought/came with them (deaf client) right?

So, how long have they been deaf? (Or other background info on Client)

Am I talking too fast?

Could you sign that again?

If you want to see something "funny" watch the interpreter sign this.

Can he/she (deaf client) drive?

I know how to sign, can you read this? (fingerspelling H-I)

How did he/she go deaf?

So, what kind of job will he/she be able to do?

Did you know there is an operation now that can cure deafness?

Aren't you worried that your job will be made obsolete by computers?

You spell a lot of words, don't you know all the signs?

It must be very fulfilling to work with deaf people!

Wow, you really did a great job...I watched you much more than I watched the speaker.

From kids: How come you were dancing on stage?

From kids: Aren't you the guy who was making all those faces?

(After flailing their arms and fingers about) What did I say?

God must have blessed your hands.

You must find this job very rewarding/satisfying.

Educational setting: When will you get promoted to a teacher?

When signing to include everyone in a conversation: You don't have to sign for me. I can hear.

Do they let you people do that?

Are you the minister?

Can you hear?

"Bobby" knows sign language -- he learned last week at church!

That is the most special thing I have ever seen.

I don't know sign language, but you are the best I've ever seen!

Did you get that?

Let me see how you signed that.

Oh, you're the first male interpreter we've had.

You're not So and So (another interpreter)

Don't tell them this....

Why are you still here?

We've never needed an interpreter before!?

You stay here while they take him into Triage in preparation for surgery. And later when taking him into surgery: You go out into the waiting room, we'll get you when they're done.

How much do they pay you to do this?

Do you get paid to do that?

Do you mind working voluntarily?

Oh, he's deaf?...What a shame...he's so good looking.

"Books for the deaf must be really thick." Perplexed I asked him why. "Because the authors would have to draw pictures of all those signs."

Will he grow out of it?

Hearing: We're going to show a video, so you'll have a break. Interpreter: Is it captioned? Hearing: I don't think so.

Where's your little friend (meaning the deaf client)?

Aren't you tired? or Aren't your hands tired?

That's so precious.

Here are his discharge papers; you can sign right here on this line.

You should see if you can get credit for this class.

Wow, you sign fast.

Wow, that must be hard to learn.

Wow, it must be hard to interpret.

I don't know how you can keep up with the speaker.

My son/daughter/niece/etc.. knows sign language.

I had/have a deaf friend.

My brother/nephew/ deaf.

Can he (deaf client) lip-read?

I knew a deaf person. Boy, could they lip-read well.

I know a deaf person.

What you do is a real blessing/ministry.

I'm envious of what you do.

I took a sign language class years/months ago.

That's the neatest/coolest thing.

I have to learn that (sign language).

I find what you do fascinating.

How long have you been doing this?

Stained glass bulletUK Candid Camera Classics. The Interpreter.The Candid crew hire an interpreter who is informed that there is a slight miscommunication between a couple. He soon finds out that this information is severly underated...

Stained glass bulletkempsa01. (2006, June 10). Lady Bunny and Hilarious Interpreter.A video taken at PrideFest during a performance by Lady Bunny-- a drag queen comedienne. During this song, she uses the ASL interpreter as a live prop and he plays along! He was an amazing interpreter--I am hearing (but CODA) and watched him almost as much as I watched the show!

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