Monday, 23 May 2016
My first professional interpreting assignment was during my third year as a BA student, in 1980. A textile factory in China had bought machinery from a firm in north England, and although the contract included servicing, the Chinese side decided to send over four people to learn how to fix minor technical problems so that they wouldn’t have to wait for a British engineer to go out.
The British side had booked the delegation into a five-star hotel, converted from a manor house sited in acres of grounds complete with oak trees and grazing black and white cows, and a French chef.
At the delegation’s first meal, I noticed that they hardly touched their lunch. I’d helped them order from the menu: all Western food (grilled steak, beef stroganoff, lasagne, chicken Provençal, Lancashire hotpot), served with the usual potatoes (chipped, or mashed, or roasted) and vegetables (boiled french beans, carrots, peas). They were, however, individual portions, so that each person had his/her own dish, e.g., the person who’d chosen chicken Provençal would just have chicken Provençal.
I decided to try something different, and had a private chat with the chef. We would still order five dishes, but could the kitchen present the food in a Chinese way: serve the meat and vegetables in separate dishes, substitute the potatoes with rice, and place all of them in the middle of the table so that everyone could tuck in?
The group polished off all the dishes, and at every subsequent meal, too, for the rest of their fortnight’s training.
(Accrington, Lancashire, England, 1980)
An English assistant editor I used to work with on The Heart of The Dragon, Andy, was in Morocco. He had been warned about pick-pockets, so he left his hotel room one morning with his trouser pockets stuffed with toilet paper, neatly folded like paper money.
On the bus, he left a hand feeling his upper legs, but pretended he hadn't noticed. When the man got off the bus, Andy followed him. The man went into an alleyway to check his pickings. Andy stood at the corner, peeking round.
After the man found that his pickings were just wads of toilet paper, he looked up to see his victim watching him. Talk about adding insult to injury!
*Andy is the protagonist in my blog "How to do business" [in Turkey].