One of my favorite clients for several years asked me to interpret for a 2-day assignment on March 31 and April 1. I checked my calendar and happily accepted this wonderful way to end the first quarter! I love such assignments, where you must be quick on your feet, gladly taking every linguistic hurdle they throw at you: a marathon through the dictionary. I prepare myself for the fun yet exhausting 42,195 kilometers of surprises. Little did I know that this time I would be in for a special treat…
Because what happens if your beloved client asks you to play an April Fool’s trick on their international guests? A client that is known the world over for their hilarious ideas in advertising cannot be turned down with an appropriate but boring explanation of what a professional interpreter should say – or not say. The next remark -- that I otherwise wouldn’t be asked to come back next year -- did the trick. I spent the evening thinking about things I could say. The stage directions for me were clear: Be completely off script, but don’t laugh. Make the people wonder what the heck is going on, but make it sound serious.
I should add that the meeting took place on the 3rd floor, windows facing south into a park with big, beautiful deciduous trees. Spring had just arrived, the trees were bustling with birds, the gardens below were a feast of blossoms, the sky was a lovely blue and the sun warmed our cheeks. Spring was in full swing. The first German speaker took the floor and I started performing:
“Ladies and gentlemen! Today I want to talk about a topic that I have found interesting ever since my childhood. I have always been wondering how birds and insects could fly around without crashing into each other? Are they guided by an inner compass, some sort of GPS, or do they abide by traffic regulations that keep them from colliding? (My accomplice is smiling, the guests' eyes are slowly widening and I get a sense of unease, but they look out the window when asked.) Look out the window! Do you see all the birds and insects? (I start with my Forrest Gump-like rendition of the things you can do with shrimp, just this time with birds and insects.) Blackbirds, sparrows, jaybirds, robins, crows, ravens, thrushes, finches, starlings, (I am running out of songbirds so continue with insects) bees, wasps, bumblebees, hornets, flies, butterflies, earthworms, blindworms, spiders, and bugs (luckily I did not know many specifics). What is it that guides them? (The speaker starts with his first slide: the name of a university.) So we teamed up with the university you see on the screen to shed light on this topic. They instantly showed their interest in this question and we decided to take it to the next level. (Next slide: the name of an IT-provider.) We then contacted this company to approach this field from three different angles. (The speaker now shows some figures in bold on the screen. I ad-lib as he goes on.) We had a budget of €1.5 million, our team consisted of 20 people, we put it on social media and asked our followers to send us videos. In the end we had 1,576 clips of birds. (I interrupt my performance with an occasional oh- you-just-missed-another-blackbird!) ”
I probably could have gone on for another 10 minutes, but my partner in crime put me out of my misery. I guess the listeners were just too polite to call BS on me or they were wondering the same thing all along. Because in the end it is really remarkable. I wonder how they do it?