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Four Interpreters Walk into the Federal Courthouse…

It was not 9:30 AM yet. A woman approaches the information booth and identifies herself as the interpreter for the 10 AM. She sits down, makes herself comfortable. After all, she had over half an hour to kill.

At 9:45, a man walks in. He makes a beeline for the information booth and identifies himself as the interpreter for the 10 AM case. He sits down.

“Hi there, stranger. Long time no see! Are you here for the 10 o’clock in 3B?”

“Yes. You too?”

“Yeah. Can I borrow your phone to call the agency and find out what is going on?”

“Here you go.”

Two minutes later, a lady comes in and she is also an interpreter. Her case is at 10:15. The lawyer was already there expecting her. They start talking like old friends: this case has been going on for a few months already, that creates familiarity.

Less than ten minutes go by and another interpreter walks in; also, for the 10:15 case. The lawyer calls her over and explains he already has an interpreter and her services will not be needed. The new arrival looks around and rests her eyes on the other two interpreters. Longtime friends who had not seen each other in a while.

Here we expect the conversation to delve into how’s the family, what happened to that car, nice haircut or some other mundane thing like that. Alas, we are talking about interpreters here! They start discussing terminology, philology, sociolinguistics, grammar, lawyers who think they can speak a foreign language, others who actually do, the judges, the dictionaries, word choices, false cognates that are now impregnating the discourse of English speakers…

“That’s a good subject for a class. I think I am going to offer that this summer.”

“Oh, and how about check interpreters?”

“Hate to be put on the spot. It is nice when we can work together. Why not?”

“Did that once. It turns out there was a double booking. Well, not really; each lawyer brought an interpreter for a depo. Since my colleague was state certified, I suggested she be given the case, and I stayed to help. That worked just fine.”

“Love to talk, but I have to go. Nice seeing you two.”

“Let me go with you.”

“Don’t you have a case now?

“No. We were double booked. So, I am leaving.”

“But you are going to charge a cancellation fee, right? Less than 24 hours…”

“Definitely, you should. You will not be able to fill in the rest of the day now…”

“True. I borrowed his phone to call the agency and they said they had texted me at 9:30. I left my phone with a friend at 9:16, since I am not allowed to bring it here.  I never saw the message…”

Two interpreters leave the room.

Photos by Pexels

portrait of Gio LesterBrazilian-born Giovanna “Gio” Lester, Co-Chair of NAJIT’s PR Committee, started her career in translation and interpreting in 1980. Gio is very active in her profession and in the associations she is affiliated with. In 2009, she co-founded the Florida ATA Chapter (ATIF), served as its first elected president (2011-2012), and later as president of its interim board. As an international conference interpreter, Gio has been the voice of government heads and officials, scientists, researchers, doctors, hairdressers, teachers, engineers, investors and more. Gio has been a contributor to The NAJIT Observer since its inception in 2011, and its Editor since 2016. In 2017 she was appointed Chair of the Miami Dade College Translation and Interpretation Advisory Committee, which she had been a member of since 2014. You can follow her on Twitter (@cariobana) and she can also be reached at   By Gio Lester ©2018
Click here to read other posts by Gio.

9 thoughts on “Four Interpreters Walk into the Federal Courthouse…”

  1. Hilarious because it’s so true…especially about “talking shop!”

  2. Alfredo Babler says:

    Yup, you haven’t lived until another interpreter pulls the rug from under your feet and the assignment actually costs you money. Doesn’t happen often, though, and a good agency will never leave you hanging without compensating you in some way. Shared responsibility / Comparable niglegince / s*^% happens. The interpreter that takes the high road is always the one that deserves praise in these sticky situations.

  3. Alfredo Babler says:

    Holy cow, I tried posting and I think I got blackballed. Hmmm. De mejores sitios me han botado.

    1. Observer Editor says:

      No, your post was not rejected, Alfredo! Our volunteers are not always available to allow comments immediately when they are posted.

  4. Evelyn Quinn says:

    Sorry, but I don’t understand the goal of this post. Is this just a sketch of ‘a day in the life of an interpreter’ or a cautionary tale to check your messages before going to a job or charging for double-bookings or…?

    Would you please explain what your aim was for this piece?

    1. Gio Lester says:

      I was happy to see some friends and, instead of fighting over who was going to take the case – after all, there were two double bookings, though for different cases – we just took it in stride and enjoyed the fact that we were together.

  5. Natalia Postrigan says:

    Funny and true 🙂
    Let me tell you a story too. One day, I was called to interpret at a family court in N. As usual, it was the court interpreter coordinator who called. So, I was slightly surprised when the counsel for the defense addressed me in the waiting room and asked me to translate for him during his private consultation with the client. Slightly, because it is not uncommon that attorneys take advantage of the interpreter’s presence, but still surprising because he did it very matter of factly, without any concern for a potential conflict of interests. I indulged him and translated during his private consultations with the client before and after the hearing, that day as well as at the next hearing a month later.
    Fast forward another month, we come to the court for the third hearing, he habitually calls me to a room with his client and proceeds to tell me the following gem: “Today they told me they are bringing a court interpreter. She hasn’t shown up for the previous two hearings, but they expect her today. Can you listen carefully to what she says and let me know if she is any good?”
    “They are going to have TWO interpreters at the hearing today?” I was utterly confused, trying to imagine what it would be like.
    And then it dawned on me. “I am the court interpreter”, I said. “Who did you think I was?”
    “Why, the interpreter I hired, of course”, he said, baffled.
    He had hired – and possibly paid for – someone who had apparently never shown up, and was certain all that time that I was his personal interpreter.
    …In the hindsight, I should have paid attention that he always called me Lena, despite my feeble attempts to correct him. But I let it pass, thinking, “For a fee, you can call me Princess Consuela Bananahammock or any other name that you like”…

    1. Gio Lester says:

      I think I would have had difficulty with that last name… But, really??? Do you think the other interpreter got paid?

  6. Bruna Marchi says:

    Nice one!

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