In the pre-pandemic world, interpreters were a nomadic bunch. We had no need for offices and preferred light tablets and the smallest laptops to workhorse desktops with super-sturdy processors and ergonomic chairs.
Our wandering lives, which in peak season would have us working in three different countries with three different groups of people a week, meant that we were always ‘there’. We would go to the venue where the event was taking place and so would all delegates, participants, panellists, speakers, presenters, and sound technicians.
These days, all the venues in the world, large and small, share the same coordinates: my monitor.
Despite last spring’s grim outlook, technology has saved our businesses. We could continue to work! The panoply of online meeting rooms and platforms can make distances disappear and, with a few clicks of the mouse, we can be together again – sort of.
For every distance shortened and virtual space created, there is one thing no technology in the world can control: time.
Time zones are kicking interpreters’ butts all over the world.
As you may know, I specialise in diplomatic interpreting and a huge part of my work before COVID involved accompanying visiting delegations from Latin America to the UK. The delegates would come to London and be ‘here’, in the same way that meeting and congress participants would fly in to attend their events.
We would all be ‘there’, existing and collaborating in the same space and at the same time. Eight in the morning meant eight in the morning and whispering meant remembering to brush your teeth after lunch.
I think that after ‘you’re on mute’, the most common phrase of the years 2020-21 is ‘good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, whatever applies to you’. The fuzziest deictic expression ever!
Indeed, our ‘now’ is disappearing through invisible parallel lines as we come to exist in a timeless world where emails are sent on Sunday mornings and press conferences are interpreted somewhere after midnight.
However, a year of working remotely has not only meant that afternoon meetings held in Mexico take place in the London evening hours when I feel more like wrapping up my day than switching on the sound mixer on my desk – it has also affected my physical preparation before an assignment.
Like many others in the past twelve months, I have been known to wear a smart jacket during a meeting while continuing to enjoy the comfort of my favourite lounge trousers – not quite at work, but not quite at home either. I have come to spend most of my working days in a hybrid space that finds me half professional interpreter and half Cecilia-at-home, watching a short Netflix series while having lunch in the kitchen wearing makeup and with my hair done.
We used to be ‘there’ with our clients, in the same space and at the same time, breathing the same air. There was a deep mindfulness to it.
Each interpreting job had a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Personally, I liked to start by putting on my interpreter outfit and always preferred to wrap up the day by carrying out my debrief while looking out the window from the upper deck of a red London bus.
Remote interpreting is allowing us to continue doing our job and is helping to keep the ball rolling (and the world turning). I could not be more grateful. But with my laundry drying in the next room, delegates having their morning coffee while I drink my bedtime cup of camomile tea, and my suitcase neatly packed away, I wonder whether it is possible for the world to have become smaller and grown bigger all at once.
Article originally published in the May 2020 edition of the ITI London Regional Group Newsletter under A View From The Booth.