Sometimes the interpreter finds himself in very unusual circumstances. I have talked about the uncomfortable feeling of interpreting vulgar language. How about interpreting for someone inappropriately flirting?
A while back, I was assigned to interpret for a patient who thought he was Don Juan. He oozed with a self-delusional swagger and charm. He imagined himself as the ultimate Latino ladies’ man, the smooth-talking romancer.
The therapist would ask, “How are you feeling today?” His reply, coupled suggestive countenance, “Oh, I’m feeling better now that I’m with you! You are looking fine today!” Sometimes the therapist would state, “You need to work hard at getting better so that you can go back to work and have a regular life.” He would respond, “Yes I need to get better so I can take you out dancing. Do you know how to dance Salsa and Cumbia?” The therapist answered, “No I don’t dance.” “Well, I can teach you! You have a great body for dancing!” I felt like saying, “Eeeew!”
Sad to say I had to repeat conversations like this quite regularly. It was embarrassing to repeat. I could not believe that anyone could be so tacky and worse yet the words had to come out of my mouth. Sure, the message wasn’t coming from me, but I could not help feel like somehow I was an accomplice to some kind of sexual harassment.
Note a few ethical principles of which I have to remind myself:
1) Interpreters are to remain impartial and neutral where they serve.
2) Interpreters should also maintain the appearance of impartiality and neutrality
3) Interpreters are to use the same grammatical person as the speaker.
With those ethical guidelines in mind, I remind myself that the therapist is a full-grown adult, capable of putting the patient in his place if she wanted to. I am tasked to be faithful to the speaker. It is up to the one receiving the message to respond accordingly. I also have to remind myself that although I love my job, there are also unpleasant moments. Take the good with the bad.