Thursday, June 5, 2014

AIIC got 99 problems, but...

Dear readers, in our last blog post we discussed what AIIC was, and whether or not it has a place in today’s #globalized, #digital market.

Let us examine some events that might make AIIC look like an expensive [bitch]fight club.
The new UN-Chief Executives Board collective Agreement was negotiated in 2012.  This agreement applies not only to AIIC members, but to everyone, including mortals.
In our humble opinion, the Negotiating Delegation did an ace job, under extremely difficult circumstances. The UN hired a professional negotiator (some might call him a “union buster”) to negotiate with the chiefs of the UN.

Undeterred, the ND successfully shielded our working conditions (number of sessions, length of the sessions, etc.), and managed to avoid the imposition of an “elsewhere rate.” What is an “elsewhere rate”? In sum, it was an attempt to substantially reduce rates for interpreters working outside the major UN cities, with the explanation that “elsewhere”, the cost of living is lower, so if the UN can make you work there, they can also pay you less. (You’re welcome colleagues in Phnom Penh). 

The delegation faced incredible pressure. The UN arrived with a laundry list of demands, and was prepared to sign under the guise of an agreement.  Not even the world’s most representative multilateral forum was above pressure tactics- some ND members saw offers canceled in retaliation.  But we digress…

The only point in which the ND conceded was the issue of weekends. What about weekends? Well, old chap, during the Gilded Age, if you worked for an organisation both Friday and Monday, you would be paid for both Saturday and Sunday, as if you had interpreted, whether or not you had actually worked, or spent 48 hours on a binge in a brothel in Lyon. Following signature of the 2012 agreement, only non-locals got their weekends paid, and locals did not, unless they had managed to negotiate it separately with the chief interpreter (photos from said Lyon brothel may have been useful for this). As a result, paid weekends are gone for everyone except that mysterious clique of Chinese and Arabic booth colleagues.

Are you ready for the punchline? Many #boomer generation interpreters have been raging, RAGING we tell you, about this matter- and none of them work in the Chinese or Arabic booths.  The most vociferous colleagues on the weekend issue have not seen a paid weekend since around that time that the Netherlands first voted “No” to the Lisbon Treaty. The controversy of this non-issue dominates subsectorials, preventing any progress on other, more pressing fronts. 

More importantly- we advocate that AIIC start behaving like a union, before it becomes totally irrelevant and obsolete. As things stand, under the crushing yoke of austerity, do our esteemed colleagues think that ranting about “Ce que les chefs font, c’est minable! C’est pas éthique!” is going to get us anywhere? And what about colleagues whose argument to defend their platinum-plated travel conditions is that they are part of their human rights? HAHAHAHAH!
(Oh and hold your horses about how we are young whipper snappers who just want to forgo good travel conditions. It's the argument that is stupid, not the conditions).
Wake up and smell the #ScorchedEarth! We are labour, and the management of international organisations is… well, #Management! 

Time and again, #millennial interpreters hear from seasoned colleagues unable to see the forest for the trees that our supposed lack of pride and standards is responsible for driving down demand for our services, working conditions, and pay. Are they somehow unable to see that vehemently clinging to frivolous privileges as an escape mechanism does nothing but promote #Globish on the world stage? That their utter failure to stand up to management on core issues has led to a competitive bloodbath in the lower echelons of the profession? We ask our dear #boomer colleagues to please actually shoulder their responsibility in terms of defending interpreting and begin caring about the real reasons* young interpreters don’t have any work, or the Titanic is going to sink, pronto. 
Rest assured, we know names, and where the bodies are buried.
So yeah, AIIC has a problem of people, and of attitude. 

Among other things, AIIC must do a better job of supporting local delegations- for instance, in the case of those UNHQ’s currently implementing a dodgy hotel scheme. AIIC could start pestering the International Civil Service Commission when they do not answer professional delegations’ questions, avoid engaging in fratricide, and most importantly (pay close attention, this is crucial!) develop a real, visible presence in the private market.

And how about tarring and feathering those who flout the rules? No, seriously, if name'n'shame work so well for human rights organizations, why not for us?

* Hint: it’s a mixture of interpreting diploma mills engineered by the EU, and the fact that interpreters who should have retired with the Cold War have yet to make their exit.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

AIICing Your Way Through Life

Warning: If you are currently taking prescription medication for high blood pressure or are a heavy smoker, we recommend you stop reading now and consult with your GP prior to reading further.  This blog bears no liability for any acute or chronic cardiac or respiratory conditions due to readers’ emotional reactions stemming from this post.  Please note that we write with the purest of intentions, which is, to shed light on our profession and how to protect it.
AIIC, the august and respected association that protects and defends the working conditions of interpreters.

What does AIIC do for us? Well it defends the profession, DUH!

It does so by having massive bitchfights over petty grievances amongst the people in the managing bodies! We get the privilege to subsidise these with our dues!

Neverless, it must be acknowledged that AIIC is, above all, un label de qualité. Belonging to AIIC demonstrates that an interpreter belongs to the top tier of language professionals in the world, and that he or she sucked up to more #boomers than the entire cast of Debbie Does Dallas in order to get those sponsorship signatures.

Moreover, membership in AIIC means that the interpreter adheres to the most stringent of ethical standards: AIIC members ONLY have one professional domicile, AIIC members NEVER charge bottom of the barrel rates or undercut colleagues, AIIC members NEVER work from their C into their B, AIIC members NEVER double book, and AIIC members would NEVER do the nasty with one of their delegates while on assignment (Yes, we totally know who you are, and YES, we just totally blasted you on our blog!). AIIC members are so chaste and pure that they can (and should) be considered saints. In fact, reaching 150 days in AIIC working conditions is referred to as “reaching sainthood.” If this all sounds like a weird religious cult to you, rest assured it is not: a cult is a lot less intense.  

AIIC is the platform that young interpreters can use as a springboard to take their careers for to the next level. That is, if by next level, you mean having endless arguments about what percentage to charge for “webstreaming” in conferences, eating cheap catering from Exki, or wringing your hands about how the profession is dying and things were better circa 1975. Young interpreters will enjoy tense meetings where they are the only person under the age of 55, and mummified colleagues eye them with a mixture of rage and envy while surreptitiously asking for your business card “in case something comes up in the private market.”  New members also get to benefit from being in AIIC’s online directory. This is a great tool for looking up colleague’s addresses on Google Earth and trying to guess how much money they make from the look of their house. (Three swimming pools and you are complaining about not working enough? No more pity for you!)

Not all interpreters are members of AIIC.  Not all AIIC members are the world’s best interpreters, and not all accomplished and skilled interpreters are members of AIIC.  Plenty of them seem to hate it, in fact.  Why? Some say AIIC is irrelevant and a dinosaur from the post-war boom era, with no place in our globalised world. Some would-be members are denied entry because of a falling-out with someone with clout. Some simply believe that AIIC is a waste of dues money because the free market is the best way to set our rates and conditions, or they don’t want their job options to be restricted by trivial matters such as “ethics” and “standards”.   
AIIC is aware of the pressing need to recruit younger members to its ranks.  But does it know how to attract the under-40 set? (Hint: a Twitter account is only one step, Danica). Is it even in young interpreters’ best interest to join The Sainthood? Is it futile to even bother? Should we enlist to fight the good fight for interpreting standards, or learn to adapt to our current realities and environment? Will AIIC persevere in the digital age? Will it fall over and die with the last of its members? Or will it adapt and grow as an organisation? What exactly is wrong with AIIC and how can its newest members change that? Stay tuned until next time!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

On Civilians

You’ve made it in and out of an EMCI programme. You’ve put in the blood, sweat, and tears and made Rocky look like an amateur. With little pomp and circumstance, the jury d’examination finale told you you passed, handed you your diplôme provisoire, and sent you on your merry way. You navigated the murky waters of whatever market you are in, received a helping hand (or not) from your former profs, and maybe even scaled that elusive Everest we know as “institutional accreditation.”  

But have you forgotten something during those long hours talking to your dictaphone?  Namely, the 7 billion other people on this world who don’t know what the devil AIIC stands for?  

That’s right, old chap. Most people don’t know or care what an A language is. Let alone a B or C.

For the past 12-36 months you may have eschewed such peons as ignorant fools. Sooner or later, however, you will have to accept that most of your non-interpreting friends are… well… not interpreters. (You did remember to keep them around on Facebook and What’sApp for after you finished your EMCI, right?  Right?) You may wind up dating such a civilian. If you had any rational bone left in your body, you certainly wouldn’t date another neurotic, narcissistic interpreter. While you were rewriting your old consec notes for the nth time did you forget that most likely you were actually begat by not one, but two people who do not know who Danica Seleskovic was?

How, indeed, do you return to normalcy and conduct a semi-functional relationship with the non-interpreting set? Remember, no cheating: translation alumni from your programme don’t count.   
* First things first, accept that interpreters’ standards for language proficiency are not the same as normal people’s. Your Erasmus friends who knew you as having excellent Polish back in Warsaw are bound to think that you interpret into Polish all day long and just won’t understand why it is only a C. In words of a great sophist, let it be. They can’t understand. They aren’t crazy enough to, anyway. Also, be kind, and overlook people’s language faux-pas on social media. Not everyone is a perfectionist when it comes to crafting the perfect tweet.

* Dating- prospective mates are bound to be drawn to your exotic persona and mysterious past.  Little do they know what awaits. Try to milk that manic pixie dream girl charm for as long as you can before they realise what kind of a neurotic, narcissistic, and crazed artist (but without the groupies) they have gotten into, come to their right senses, and get the hell out of Dodge. Try not to let them witness you practicing UNGA speeches before a big accreditation exam. And keep a shred of mystery dear, don’t let him hear you play your dictaphone.  

* Parents- your parents don’t even know what a sophisticated and cosmopolitan creature they have created. Try not to remind them too much of this. Still, they do enjoy hearing about your close encounters with various Prime Ministers in the hallway. Try not to outwardly express your irritation when they excitedly ask if you spoke to Nigel Farage. Of course you didn’t. On the other hand, do send them pictures of yourself interpreting in faraway lands or standing inches away from Bundeskanzler Merkel. They will eat that shit up.

* EMCI friends who didn’t pass- You will no doubt have several class chums who either don’t make it through, or who decide they’d rather live a normal life and quit interpreting. Depending on the circumstances, you may never see them again. Then again, they may go on to lead fulfilling lives and careers in another field. Yes, it happens. See above item regarding the 7 billion people who don’t work in an interpreting booth. Be nice and keep them around. Others will persevere and begin working on the gray market, they may even make it to the legitimate market one day and you might see them at UNESCO. It will be awkward, but when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!  

* Musician, actor, dancers, and other artist friends-  Perhaps no one can understand the pain of accreditation exams like someone who has to go through painful auditions for income. As time goes by, you will realize how much you have in common with these folk.

* Oxbridge lawyers, Normaliens, anyone who went through a French prépa- No one can appreciate extreme academic pressure like these friends. They also need to blow off steam from time to time.  Keep them around for when you buy a bottle or ziplock baggie of the good stuff. Better yet, let them buy the good stuff, they can afford it.

* Globetrotting friends- You met them on Erasmus, in a hostel during a séjour linguistique, somewhere where you picked up another C language, and a lot of good hash. You share a lot of great memories (“Erasmus orgasmus, hermano!”), and they own a lot of photographs and video footage that could probably destroy your career. Maybe they’ve settled down, maybe they are on permanent duty at a bar in the Algarve. Keep them in your life, but don’t be surprised when they think you’ve sold out and started working for the Man when you tell them about how you have to wear a suit to work and shave now, and were the voice of Barroso last week.

These are some of the major groups that you will have to deal with in your
reéducation into sociability and la bienséance. Keep in mind: recovery does not look like a straight line in a graph. It will be full of progressions and regressions. Don’t worry about the regressions, your interpreter colleagues will always be there to further pull you into a pit of eccentricity and isolation.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tips for Millennials on Working with Older Colleagues

Like anything in life, a pleasant working environment is a two-way street.  This applies in the booth, more than ever. Given the age disparity in many interpreting booths, our team felt that both older and younger colleagues deserve tailored advice to ensure smooth collaboration at any event.

For young, freshly minted interpreters:

DO prepare, just like your EMCI teachers told you to do. It makes a difference. Also be there early and check the documents for the next point of the agenda. It makes a huge difference.

DO be open to criticism and tips from your older colleague. Unlike in other professions, interpreters often start out working their first assignments alongside seasoned pros. Take advantage.

DO let your colleague know how much you value their experience and insights. Remember, in ancestral cultures, older adults were revered.  

DO indulge boomers in their denial of old age. When you hear comments about how you weren’t even born when they sipped on Daiquiris during that conference in pre-Castro Havana, nod, smile, and giggle. Teeheehee.

When colleagues complain about not travelling business class to Luanda DO act sympathetic. Personne n’aime la classe prolo !

DO coo over photos of your colleagues’ grandchildren, even if you think children are the most revolting thing around.

DO invest in a small, yet classic wardrobe. H&M can only get you so far, and the Commission is no place to demonstrate that le look très Brooklyn has arrived in Europe.

DO dress conservatively for work. As Beyonce would say, the European Parliament is indeed NOT ready for this jelly.

DON’T show up hung over. Just don’t. Not even if it makes you interpret better.

DON’T over do it on the make-up or dress too provocatively. You are going to work, not to da club.

DON’T have full GChat/iPhone chat/Facebook chat/Snapchat/What’sApp sessions on your smartphone while working. It perpetuates negative stereotypes, and you can’t follow what is happening. Also, avoid Candy Crush Saga.

Your colleague may not know how to operate his iPad. DO be patient and explain how, in simple terms. In fact, if it’s necessary, go ahead and spend an entire afternoon syncing his Gmail account instead of reading your briefing for the meeting.

DON’T go crazy with fried food and dessert at lunch. It only inspires envy and comments about how your metabolism won’t stay like that.

Your colleagues will moan from time to time about how old or fat they have become. DON’T engage. Just like when your girlfriend asks if those pants make her look fat. That is why there is a right to remain silent.

DON’T feel depressed or like you are doing something wrong when your colleagues purchase diamonds on their lunch break, or talk about their multiple summer homes and family ranches. They had the advantage of affordable [or free] education and became interpreters during a sellers’ market. Instead of becoming envious, ruminate on strategies for getting rid of all that student and credit card debt.

DON’T let anyone know that you live in a 10m2 chambre de bonne with a shared toilet.

DON’T complain about your parents and describe them as “old.”  It will not be appreciated.

DON’T laugh at the Cold War. That was real, and it also generated a lot of work.

DON’T take this guide seriously. Everyone knows millennials are too narcissistic to be capable of self-criticism! #LoLz #RealTalk

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Booth Etiquette for Old Timers

The good folk here at Become an Interpreter! have noticed that there is a lot interest on booth etiquette. Everywere from AIIC to translation websites of ill repute, you will find information on proper booth manners. Most of these articles are geared towards newcomers to the profession. However, the interpreting ninjas that run this website definitely feel that there is a need for a guide to booth etiquette for more seasoned (read: old, geriatric, original gangsta' from Nuremberg) colleagues.

Therefore, without further ado, here is our list of Booth Etiquette for Old Timers:

DON’T go “pfffffff,” sigh loudly, or roll your eyes when your younger colleagues makes a mistake, misses an acronym, or says something that wasn’t to your liking.

DON’T make comments about how young the colleague is. Don’t call him or her a baby, child fit to breastfeed, little one, etc. For women, don’t ask if she’s reached menarche.

DON’T mention that conference that you did in Havana circa 1952, and turn around and ask: “Why, I bet you weren’t even born were you?”

DON’T go shopping for diamonds during lunchtime (true story) or recommend realtors when your youthful colleague mentions she is having roommate issues. Remember, all those lazy Millennials are rolling in debt and live in poverty! Be considerate with their feelings!  (Even if it’s clearly their fault, obviously they only know how to use iPads and are lazy).

DON’T feel threatened when the your Millennial colleague stuffs his or her face, and  your doctor has forced you to follow a strict diet because of that gout. Don’t forget growing boys and girls have healthy appetites!

DON’T look at your colleague’s stilettos and squeal “I USED TO WEAR THOSE ALL THE TIME.” We don’t care, and now you’re wearing Keds anyway.

DON’T feel threatened by our virility and exuberance. We swear we aren’t doing it on purpose!

When younger colleagues express an interest in organizing the profession and defending it, DON’T tell them about the good old days. We know you had it better, we know you grew up in a sellers’ market. Now it’s a buyers’ market and we are stuck with it. So the question is, when it becomes necessary to stand up to clients/management and have a common front, will you stand with us or will you not?

DON’T ask young male colleagues about our sex lives.  We aren’t out bedding every intern we see, despite what you may think. Sexual harassment goes both ways.

DON’T lie to us about working opportunities in one or other domicile, or about which colleague is or isn’t trustworthy. We will end up learning the truth.

DO offer to start the first half-hour. We are very likely to be peeing our pants during that first ministerial meeting.  Please be nice and let us learn from your performance. You are the best teachers we have! Provide us with feedback, we want to improve!

DO write down figures and acronyms, as well as share glossaries. On the other hand, your frantic whispers and ugly stares will not make us feel more at ease.

DO be encouraging when we ask about joining professional organizations. Sorry, you can’t run the show forever, and NO, the profession won’t die when you do. Besides, your Geocities website looks like shit.

DO recommend us for contracts. Treating us like sous-merdes will only push us out to the gray market. Moreover, we don’t mind flying economy class to Bali.

DO invite us out to lunch with you during breaks. We’ll put up with those stories about your weird medical problems and your grandkids, since they come peppered with a lot of knowledge and good advice! Besides, no one likes to eat alone.

And since we are interpreters and we like concise reports, phrases and explanations, let’s establish the Golden Rule of Booth Etiquete for Old Timers:

- Thou shalt treat young colleagues the way you would have liked to be treated when you, yourself, were a budding interpreter*.

*And claiming you don’t remember what it was like is not a valid excuse!!!

That’s all of the advice we have for your darling boomer readership. Stay tuned for the follow-up post on Tips for Millennials Working With Ancient Colleagues!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

On Managing Work Offers

Here at Become an Interpreter! we honour our commitments (Here’s looking at you French Socialist Party!), so as promised, here is our brief on best practices for managing work offers.
First, some key terminology:
o   INQUIRY: A potential employer (brothel-like agency, behemoth organization, Ms. Havisham from your secretariat, a seasoned colleague, etc.) inquires about your potential availability for a certain date. For example, “Interpreter, would you be available to work at UNESCO during the next waning moon?” Inquiries do not imply any kind of binding commitment for either party.
o   OPTION: If you are indeed available during the next waning moon (assuming the offer is, of course, up to AIIC best practice standards), and the powers that be decide to pay for interpreting (provided there is enough budget left after ordering the catering and floral arrangements), then your potential employer might extend an option. Options are binding only for the interpreter. You read that right meine Liebe; your client may choose to call off the option at any time, and does not have to pay you a cancellation fee or reschedule the meeting. However, your client can also choose to (eventually, maybe, 12 hours before perhaps?) confirm the option, at which point it becomes a firm offer.

  • A note about Options, just in case you were thinking of getting sly:
Double-booking is a big no-no for interpreters.  Did you accept an option with the Commission next month only to get a firm offer for the private market the same day?  Sorry, no backing out. Remember what we said above. You have to profusely apologize to the private event organizer, tell them you are booked, and hope the Commission doesn’t leave you high and dry (fingers crossed!). Uncertainty is the spice of life, #AmIrightorAmIright?
o   FIRM OFFER: You’ve booked the job. The ink is dry on the contract (or PDF, figuratively speaking), and the provisional agenda has been wirelessly delivered via ICloud. If it gets cancelled, you will probably get some form of remuneration. Prépare tes valises, you’re going to Kampala!
o   RIGHT OF FIRST REFUSAL: We actually have no idea what this means. Sorry! We first saw the term in a strongly worded email sent by an older colleague warning us about double booking. In a fright, we perused AIIC’s website, to no avail. Our molly-fried millennial brains could not grasp this concept. To all of the AIIC elders reading this, if you know what this means and can explain it in simple English, please drop us a line in the comments section below!  

Now that you understand these important terms, you are ready to start managing your calendar and fielding offers. In France, interpreters must rely on a secrétariat to manage their calendars. Although we cannot fathom why this is necessary in the age of ubiquitous ICT, il faut respecter la procédure. We can not give you more information on secretariats because their opaque rituals are only for the initiated, and vaguely reminiscent of those secret societies they have at elite American unis. If we did know, we wouldn’t reveal it anyway, lest the grey market fools start harassing our madames.

Armed with this knowledge, go forth child, oodles and oodles of adventures and online quid pro quos await you!

Friday, March 28, 2014

On Freelancing

Conference interpreters work as staff in large international organizations or contractors. The magic of outsourcing and the #freemarket have actually made most interpreters work as independent contractors, or as it is most commonly known, freelancers. In fact, only an infinitesimal percentage of interpreters get to ride the permanent staff gravy train in places like the European Union, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and NATO.
As a freelancer, you’ll enjoy unprecedented levels of #freedom and #flexibility, as well as experience the excitement of running your own business. Forget the 9 to 5 office drudgery, and stodgy socialist concepts like a regular paycheck and social benefits: you are now the lone ranger of added-value creation in the Wild Wild West that is the Language Services Industry.
Unlike an employee, you will not work during certain times of the year. Peak seasons for conference interpreting run from March to July and September to November. This means two things:
1-    During peak season, you will be à droite et à gauche. Murcia on Tuesday, Bern on Wednesday, and Gdansk on Thursday. Your bedtime reading will be embargoed documents that no one could send you until 9 p.m. the night before. You will sip on tea hoping for your melodic voice to recover, and spend your only day off in bed lying in a heap of exhaustion and discarded draft agendas. Friends? Who needs those when you have an assigning officer?

1.1 This is, of course, if you are in an in-demand booth, like the Chinese or the Arabic booth. In the other booths, peak season is whenever people need to learn English, have translations done, or are looking for au pairs.

2-    During low season, it’s time to kick back, relax, and enjoy underemployment. Take pleasure in swiping your carte bleue and watching the balance dwindle as you check it nervously, twice a day.  Thank god BNP Paribas now has an iPhone app, right?! Send emails to your employers reminding them that their payment for your invoice is 8 months late. Receive a curt response, and subtle threats of never being hired again. Become familiar with UNWeb TV, as it will be your only form practice so as to not lose your simultaneous technique, unless someone still in an EMCI programme can secretly share the password to (don’t tell anyone, bitte!). And finally, take time to reconnect with your loved ones and field questions about “getting a real job.”
However, it is not all the swing of the seasons, greasy food from the airport McDo, and generally being a brown noser. As a freelancer, you are essentially an entrepreneur. Hope you got mad business skills because homey will be doing accounting, collections, and marketing. The payoff for all your hard work is that half your cash will be spent on taxes to pay for things like la sécu and le remboursement de la dette sociale. It may be painful, but be glad you aren’t in #America, where only millionaires are allowed to visit professionally trained doctors!

Additionally, much of your time will be spent managing your professional calendar. ¡Cuando no hay sequía, hay huracán!  When it rains, it pours! Major interpreter employers have a vested interest in fostering rivalry, miscommunication, and paranoia among their pool of freelancers. Divide ut regnes! There are many murky systems to do this, depending on which market or geographical region you work in.  
Do the words “inquiry”, “option”, “firm offer”, and “right of first refusal” ring a bell? No?! Your plucky interpreting teachers didn’t mention this a single time during your two-year (or three or four, depending on how many times they failed you) EMCI programme? Fear not! Our interpreting intifada at Become a Conference Interpreter! is here to save the day: in our next post we shall explain the finer points of managing your calendar!