Many people who work a 9-5 job, or some facsimile of that kind of schedule may not have an idea of what the working life is like of the interpreter who just stepped into your office. Most interpreters, of any language, work as subcontractors for agencies and often their days look something like this:
6:30a: Alarm goes off. Time to get up, shower, and pick out the clothes that look just like the clothes that were worn yesterday, the day before and the week before. In fact, a sleepy eyed glance into the closet reveals hangers that dutifully hold up the interpreter’s “uniform” in a dozen different versions of the exact same colors.
7:15a: The interpreter lumbers out to her car laden with bags full of books, a laptop, lunch, a water bottle, various folders with timesheets to be signed, a phone charger and magazines for light reading while waiting for a job to begin.
7:47a: The traffic gods were angered that morning and traffic is at a stand-still.
7:48a: A look to the left shows red and blue lights off to the side of the highway where our fearless officers are taking care of the fender-bender. The interpreters sighs in relief. The traffic gods have had their sacrifice for the morning. Traffic begins to move forward.
8:15a: The interpreter arrives at the address of the first job of the day… fifteen minutes early! Now to circle the parking lot like a hungry hawk trying to find a parking spot.
8:17a: Still looking…
8:20 a: Still looking…
8:22a: Parking spot identified and the interpreter races to the empty space, beating out two women, a hospital administrator and an older man being driven by what looked like a home health nurse.
8:25a: The interpreter arrives to the office of the assignment a little short of breath, but ready to interpret. After checking in with the receptionist, the interpreter sees the patient for which she is interpreting, sits down next to the patient and waits to be called back.
8:35a: Still waiting…
8:40a: Still waiting, but now the interpreter sees the old man from the parking lot shuffle into the office with the nurse. Guilt sets in.
8:42a: The patient and the interpreter are called back to see the doctor. The appointment is short and sweet. The interpreter did her job, interpreting what is being said by the participants, while following all tenets of the Code of Ethics to the letter. There was much rejoicing.
8:49a: The interpreter follows the patient out to the check-out desk and interprets for the subtle negotiation of the patient’s next appointment.
8:55a: Back in her car, the interpreter looks at her schedule for the day and sets off across town for the next assignment in just over an hour. Plenty of time.
9:30a: Rounding I-465 and listing to her favorite CD in the car, the interpreter realizes, too late, that she just missed her exit.
9:37a: The interpreter takes the next exit, is now headed in the opposite direction on 465 and towards her appointment wishing her GPS was louder than her stereo.
9:50a: Pulling up to the next assignment and finding a parking spot right away, the interpreter scurries into the building in search of “the facilities” before the job begins.
9:59a: The interpreter frantically looks around the conference room everyone is sitting in trying to find a good place for her bags, coat and bottle of water. Not finding any obvious place to put them, the interpreter drops them at her side hoping that neither she nor anyone else in the room trips over her purse strap.
10:00a: The assignment begins and subsequently gets put on hold while the leader of the meeting goes back to his office to get the agendas he printed off for everyone but forgot to bring to the conference room with him. The client looks at the interpreter expectantly, the interpreter interprets what just happened and then shrugs her shoulders and waits for the meeting to start.
11:04a: In the middle of meeting agenda item #6, the meeting leader gets out of his chair to write something on the white board and trips over the interpreter’s purse strap.
11:05a: The interpreter makes a mental note to go shopping for a new purse.
11:57a: The meeting ends, the interpreter bids farewell to the client and then heads to the cafeteria, AKA, the interpreter’s car.
12:05p: Sitting in her car, under a shade tree, the interpreter digs through all of her bags, finds the lunch she packed and sits in the front seat of her car eating a squished sandwich and pretzel crumbs. At least the water survived.
12:17p: The interpreter checks her phone, answers emails to accept jobs, calls the cable company to make the payment she was too busy to remember to send out in the mail and calls the pharmacy for her refills.
12:45p: The interpreter brushes bread and pretzel crumbs off her shirt in preparation to drive to her last assignment of the day.
12:46p: Inside of one of the three bags packed for the day there is a chocolate bar stolen—er, liberated from her kids’ Halloween candy stash, tucked down in a side pocket. While navigating the access road and eventually the exit onto the highway with one hand, the interpreter blindly gropes all bags with her right hand in desperate search of the chocolate she knows will get her through the rest of the day.
12:54p: Mission accomplished.
1:20p: The interpreter pulls up to her third and final assignment for the day. Quickly checks her mouth and shirt in the visor mirror for any remains of the chocolate, she smiles and is ready to start the job. The last one for the day.
1:45p: After using the restroom, finding the classroom in which she is supposed to interpret Neurobiology for the next three hours, the interpreter sits and waits.
1:50p: Students start to slog into the room talking about homework and plans to drop the class.
2:02p: Attendance is taken, the instructor leaps in to the lecture and off the interpreter goes, working linguistic magic as she makes “synaptic membrane” and “synovial fluid” understandable for the student for which she is interpreting.
3:30p: During the class break, the interpreter checks her phone, calls back three agencies for jobs the next day, Googles “synovial fluid” and goes back to the finish interpreting the class.
5:05p: Finally, after a long day of trekking across town, the interpreter is back in her car, heading home.
5:25p: The traffic gods have been angered again. She sits.
6:00p: Finally, the interpreter grabs all of her bags, her empty water bottle, phone charger and signed invoices and heads back in her house, feeling completely satisfied about her day and looking forward to what tomorrow holds.
9:39p: One final chore of the day: some internet shopping for a new purse.