Recently I was reminded of the worries that customers may have in hiring an interpreter. We can become so focused on the fairly unique interpreting task that we forget the things that we have in common with our consumers. Our role is unique, but we put our pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. That’s the point. Pants. Shirts too, but we’ll get to that later.
Rose was contacted to provide interpreting services for a shareholders’ meeting for a multinational corporation. In making arrangements, gathering logistic information and confirming interpreters, I was asked repeatedly to ensure that my interpreters would arrive in formal business attire. I assured the customer that they would blend in perfectly. I discussed the importance of attire to the customer with the interpreters who understood the need to match their consumers. I assumed that the customer was simply taking care of details.
As the assignment drew near, the customer contacted me again; not to confirm the interpreters but to again ensure that they’d dress appropriately. At this point my curiosity couldn’t be held back.
“I have to ask. Have you had a bad experience with interpreters in the past?”
“For the last shareholders’ meeting the interpreters showed up in mini skirts… one of them was wearing a really distracting beret.”
I was embarrassed. I was frustrated. I even apologized for these two interpreters who don’t even live in my state! When those interpreters arrived, the customer had to send them to a nearby mall to buy entirely new outfits in order to complete the assignment. In this situation, the customer had been horrified by the idea that the interpreters would be a reflection of the company and especially the CEO simply because of their physical proximity. CEO’s of multinational corporations do not wear mini skirts to formal business functions. The interpreters in front of the shareholders should not either.
In interpreting, clothing can be a challenge. We’re faced with creating a wardrobe that is appropriately colored, without pattern, that allows for the full range of motion of ASL as well as contorting your body into visually accessible areas when needed (e.g. under the acupuncture table), contemporary enough to not be a distraction, and also one that will serve us from swim lessons to board meetings. It’s not easy, but this is what we do.
While I’ve come down hard on the mini skirt interpreters, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I absolutely do not support the idea of interpreters insisting on overdressing to emphasize our professional status. Some Interpreter Training Programs foster this behavior in order to advance the status of our fairly new field. I believe that beyond ASL, English and even body language we all communicate visually. How we dress and groom ourselves tells those around us who we are, how we see ourselves, how we see those around us and our place in any given situation. Personally, I’m not in the business of intimidating half of my consumers by overdressing. I need to be trusted by both consumers, not only those wearing brand names and designer shoes. In most situations I can identify with both consumers. Ideally, my first visual impression should allow them to do the same.
So what’s the moral of the story? Pants. We put them on one leg at a time, and they ought to look a lot like yours.
As of 2018, there’s finally a resource for interpreters shopping for work clothes! Iris and Hermes is a clothing store run by a fellow interpreter and they carry only interpreting appropriate clothing. Each item they stock comes in both light and dark colors for interpreters of different tones, and they carry curve/plus sizes up to 6X.
Photo by: keepingtime_ca