Back when I was an interpreter, one of the most fun things about the job was that you never knew what was going to happen in the next few minutes. Your life in a constant state of flux because it’s really an extension of the lives of other people for whom you are interpreting. If they have a crisis, you have a crisis.
Like the first time I was taking a group on a bus tour and a grandma in flowery pants came up to me looking like she was going to ask me for a best place to purchase nuclear weapons.
“Excuse me, dear,” she said. “But do you happen to know where I can find a rest room?”
A rest room? Did she need to take a break? There were 55 chairs on that bus and even though they were not exactly borrowed from a Lamborghini, they were comfortable enough, at least for resting. Rest all you want, enjoy yourself. Take a nap if you wish. You’re on vacation.
“What do you mean?” I decided to clarify because the woman’s request was obviously urgent.
“Well, a powder room,” she said.
That was helpful. Now she wanted a room with powder in it. So resting by itself wasn’t enough. Did she need drugs? What drugs came in a form of powder? Cocaine? And she looked like such a nice old lady in flowery pants.
“I am sorry, but I don’t understand,” I said.
“I need a bathroom,” the woman announced. This was too much. Our tour was getting held up by a woman who kept changing her mind about her pressing needs, and I seemed to be incapable of helping her. Now she needed to take a bath in the middle of the day, take a nap and polish everything off with a little snort. Some grandma.
How was I supposed to know that the word “toilet” was offensive to her and impolite to use in good company? That’s how in Russia people refer to that sacred place of contemplation and it sounded like it should be universal. Except for it wasn’t.
In fact, it is often marked with a Russian letter ZH – ж – which some of my American friends refer to as barb wire because it looks like it. The last thing it inspires is to think that your salvation is behind it.
Had it not been for her friend how had spotted a sign with an upside down triangular apparently symbolizing a woman in a dress – which also took some imagination to decipher – the grandma might have had to suffer even longer, and I would have gone on to become a doctor or a librarian.