Eurodan in English

June 28, 2004

Another week, another couple of days off. The thing about being a freelance interpreter is that you often end up with two-day or three-day weeks. And given the peculiarities of the Commission's recruitment system, you can then be recruited at *very* short notice for a meeting the next day, so it pays to hang around in Brussels rather than hopping on a train somewhere.

Although sometimes the temptation to escape gets just too much. Especially when you can be in any number of delightful European cities in less than three hours on a posh high speed train.

Today I'm resisting. But tomorrow, who knows?

By the way, you may remember some months ago I posted a picture of the delightful Flemish newsreader Wim De Vilder. Well it seems that the long-dead Dutch language blog archive has become a bit of a forum for Wim fans. Good for them. Should I charge them rent?

Posted by Eurodan at 10:31 AM | Comments (4)

June 18, 2004

Don't wanna talk about the way I am,
I only try to make you understand

So sings Max in this year's soulful German Eurovision entry.

Even Germans who are really rather good at English find the complexities of the present tense impossible to grasp. And who can blame them. After all, it's not so easy to explain that it should be 'I'm just trying to make you understand', but that when they say 'My name is Matthias Mustermann and I'm working for DG Trade' that they've got it wrong again.

The thing which interests me is that I get the feeling that these complexities are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Take the first example - the lovely Max singing his Eurovision song. Most of his audience certainly didn't have English as their native language, and in fact the British audience was probably the very least interested in him, judging by the UK's attitude to most European music. So why the hell should he care about niceties like the difference between the present simple and the present continuous?

And as for a presentation being given in a European institution, well the same thing is true, really. Out of the twenty-five countries present, only two are English native speakers (soon to be just one if the UKIP gets its way). And so it seems that Euro-English is in the ascendancy.

Saying 'I'm working for DG Trade' rather than 'I work for DG Trade' when talking about your permanent job (rather than a temporary action) is probably easier for most of the non-natives to understand - after all, 'ing' normally means a continuing action, n'est-ce pas?

So let's celebrate both varieties. After all - given the contempt with which most of the UK media (and custodians of native English) regard the mainland of Europe, it would be laughable to claim ownership of this new language. It's not for us, and it's not by us. It's for Swedes to speak to Estonians, and so on.

It's a brave new language, full of things which are 'globalised' (in the sense of native English 'aggregated') and controls (which you and I might call 'inspections'). And where we see us (rather than each other) later.

Posted by Eurodan at 5:10 PM | Comments (3)

June 14, 2004

Who would have thought it? You can edit a blog on a web-TV!

I'm currently writing to you from my hotel room feeling very like the lost hero in Lost in Translation. But without the illicit love interest, so Bart needn't worry ;-)

I'm back on mission at the seaside, with the balcony window wide open and the waves lapping below as I look out over the North Sea. The sun is still dazzlingly bright and very warm, despite the cold wind.

And yet, I really don't feel like going out and exploring. For several reasons.

For one, I've had one too many restaurant meals, and so instead made myself a sandwich on my balcony. And secondly, we got yet another taste of the future today, and it doesn't look good for interpreters.

In all too many meetings these days, interpreters are hired and (at least in the English booth) prove to be unnecessary to the meeting. It seems that everyone can get by with a rough (and sometimes very rough) approximation of English these days. For us, patiently sitting in the English booth, there's little more despiriting than hearing a delegate, whose language you are more than ready and able to interpret into English, decide that he might as well just speak English himself, with varying degrees of success.

And there seem to be certain countries (naming no names but it's quite flat) who seem to be leading the charge against interpreting in the new, post-enlarged Europe. "After all, if we are speaking English so well, dere's no need for de translators, isn't it?"

Well, yes. I suppose we are an expensive luxury. We cost a couple of Euros a year per European citizen, and allow Europe's governments to send their best experts to meetings, rather than their best linguists.

Or so runs the official argument. But anyone who's ever spoken for themselves realises how much more satisfying it is to speak directly rather than through an interpreter. And everybody learns English these days, as lazy Brits of a certain type have been saying all these years.

Yes, it's time to abandon all the King Canute ideas about "getting under the skin of another culture". That's all very well for linguists, anthropologists and other wasters. What Europe's high-flying officials want to be able to do is read their Powerpoint presentations about gender mainstreaming targets to their thoroughly focussed, prioritised, switched-on colleagues. In English.

So here I am, enjoying the sunset, literally and figuratively. In a curious parallel with Winston Smith writing at the start of 1984, I tap away on this telescreen to write a greeting from the already (professionally) dead, or at least to say that the end is nigh. Rather like the copy typist, the typesetter, the miner or myriad other professions which were overtaken by irresistable forces.

Still, it is a very beautiful sunset. And the work will probably last a few more years.

Posted by Eurodan at 8:56 PM | Comments (1)

June 8, 2004

Sometimes, quite unexpectedly and with no rhyme or reason, life hands you little presents.

Like today. I'm writing to you from a conference hotel in the Netherlands, preparing to start my first 'mission', which is basically just an interpreting assignment from the Commission, my employer, which is somewhere other than Brussels.

So I leave Brussels this morning, take the very agreeable Thalys to Amsterdam and then the local train to Alkmaar. So far, so routine.

Then, as the bus to Egmond aan Zee wends its way through the countryside, it becomes clear that the hotel is situated just a few hundred metres from an extremely picturesque beach.

Furthermore, it must be 28 degrees out, with not a cloud in the sky. And it's 2 in the afternoon, and I don't start work until tomorrow morning.

It would seem that there was no other option available. Time to go to one of the stores in the village, buy a towel and some swimming trunks and have at least an afternoon of very unexpected (and very welcome) beach holiday.

I've just come back into the hotel, suitably relaxed and with just a little colour from moderate sun exposure. And a pleasantly full stomach from dinner on a veranda overlooking the beach.

I thought you'd be relieved to know that we hard-working interpreters do get a break once in a while.

After all, tomorrow the rather difficult looking tax and excise conference starts.

Posted by Eurodan at 7:08 PM | Comments (2)

June 2, 2004

I've finally got my five-year residence card. My verblijfskaart.

I must admit, I'm a little bit disappointed with it. It's a piece of cardboard, in an ill-fitting plastic wallet, with the information typed approximately into the right places with what must be a World War Two typewriter. My place of birth, "Beverley" is spelt wrongly.

All in all it looks rather like the sort of document that people had to produce to buy groceries when the UK still had rationing, or the sort of ID you might need when the border guard gets on the train at the frontier between East Prussia and Pomerania.

I'd rather set my heart on one of the snazzy, laminated, machine-readable special identity cards which the Belgian authorities give to EU officials, which are convincing enough to travel around Schengen with. They say something rather seductive on them like "Employee of an international institution. Likes his Martini shaken, not stirred".

But as Dad's Army as my residence card is, at least it means that, finally, my "papers" are in order. And, wonder of wonders for a stubbornly Francophone Brussels commune, it's in Dutch.

Posted by Eurodan at 10:11 PM | Comments (2)

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