Trade-fair interpreting – preparation, professionalism and posture
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Every year in my home city of Vitória , southeastern Brazil, a trade fair is held for the ornamental stone industry - not a huge affair in comparison with those marble-and-granite extravaganzas in Italy and China, but Vitória Stone Fair nonetheless attracts exhibitors from around the globe and is considered vitally important by Brazilian-based and overseas enterprises alike.
It’s fair to say that this event has been instrumental in my humble beginnings in the linguistic solutions industry – I worked there in 2004 as a “bilingual receptionist” on the stand of a small abrasives company, really began my career in written translation rendering English content for stone trade magazines, and it was at the 2008 fair that I met a business partner I still frequently work with today, providing me with the opportunity to learn the ropes of simultaneous, consecutive and whispered interpreting.
I hadn’t been planning any involvement in this February’s event until I received an e-mail from an ornamental stone company in Turkey exhibiting at the fair for the first time. They had conducted a Google search using relevant keywords and found my ProZ.com profile.
Happy that ProZ had afforded me such visibility, and somewhat flattered by this unsolicited contact, I negotiated terms with them and accepted the job – four days as interpreter on their stand at the fair. I had seven days to prepare.
First of all, learned a few words in Turkish – a bit oily, some might think, but this can really break the ice.
Next, what do I know about Turkey? A Muslim country – important? You bet your life – there are many taboos even among more liberal followers of Islam. They may need access to an area where they can pray during the fair, alcohol and pork may well be a no-no. Is the crisis in Syria (tens of thousands of refugees flooding across the border into Turkey) affecting the economy, extraction activities, exports?
Next, research the company – what exactly do they do; how big is their operation; how relevant are their products to the Brazilian market? What position in the company do the actual exhibitors hold? What is their objective in attending this fair?
From this stems the requirement to get up-to-date with what’s happening in the Brazilian market – what are the trends; where are Brazilian companies importing from at the moment; how relevant is Turkey to this market, and to Brazilians in general? It just so happens that the big TV Globo soap-opera of the hour was “Salve Jorge”, filmed in Cappadocia and Istanbul against picture-postcard backdrops in the land where east meets west. Good to know - Brazilian eyes on Turkey.
Knowing your subject, in my opinion, is ever-important for a translator/interpreter. While I’ll never be an expert, I can refresh my memory on terminology used, not just for names of products –marble, travertine, onyx, etc; but also for processes – sandblasted, saw-cut, diamond-wire cut, polished, honed, tiled, slabs, blocks, etc; and of course for importation terms – customs clearance, nationalisation, shipping agents, the different taxes, price Freight-on-Board, container and packaging types. It’s an endless list, but I had time to brush up on the most likely recurring terminology.
Finally, before I actually meet my clients face-to-face, I can draw on my prior knowledge of this fair – what are its dynamics, what nationalities generally exhibit and attend? Ah! Spanish speakers – people come from Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Spain. I speak Spanish – can I also interpret between Spanish and English? I decided I’d try (more de-rusting and terminology research).
Found out when my clients would be arriving and what hotel they’d be staying in – telephoned to welcome them, and arranged to meet them at the hotel two days ahead of the event – for me, a step which is as big a part of preparation as it is professionalism. Not always possible, but essential if you can.
How was your flight? Any problems? Anything I can help with? Ok, what are your objectives here? “To look at and enter the Brazilian market, to import and sell our products here” – ok no problem – (already tuning the ear into their English peculiarities) - how exactly do you work your stand? Do you have a system for recording visits and organising business cards? Will you receive all visitors or can I help with that? Can you mark on my map of Turkey where your quarries/showrooms/head offices are? What are your main products? Sizes? Will a price list be readily available? Will you need to pray at different times during the fair? How would you like me to dress? Suit and tie? Fine by me! Your hotel is on my way to the fair – can I pick you up, save you a bit on taxi fares?
For me, knowing all this in advance of the event is like gold dust – yes, you can turn up on the day and pick it up as you go, but what if a potential big buyer visits the stand one minute after opening? What if you commit an otherwise avoidable faux-pas and lose a sale or insult the client? I, personally, couldn’t bear that.
Trade-fair interpreting is like no other variety – you become a front-of-house representative of the company, and many visitors will think you are a member of its staff – “Where are you based? Can you sell this marble in blocks? Can you give me a price on these mosaics per square metre?”. I received visitors when my two “colleagues” – that’s what they become - were engaging with other English-speakers, explained, showed, demonstrated, took business cards, recorded visits in the book – essentially became a salesman as well as doing the more conventional, consecutive interpreting when things got really serious and curiosity turned to negotiation. Showed an interest in the visitors, whether potential purchasers or giggling students on a jolly.
Wouldn’t dream of promoting my own linguistic services on the stand – until my client told me I should, only where appropriate and only if asked. A few asked, wanted my card.
Played heavily on the soap-opera with the Brazilians, drawing smiles and positive comments; managed to make it work with Spanish-speakers (thank heavens for research time).
Continued throughout to display my curiosity and ask the client all manner of questions, which they were only too happy to answer, and which enhanced the service I was providing to them. Interest in our stand was huge - not least because of the incredible beauty and unusual nature of this company’s products on display.
Quite busy, very tiring, extremely satisfying.
My clients chose not to pray during the fair, but on the Turkish stand opposite, all three of them laid a prayer mat and did so at various times, partly shielded behind a display board. On the night before the last day, my client asked me to take them to a restaurant on the way back to the hotel, where I was treated to dinner – my responsibility to select and order - positively no alcohol, either in glasses or the food, and no pork products. Full approval given to the local dish, Moqueca Capixaba!
End of day four – two scantily-dressed, heavily made-up women circulating and distributing business cards for a Luxury Escort service – managed to see that one coming, deployed quickly and quietly from the stand and headed them off with a smile and a “good luck”. I’ve got to know my clients over these four days and they most certainly would not appreciate it.
In summary, a potentially successful first foray into Brazil for this company, and I learned so much! Was lucky enough to have sufficient time and the understanding of my client so I could apply the three Ps: win-win!