Skip Navigation.


Misinterpretation

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Quote of the Day: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

- John Lennon

Did you ever hear the saying you can’t please all of the people all of the time but you sure can piss them all off at once?

That’s been me lately but it’s been unintentional.

Today, was not what I would put into the “successful” column.

You see, I gave a presentation to some high-level foreign dignitaries and I pretty much made a damn fool out of myself.

The other day, higher called up and asked if I would be willing to give the Command Brief to some visiting foreign officers (Commandant-level). The Command Brief is just a canned brief about the Depot that the PAO Staff Sergeant usually gives but since these were such high-ranking foreigners, they wanted an Officer to do the brief and the actual PAO was not available.

Sure, I had nothing on my calendar.

A couple of days before, I met with the Staff Sergeant and he showed me the brief and told me just to read it “Presidential style” which means just read the damn thing and look up every once in awhile to make eye contact.

I took the binder and read it a couple of times that day just to get familiar with it.

The day before the brief I took the time to go to the CG’s conference room and actually went through all the moves to get the presentation displayed. I familiarized myself with the computer, the projector, logged into the system with my ID card, popped in the CD, and made sure everything was going to work the next day.

I also presented the material out loud twice to an audience of chairs.

This morning, I went over it again. I asked everyone involved if there was anything I should know about customs, courtesies, or idiosyncrasies I should know about the dignitaries. No one had anything past common sense.

I felt I was ready and even showed up an hour early to make sure I was set up. I even remembered to bring water since I was going to be doing a lot of reading.

The first thing that went haywire was that I found out there were two other briefs coming after mine and the one right after mine was going to cover the bulk of mine. The other Major there and I made the decision to cut out the slides from mine that his Colonel was going to cover so I wouldn’t present it and steal all his thunder, not to mention repetitiveness.

We got all that straightened out right before they all came in and when they did, the Chief of Staff (2nd in command of the entire Depot) made a bee-line to me and told me that they were using an interpreter; that I was to read a sentence or two before letting the translator do her thing, then continue.

I started my brief by reading one sentence and the translator started talking when I paused. I foolishly started the next sentence and everyone looked at me like I had lost my mind. I got the hint and stopped.

But my second mistake was worse. I took this to mean that the interpreter could only interpret a sentence at a time.

Now I was faced with breaking up my presentation ON THE FLY and trying to sound good a sentence at a time and finding a logical break point.

The result was that it sounded like I was reading “Green Eggs and Ham” a sentence at a time.

I was canned, choppy, and slow. It took forever as I struggled, alternately succeeding in finding a logical break point and failing miserably.

After I was done, I was pretty much embarrassed but the full stench of my presentation was not clear to me until the moments that came next.

The next speaker was a Colonel who had been with this group all day. He was “in the know” of how to use the interpreter so when he gave his presentation, it was light years ahead of mine not only because it was his “bread and butter” as it were, but he knew something I didn’t.

He started speaking, to my unfolding horror, in COMPLETE PARAGRAPHS!!!!!

He effortlessly presented like a public speaker should and the interpreter never missed a beat.

I stood on the wall thinking…

“Oh. My. God. She CAN translate entire paragraphs which means my sentence-at-a-time travesty was bordering on moronic.”

This was not good.

The third speaker, a Captain, was even more impressive with his presentation. With a booming voice speaking confidently about his own area of expertise, he didn’t even have notes as he spouted off paragraphs between translations.

I wanted to crawl under a rock.

After I was done with my pitiful part, I was standing along the wall and in my peripheral vision, I saw movement and when I turned to look, two of the non-English-speaking assistants were coming at me gesturing. I was momentarily confused but then they parted and the General was coming right at me with his hand cupped, obviously wanting to shake my hand and give me a coin.

In hindsight, I assume this was done purely through pity.

The whole group was shuttled away and I was left to wonder just what everyone thought as I gathered my things and left.

Oh well, back to my normal duties…

Free Advice for Today: “Learn to say ‘I love you’ in French, Italian, and Swedish.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

3 comments