Cultural differences! Wherever you go, it is possible to hear people talking about it. During my stay in Norway I had the opportunity to observe what these differences can do to us and in what kind of situation they put us in. It can be quite exciting.
As some of my friends know, I served as a Norwegian – Portuguese translator for the Skodje City Hall in Norway. My main task was to make little Stephanie, a Brazilian seven years old girl understood by her classmates, teachers and vice versa at the municipal school. I didn´t know I was in for some big challenge.
Norwegians often say “the truth comes from the children and the drunk”. I found that out the hard way. One day, after better integrated with the children, Stephanie was invited to play with the girls in some kind room full of dolls. She promptly accepted and there we went. The girls rapidly organized themselves in a circle where each one was holding a doll. The following ended up putting me in a rather uncomfortable position.
As the play went by, each girl started to say things about their dolls, like: oh, my doll is sick today or my doll went to school today. Things I really don´t remember in details anymore but it was nothing out of ordinary for children’s play. When Stephanie’s turn finally came, she looked at the doll and at me, did that again and fired: oh boy, this one got a big fat ass!
The rest of the girls stared at me waiting for the translation and for a brief moment, I was petrified. Part of me wanted to really laugh out loud as I was delighted to figure out our kind seems to be naturally born with some rather nasty sense of humor (Darcy Ribeiro would have loved that). The other part knew the local culture isn’t really very fond of such things, especially before children.
So, what was left for me to say? Even though you get the job as a translator knowing you obviously have to be loyal to the facts which were, in that case, what people say, I knew I couldn’t do it so I decided to say something pretty ordinary in order not to cause a possible mess having some children horrified or surprised by a different approach on a simple doll. I obviously later on informed the staff I had to be “imprecise” in my job to avoid trouble. They understood it just fine.
In the end, what fascinates me about this issue is not what I find so different in another culture but simply the different meanings it gives me of my own. And believe me, it is priceless.