Translating in Todos Santos

I’m launching a translation service!

Has it ever happened to you that everyone’s being polite and generous and as a result no one gets what they want? It could be something simple, like you just want to stay home and eat in, but you think the other person wants to go out, and because you don’t want to impose your desire on the other person, you both say you want to go out when really you both want to stay in, and so no one gets what they want, which all along was the same thing: staying in!

This could be a polite Midwestern thing, so maybe it hasn’t happened to you. If not, kudos to you for being so bossy. Just kidding, we all wish we were as self-actualized as you.

Random photo of Carlos prepping banana leaves to make tamales.

Misunderstandings between Spanish speakers and English speakers

Living in a foreign country gives plenty of opportunities for this to happen, and it’s exacerbated by a language barrier, but that is not the worst obstacle to understanding. The most insidious barrier is cultural.

See, we think we’re all the same, that we’re all human, and that therefore our desires are all the same. But we don’t realize how much culture shapes us.

I just had the most amazing translation breakthrough that illustrates this. There’s a long, messy backstory, but I will try to be brief.

I have a pair of good friends who bought a property from local Mexicans 10 years ago. They had a bad translator who was going to get a commission from the sale of the property, so he took liberties with the translation, to make sure the deal went through.

What the buyer said was that he was going to “help” build a house for the sellers on their own lot next door.

What the sellers heard was that he was going to “build” a house for them on their lot.

See the difference?

Now, since the buyer is a really nice guy, he’s been super generous about letting the sellers (a woman and her adult son) continue to live in the house for the last ten years. But now he’s ready to occupy the house so he needs them to move out.

He ended up starting construction on their new house and it’s nearly done. The son has moved into his own room in the new house, but it still needs doors and locks on the second bedroom and a bathroom. But now the buyer needs to head up north to work for the summer.

So he called me in for a final translation before he left. He thought he was being generous by allowing the seller to continue to live in his big house and use the bathroom and kitchen while he was gone.

But when we gave her a chance to speak, she asked when he’d be able to finish the bathroom. I asked if she was in a hurry to see it finished. And she said that yes, she didn’t like living so far from her son and she was really looking forward to moving into her own house.

We were all surprised. We assumed that she had a sweet deal: living in her own space in a big house right next to the property where her son was living.

But to her, the house was too big. She felt uncomfortable in all that space by herself. She just wanted to move into her own house with her son.

Introducing my new translation service!

I’ve had many opportunities over the years to serve as a translator on a casual basis.  It’s always been super fun breaking through misunderstandings and helping both parties walk away happy.

So I’m ready to offer my translation services to the community.

A lot of foreigners are working on their Spanish, and it’s great to practice with the people around you.  It’s the only way to get better.

But sometimes, especially in a working relationship, it’s useful to hire a translator so you can be sure you’re all on the same page.  Once you’ve established a framework, most are able to get by with Spanglish and pantomimes.

For more information click here!

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