Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - September 30, 2016

Merci, danke, gracias, and tack så mycket

"Jetzt," the woman kept saying. "Jetzt."

Husband Art and I looked first at her and then at each other. We didn't have a clue what she was saying.

She then pointed to her watch and again said, "Jetzt."

Finally, it dawned on us.

Although that was 27 years ago in a small grocery store in Germany on one of our first trips to Europe, we've never forgotten that word. While both of us knew some German, we hadn't encountered jetzt before. A glance at our German-English dictionary confirmed the suspected meaning. Many stores in Europe close from noon to 2 p.m. and then stay open late. The clerk was saying the shop was closing "now" - or rather, "NOW!"

We quickly gathered our items and moved off a bit sheepishly to the cash register.

Art shared with me an incident when he and his friend Bill added to their foreign-language vocabulary while in France. They expected after a long day of travel to rent a room at the Hotel de Ville. When they arrived, they learned there were no rooms to rent because the Hotel de Ville means city hall.

On another occasion when they were traveling by car along the Mosel River in Germany, they arrived in a small village where a sign in a field announced "Freiwillige Feuerwehr - 17:00." They weren't familiar with either word, but they looked so similar to ones they knew that they planned to return for the free 5 p.m. fireworks.

There were no fireworks!

The words translate as volunteer fire department. The sign was announcing the group's annual picnic. Art and Bill did attend and enjoyed the picnic - and forever remembered what those two words meant.

When Art told me recently that Sept. 30 is International Translation Day, I immediately thought of these and similar stories. Our limited skills in languages not our own had led to funny outcomes over the years, but had also firmly cemented some words into our memory. Those incidents also served to bolster my appreciation of the job professional translators perform.

I learned from the website of Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (FIT) - International Federation of Translators - that International Translation Day has been celebrated on Sept. 30 - the feast of St. Jerome - since 1953. St. Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, is considered the patron saint of translators. The theme of this year's International Translation Day is "Translation and Interpreting: Connecting Worlds."

According to the FIT:

... translator and .... interpreter are ... professions dedicated to one goal: facilitating communication between people. As the world becomes more integrated, fostering understanding between the multitude of speakers is more critical than ever. Whether it is in writing or in speech, interpreters and translators are at the junction point that impacts the development of business, science, medicine, technology, international law, politics and a host of other areas. [They] ... provide the ability for each of these worlds to learn from each other to the benefit of society as a whole.

More than 100 professional associations and training institutes are FIT-affiliated, representing more than 80,000 translators in 55 countries. The goal of the federation is to promote professionalism in the disciplines it represents.

Although I would never qualify as an official translator or interpreter, I have found my knowledge of various languages to be useful. When Art and I traveled in what was formerly East Germany, I used my Russian to translate the tombstones of Russian soldiers killed there during World War II. When I worked on The San José News in Costa Rica, I was asked to serve as translator for a "CBS News" crew that had arrived to cover an incident on the northern Costa Rican border with Nicaragua. And when sister Gaila, her two girls and I took Mom to Sweden, tack så mycket (thank you) came in handy to express our appreciation for everything our Swedish relatives did for us.

Before our trip to France this month, I diligently studied French using the Duolingo application I had downloaded onto my smart phone. Although it has helped me some, it now tells me I'm only seven percent fluent in French.

But even though I love languages, the little bit of translating I've done is exhausting. So I really admire people like my friend Vicki, who has done official courtroom translation from Spanish to English and back or those who work for the United Nations.

Our friend Francis from Luxembourg knows French, English, German and Luxembourgish. He has been invaluable in our interactions with our friends from Fèves, France. If it weren't for him, we would probably just sit around, smile at each other and feel foolish for not knowing the other person's language.

So, my hat is off to translators around the world. No matter how you say it - merci, danke, gracias, tack så mycket or some other way - thank you for bringing people together.

Francis, left, translates the contents of a letter in English to the citizens of Fèves, France while the Fèves' mayor, right, and I look on.

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