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Playing the Notre Dame organ and Russian mat in an English court: what a translator has to face

The opportunity to play on the Grand Organ of Notre Dame Cathedral, touch the peculiarities of the life of the first persons of states and involuntarily play a positive role in the career of your friend thanks to your acquaintance with Viktor Chernomyrdin - these are just some of the "bonuses" that can arise when working as a translator at the highest level. Formerly Forum Daily already told about the former employee of the Russian Foreign Ministry Viktor Prokofiev, who at one time interpreted Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton and other leaders during the most important international meetings. Today Victor talked about what amazing opportunities knowledge of the language can open up for a person, and what a translator working at the highest level should be ready for.

Photo: Shutterstock

French beer and the Notre Dame organ

One of the most unusual "bonuses" from his work, Viktor Prokofiev calls the opportunity to play the organ in the famous Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral in the late 1980s.

«In 1988, an international conference was held in Paris as part of the preparatory meetings leading up to the establishment of the OSCE. I was the translator of the Soviet delegation, and one day after work, a diplomat friend and I walked to Notre Dame. To the right of it, near the bridge over the Seine, there is a cafe. My friend and I sat outside, and I spoke to the waiter who approached in French. I must say that at that time I knew French almost at the level of my native language: 10 years before that I lived and worked in Geneva, and even the French took me for their compatriot. Yes, they could think that I came from another region, they could take me for a Swiss or a Belgian, but not for a Russian", The translator admits.

The waiter who came up suggested the guests to try beer of the 1667 brand, which is known in France no less than Baltika in Russia. Victor had never heard of him, but decided to try. This scene literally shocked two Frenchmen who accidentally saw it sitting at a nearby table: they could not understand how their compatriot could not know one of the most popular beer brands in the country? The fact that there was a foreigner in front of them did not even occur to them - so good was the French they heard.

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«This is how our dialogue began. We began to talk, moved the tables, began to drink and eat together. The era was conducive to that: it was the heyday of perestroika and glasnost. At about eleven in the evening our new acquaintances suggested that we get up and play the famous Notre Dame organ. It turned out that one of them was the head of the entire musical accompaniment of Notre Dame Cathedral, and the second was the chief organist of the same cathedral. We climbed the very choirs where Quasimodo, according to Hugo's novel, was ringing the bells. There, the main musician of the cathedral invited me to play the organ", - said Victor.

Prokofiev, who had extensive experience in playing the piano, agreed and played several bars from Bach's fugue. After that, a French friend asked him to sing the Soviet anthem.

«I began to hum, and he - on the go, select a melody and play the Soviet anthem in jazz arrangement. Imagine: at about one in the morning on the porch of Notre Dame Cathedral the anthem of the Soviet Union sounds! In addition, it turned out that I was the only non-professional from Russia to have played the Notre Dame organ in its entire history. Prior to that, such an honor fell only to well-known Russian professional musicians, in particular the famous organist Harry Grodberg", - the translator emphasized.

Photo: Shutterstock

Chernomyrdin's "friend"

Another incident occurred in the 1990s in Texas, during negotiations between the then Prime Minister of Russia, Viktor Chernomyrdin, with the head of a large American oil company. One of Prokofiev's old friends turned out to be the translator of the American side. Left alone after the meeting for a short time, the friends hugged and exchanged a few words. This detail did not go unnoticed by the management of the Texas company.

«Then my friend called me and told me that after our meeting his boss asked: do you know Chernomyrdin's personal translator? When a friend said that we were old friends, they decided to raise his salary. So suddenly I helped a friend"- Viktor recalls.

According to him, Chernomyrdin was indeed a very easy-going person and was friendly to his assistants.

"TOWhen you come into contact with this world, it turns out that the people who serve the first persons are no less interesting than themselves. I remember one time I was on a plane with Gorbachev's guards. During a conversation with one of them, I was amazed at his readiness to throw himself under a bullet in order to protect the guarded person. He spoke about his own body then completely detached, as if it were a mechanical shutter for another person. I was amazed at the psychological preparation and attitude of these people", - Victor shares.

Unexpected calls

In addition to pleasant bonuses, translators sometimes have to face unexpected challenges.

«It is important for a first person translator to be in good physical shape. This helps not only to endure the difficulties of the flight and lack of sleep, but also to directly fulfill their duties. For example, if you are traveling in a presidential motorcade, as a rule, the car in which the interpreter is located is located quite far from the presidential one. This is roughly the 9th or 10th machine in the tuple. The police, several security vehicles, ministers and so on are driving in front of her. When the motorcade stops and the president starts to leave, I have to jump out of my car and have time to reach him from the end of the convoy about 120 meters while the security chief slowly opens the 500-kilogram armored the door of the presidential car (this is about 15 seconds). Not all translators had time to do this quickly", - explains Viktor Prokofiev.

Photo: Shutterstock

After working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after retiring, Victor began to practice in private practice. He carried out translations in London courts, where he also had to face an amusing challenge, albeit of a completely different kind: to correctly translate Russian swearing for the British and explain its linguistic subtleties.

«The opposite side's lawyer said that my client had insulted his client during one of their meetings in Moscow. In fact, at that time, a very ordinary dialogue took place between them, as they say, "by concepts", in which my client asked for guarantees that the "fighters" of his counterparty would not steal his assets. Naturally, instead of the word "they will steal" a much more biting word was used. In order to literally convey its meaning, I had to use obscene language in the English version. However, at the same time, under the stenographic protocol, I made an explanation that, as a linguist, I can confirm: in this case, the use of “strong” words was not offensive, on the contrary, it meant a special level of trusting and informal relations between the interlocutors. Those present in the hall who knew Russian simply died with laughter; especially for some reason the ladies were touched ", - recalls Viktor Prokofiev.

On the subject: Reagan and Gorbachev's translator: on fatal interpretation errors, linguistic subtleties and presidential jokes

The translator advises our readers: one of the ways for a non-professional to learn a foreign language is to listen to cassettes with a clear speech of a native speaker and repeat it exactly.

«This is a very useful thing for loosening the tongue and makes it easy to start speaking. Apparently, this technique is based on the fact that different types of memory are triggered here and certain algorithms are used in the brain."He explains.

Another secret of success, Victor calls self-confidence.

«You should feel that you are able to do the job better than others, and you should not be afraid of possible client rejection. Trust me, your clients will notice your self-confidence, and in most cases they will take it as an indicator of your professionalism. Mind means a lot", - the translator shares secrets.

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