I have once again had my fair share of interpreting for friends in different situations. The network of public service interpreters and the habit of using such interpreters is not very well established in Belgium. Of course I’ll interpret when my friends ask me to, but it is a very interesting contrast to my every day interpreting job.
As a public service interpreter in Sweden I am called to, for instance, a clinic when a doctor needs my services in a consultation. Simply the fact that the clinic books me makes me more neutral in the clinic’s eyes, this is strengthened by the fact that I have the same ethnical background as most of the personel.
However, when interpreting for my friends, I arrive to the clinic with my friend/the patient, I have the same ethnical background as the patient. I have, in the eyes of the doctor, the same status as the patient’s husband, or sister or any other accompanying family member. The fact that I loose my official role also affects the interpreting. I wrote in an earlier blogpost that it’s more difficult to use the neutral interpreting “I” when you have a non-professional relationship with your client (e.g. interpreting for a friend), and when the other user of your interpreting service, in this case the doctor, does not perceive you as “a professional interpreter” because of your relationship to the patient; it’s very difficult to keep that neutral distance and professional tone.
Naturally, I should (and I do) struggle to keep my professional voice and I need to point out to the participants that I am a professional and imparital interpreter. However, this is so much easier when there is an existing service for public service interpreters, and when you are booked by the authority not by the patient or your friend.