Giving Your Statement Makes You Wish You Spoke the Language

I'm right there with you, pal.
Giving my official witness statement was so incredibly frustrating that I still have a visceral reaction when I think about it. Even though I had an interpreter, there were countless times that phrases I used – colloquialisms, metaphors and the like – just did not translate. It wasn’t until this exact moment that I became aware of how much my everyday speech is littered with such things. Additionally, there are myriad words that don’t translate as an exact match. Some examples:
  • Purse, pocketbook – my using these words drew a blank expression from my interpreter
  • Chandelier – translates to “torch”
  • Patio – is “balustrade”
  • Anything US metric system does not translate (Ex: “I fell six feet” “He was an inch away”)
  • Phrases such as “I had no clue” ” ‘He was tanked” and “I’m no shrinking violet” will not serve you well with an interpreter.

I was bursting with information to tell them, details of details. But it just wasn’t as simple as telling the interpreter. She had a mind of her own (though she was lovely, and insistent on sharing her licorice candy despite my protests).

As I gave my statement about what happened to me, my interpreter would translate to the police captain who was pecking at the computer keyboard keys (he did not know how to type), and the psychologist would observe and comment from time to time. I had such a vivid and clear memory of everything and wanted to give every last detail – what Marco was wearing, what the layout of his apartment was and the colors of his walls, bedding, chairs – but the police captain said he did not need that much detail, just broad strokes. That seemed strange to me. Without an attorney, I had no one to guide me on what to do. But I just kept giving as much detail as I wanted to and they typed whatever they wanted to. And let me tell you, they could not seem to understand half of what I was saying. Every time they would read my statement back to me, they had me in the wrong place at the wrong time. I finally asked – no, I demanded – to be allowed to type my statement so that they could then translate it. But no. They said I could not.
I actually tried to write it out for them, to no avail
They could not grasp that his art studio near the cafe was different than his apartment near the Spanish Steps. They did not understand that I had been up to Marco’s once already before the second time when he attacked me. They could not grasp how I got from Marco’s patio to the American couple’s balcony. I would often leave my chair to demonstrate things to them in hopes that I could transcend the language barrier.
I felt like a mime, trying to explain what had happened to me

Finally, after 10 hours which included a trip back to Marco’s street, the police asked me to sign my statement. I did not want to sign something I could not read – and you shouldn’t either. I asked for the interpreter to read my statement back to me. And then I DEMANDED four edits. They tore up the first statement and promised they were printing  a new one reflecting my requested edits. Only then did I sign the statement. Many months later – after my attorney gave me a translation of my statement – would I realize they had not made the edits. Good times.

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