interpreters do nothing but translate and interpret, indiscriminately and almost without a break, for the most part without anyone knowing why something is being translated or for whom it's being interpreted, more often than not, if it's a written text, it's purely for the files and, if it's a speech, for the few odds and sods who don't understand the second language we're translating into anyway. Some idiot has only to fire off some idiotic remark to one of these organizations for it to be instantly translated into all six official languages, English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Arabic. Everything gets turned into French and into Arabic, into Chinese and Russian, be it the foolish thoughts of some enthusiast on the sidelines or some other idiot's bright idea. Even if nothing is ever done about them, they get translated. I've often had passed to me for translation invoices that merely needed paying. I'm convinced those invoices will be kept in a file somewhere until the end of time, translated, at the very least, into French and Chinese, Spanish and Arabic, English and Russian. Once I got an urgent phone call in my booth asking me to translate an (unwritten) speech about to be given by a politician who, as I myself knew from the headlines splashed across the front pages of the papers two days before, had been killed in his own country during a coup d'état that had successfully achieved its goal of overthrowing him.
The greatest sources of tension in these international fora are not the fierce discussions between delegates and representatives on the verge of declaring war, but the occasions when, for some reason, there's no translator available to translate or, and this is not an uncommon occurrence, when the translator collapses in the middle of some report for physical or psychological reasons. You have to have a cool head in this job, not so much because of the difficulties of understanding and transmitting what is said as it is said (which is difficult enough) but because of the pressure we're under from politicians and experts, who get upset and even angry if they think there's a chance that something they say might not be translated into one of those six celebrated languages. They watch us all the time, as do our immediate but remote bosses (civil servants all of them), to make sure that we're always at our posts converting everything, omitting not a single word, into the other languages even though almost no one understands them. The one thing delegates and representatives really care about is being translated and interpreted, not having their speeches and reports approved of and applauded or having their proposals taken seriously or implemented, something which almost never happens (no approval, no applause, no being taken seriously, no implementation). At a meeting of the Commonwealth countries that took place in Edinburgh, at which, therefore, all the conference members spoke English, an Australian speaker called Flaxman was outraged when he saw that the interpreters' booths were empty and that not one of his colleagues was listening to him through the headphones provided, but were, instead, sitting in their plump seats listening to him direct through the microphone. He demanded that his words be translated and when reminded that there was no need, he frowned, uttered a foul oath and began to exaggerate his already thick Australian accent to the point where it became unintelligible to members of other countries and even to certain members of his own, who all started complaining and immediately fell victim to the reflex action of the hardened congress member who reaches for the headphones the moment anyone utters anything he can't understand. On finding that, contrary to custom, nothing issued forth from those headphones (not the slightest sound, clear or confused), they grew even more vociferous in their protests, and Flaxman threatened to go in person to one of the cabins and act as his own interpreter.