In 1973, Carter traveled to Poland to hold the United States' first-ever news conference in a communist country, one where he would be fielding questions from actual Communists. So the stakes of this little visit were mega-huge. Imagine President Barack Obama holding a news conference in Taliban country. Now imagine that the night before the huge news conference, Obama says he wants to have sex with the Taliban. You just imagined Jimmy Carter's Poland visit.
Carter was speaking through a $150-a-day freelance translator who barely spoke Polish. The guy's mistakes started early on and never let up: When Carter opened with "I left the United States this morning," it got translated to, "I left the United States, never to return." When he said, "I have come to learn your opinions and understand your desires for the future," it was translated into, "I desire the Poles carnally." If the people of Poland weren't creeped out enough by Carter's apparently insatiable lust for some Polish sausage, the interpreter made things even more confusing by using archaic words and Russian syntax, and while he was at it, he made fun of the Polish constitution, too. Carter couldn't catch a break with this guy.
So that guy was fired, and a new translator was hired for a state banquet. Carter delivered the first line of his speech, paused for the translator… and heard nothing. Carter said the next line, paused again, and again there was silence. Apparently Translator No. 2 was having the opposite problem – he couldn't understand Carter's English – and so he decided silence was the best option, forcing the Polish leader's own translator to step in and pick up the slack.
This is yet another example of the risks of working with a cheap translation provider…
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