ATTRAVERSO – COLUMN BY LETIZIA MERELLO (15)

Attraverso… on connection. One of my strongest features is my tragicomic sense of humour. So for the month of September, I’ve decided to discuss the connection I have with the people I interact with during my work day. And I’ve decided to do so at that time of year when I feel most disconnected: the first day of work after my summer holidays.

This morning, before sitting down to work, I lingered with my coffee accompanied by the usual questions and chitchat. We told each other how great our holidays were, how traumatic it was to come back to work, how things went for those who stayed in the office. But between one quip and another I don’t see them smiling, their tired eyes or hands busy at their keyboards: instead I see each of their names followed by the phrase “is writing” and three flashing dots.

It’s certainly different from being face to face or giving someone a fun shove while laughing after a nasty comeback, but it’s still something. And then, not everything has been limited to written communication: there are phone calls, video calls; certainly one of the things that I miss most is the spontaneity of communications and, no less important, the possibility of plotting pranks to have a bit of fun with my unfortunate officemates.

This remote connection has been my routine for a year now, but I’m getting ready to go back to the office soon. I have conflicting feelings about coming back in to work: I’m undeniably enthusiastic about and intrigued by the idea of seeing the people I actually collaborate with every day. But there’s also the other side of the coin, on which my introverted nature has become quite comfortable over the last twelve months.

I can’t deny that my communications with my colleagues and superiors have been reduced to the bare minimum, precisely because of the lack of that immediacy that comes from being together in the same environment. To give you a practical example: if I have to consult with someone who’ll be revising my translation because I have a doubt about a choice of terms, I don’t hesitate to do so. But when I happen to translate a patent that concerns an absurd invention (examples abound, but due to confidentiality obligations I must leave it all to your vivid imagination) I smile, perhaps laugh to myself, but then I just keep working, without having anyone to share the absurdity with.

What was once a pretext to get up from my desk, stretch my legs, take a little break and have a little laugh together has become a lonely smile that lasts mere seconds. I feel more efficient, hyper-connected and at the same time detached, a step back from it all. Is this an irreversible change?

No, I have no doubt that it will take very little time to get back on track with my colleagues. Yet on the other hand I have another thought, which is much more difficult to answer: what happens to linguists when they loses their connection?

My job as a translator is to transpose a message from one communication system to another. Technical translation, and specifically patent translation, doesn’t require great empathy or emotional intelligence, but it is still about communicating something. Not only that: curiosity, and consequently openness, are essential in adapting language to technical innovation, which is the heart of every patent text.

Obviously, keeping up to date with the news of the language sector and the different technical areas we deal with, and maintaining my relationships with the people I work with are two very distinct objectives. However, I’m convinced that our most specific abilities are shaped by our daily actions and that general knowledge feeds the details.

In this perspective, contact, listening and dialogue are values to be put into practice every day, both during work and in front of the coffee machine. And the ability to establish an authentic connection with those who work alongside us not only benefits everyone’s openness, but also the ability to constantly find new solutions by working together.

Cover image: me, drawn by Claudia Plescia.

English translation and adaptation by Sarah Schneider