December 18, 2009 | Italian

The Italian Job

I go to work at an Italian company.

Today I went to work at an Italian company. “Work” may be kind of a misnomer, since I’m doing this for free.

I have to remain vague about industry and location, but I can say that it is a very cool firm in Manhattan with young, energetic, friendly employees. The plan: I would be translating a document for them from Italian to English, while also practicing oral communication skills with an Italian executive there, Luca, who is responsible for the translation project.

I'm Working Not Far From Frank Gehry's IAC Building

Unfortunately, I had caught a cold after racing 15 kilometers in freezing rain the previous weekend. This did not bode well for my translating skills, which after only 48 days of Italian, were questionable to begin with.

Other than that, this new relationship began auspiciously. Everything was completely organized for me when I got in: desk, document, dictionary, etc. As it turned out, there was only one Italian speaker in the office, so it is not exactly an immersion experience. The other employees are French, British, and American. But Luca was very pleasant, and I was amazed at the generally warm reception I received. Soon after I arrived, lunch arrived—for the entire group, including me. Apparently this is a Friday-afternoon tradition, which I was invited to join.

One drawback of this gig, though: the document they need translated is extremely technical. It has to do with internal pricing and taxation issues, and it is also long—dozens of pages. I worked my hardest, but this kind of work, challenging under normal circumstances, becomes much harder with a head cold. I spent about five hours there, relatively inefficient ones, puzzling over financial vocabulary that, despite the years I spent making a living as a freelance business writer, I am confident I have never heard even in English.

Still, I’m sure it will be great practice for me to do this, plus it’s fun to just jump in at a totally unfamiliar firm.

It is amazing what working for free can get you.

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