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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What You Need to Know About the Pork Flu

Today I planned to run 6 miles after a second round of interviewing for an internship position at the national headquarters of a highly regarded educational/non-for profit organization. The internship involved some research and web-related stuff, and there was also a need for English-Spanish translation. Let's just say that the pounding I received during this interview made running six miles seem like a walk in the park.

It's not like I wasn't looking forward to this internship opportunity, either.

The mission of the organization, which is to help espouse the educational success of students across the nation, seemed worthwhile to me. Also, it helped that the office was right next to the lake and my gym, and this would've been so convenient for my marathon training.

During my first interview the staff seemed nice, and the office well-run. Everyone I met was cordial and seemed like great people with which to work. I was very delighted and grateful to be asked to come back for a second interview a week later.

The second round of interviewing involved a test of Spanish proficiency. I figured, well, I double majored in the topic, so this should be do-able. Of course, I neglected to emphasize to myself that my Spanish studies ended five years ago, and that I might have had to realign my proficiency in order to meet the level needed for the internship. This became painfully, unsurprisingly clear during the middle of the test in the office.

There I was sitting at a laptop in a conference room taking an online Spanish proficiency test while a staff member, herself a native Spanish speaker, sat next to me, watching my every click. She was silent and polite, probably trying to mask her amazement at the depth and breadth of my displayed stupidity.

Once I finished and submitted the online test, my results were returned as "elemental." Now you might think elemental means the same in English as it does in Spanish. For myself, at least, I tried to - silently spinning the results in my favor. "Maybe this means that I have a great natural, elemental understanding of the language." But no, as it turns out, "elemental" proficiency in Spanish means something along the lines of "you have the proficiency of a caveman*"

After the online test came the written translation test, which was to be written out on paper. "Here," the staff member said to me, "you'll probably want to use a pencil, not pen." She handed me the test, which was to translate a two-page, single-spaced article from English to Spanish. It was titled, "What You Need to Know about the Swine Flu."

The SWINE FLU. FROM ENGLISH TO SPANISH. I tried not to panic - I just interacted with this webapp in El Mundo about the swine flu, so I was hoping for some leftover Spanish osmosis. There was none, and about a minute into the translation the staff member informed me of a ten minute time limit.

"HAMTHRAX" I wanted to write. What You Need to Know About El Hamthrax. I took a stab at translating the article from what I knew, quickly sewing together the first Spanish fragments that came to mind. What I wrote for the title will haunt me for the rest of my life....

"What You Need To Know About the Influenza de Puerco"

Influenza de puerco translates to "flu of pork." I must have written that ten or twelve times, "flu of pork" this, "pork flu" that. The symptoms of pork flu, you ask me in Spanish? Oh I don't know! Something about a cough! And there's this thing that hurts... (I forgot the word for throat in Spanish) ... this thing underneath your chin and inside your neck. I almost wanted to write it in Spanglish, like, "cuando se duele el throat, asi..." and draw little cartoon hands making a choking motion.

Speaking of choking, as soon as the hiring manager walked into the room for the follow-up some time after the test, I knew it was a no-go. She was so nice about it, way too nice. I told her that I completely understood. I was the jerk who should've mentioned that he had Caveman Spanish before wasting her and everyone else's time.

Back down the elevator and on my way back to the car, I swallowed a few lumps in that thing underneath my chin and inside my neck. Geared up in the car and hit the ground running roundabout Navy Pier. About four miles into my run, my right foot kind of started to go numb. Good, I thought. Enough pounding and no more feeling. No feeling = no pain. Give me a few more failed job opportunities and i'll be impervious to the worst of rejections.

Somewhere near the fourth mile Wilco's I Got You (At the End of the Century) came on the ipod and I thought of my wife. There was sand on the pier near Oak Street beach. I got you, I sang to her, and that's all I need.

I got you and I still believe
That you are all I will ever need.

*No offense to cavemen

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