Jonathan interviews Patricia Lane, chosen as our Translator of the Month for March 2012
Patricia is a member of Communication et Entreprise (formerly UJJEF), IABC (International Association of Business Communicators and SFT (Société française des traducteurs).
She shares her time between Paris and Savoie, is most often seen with a Nikon slung over her left shoulder, and is passionate about words, books, photography and animals.
Tell our readers about your childhood and your early years
From early on, suitcases were part of my décor! Born in Saigon, I spent my early years between Vietnam and Cambodia before settling in New York following a stint in France. As my French parents had become American, I was born a dual national and grew up as a compound bilingual. For decades, I split my time between Manhattan and the family homestead in France.
What school education did you receive in New York? What was your cultural environment?
At home, I was raised à la française (Pascal Baudry’s book “Français et Américains: L’Autre Rive” does an excellent job describing the differences in how French and American mothers raise their kids!), yet my mother and I would alternate speaking in French and English – striving to avoid lapsing into “fringlish”. My mother had been an interpreter and translator during World War II and frowned on such linguistic laziness. At the Lycée français de New York I received a French education with classmates from all over the world. Already, to me, intercultural was normal! My context (translators’ favorite word!)? Immersion in the Big Apple and American popular culture.
Tell us about your academic career.
After getting my French baccalauréat, I was torn between continuing my education in France or in the US. I opted for the latter, not knowing that I’d face my first real instance of culture shock. The educational systems’ marked differences are rooted, as I would discover later, in cultural differences. I had to adapt, and it wasn’t easy. Two aspects I found the most challenging were having to participate actively in class, to the point of challenging the professors, and learning how to restructure research papers and presentations and develop a compelling writing style in English. Thankfully, Wellesley College and New York University have a high ratio of foreign students so I did not struggle alone!
After getting my BA and MA in Political Science, I moved to Hawai’i in 1989 for my doctoral work at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa as an East-West Center participant.
What was your field of studies at the University of Hawai’i?
At UH, I continued to focus on Southeast Asia and particularly the former countries of Indochina, anchoring my work through political science implementation theory. This led (almost) naturally to a dissertation topic examining center-field relations between 1940-1945 as they played out in the China Theater and affected Vietnam. In parallel, I worked at the EWC helping the center set up its Indochina programme, whose goals were to develop academic, scientific and development exchanges to support those three countries’ renewal after decades of war.
I relearned Vietnamese, its six tones and diphthongs already familiar. And I returned to Vietnam to live and work – first in Hanoi, and then in Saigon - with the US Treasury Department’s permission since the US hadn’t yet restored diplomatic relations.
Where do you live now? What is your present occupation?
After having spent nearly a year in France conducting part of my dissertation research, I decided to move here in 1995. I was curious about how I’d feel living and working full-time in my “original” culture (though I’ll admit which one that is is still a question I ponder!). I worked for 4 years as European Business Development Director for an international architectural firm, gaining hands-on experience in many different European business cultures that would prove invaluable later. I’d already been an independent professional in New York and soon, the entrepreneurial bug came back to bite me. I set out on my own again in late 2001, wearing two hats: copywriter and French to English translator and intercultural communications and management consultant and trainer. I am passionate about what I do and enjoy teaming with my clients to ensure their messages are on target, culturally specific and able to cross borders.
Tell us about your intercultural profile.
Growing up, everyone takes certain things for granted: the glass of white stuff your parents make you drink, for example: it’s called milk, but you never think about that, never question it, it’s immensely familiar (and thus doesn’t capture attention).
I never questioned my cultural make-up – or if I had one! Sometimes, I’d notice I’d react a bit differently from my American friends or French family or that they would be referring to something about which I had no clue.
I started working on intercultural issues with Richard Brislin and others at the East-West Center, and that was my “light bulb” moment. It took years, bit by bit, for me to dissect the influences my three cultures – French, American and Vietnamese – have on my values, beliefs, traditions, reactions, perceptions and so on. That personal exploration, combined with voracious reading (Hofstede, Geertz, Trompenaars, and Hall to name just a few), laid the foundations for the intercultural work I do with clients now.
A few years ago, I was running a cross-cultural workshop and joined participants in a Culture Active assessment. It was fun to see on our collective diagram that I was the dot smack in the middle, showing a balance in my cultures’ different influences. A pretty comfortable place to be!