Río Gringo

 Last week, La Vanguardia published the news that Barcelona had surpassed one million overnight stays by US tourists.
Not sure how this figure is calculated. I guess if a family four spends two nights in Barcelona, that equals eight pernoctations. Nor is it very clear why the million stays only began to be counted 10 years ago. But it matters little. The point is clear: a whole lot of Yankees come to Barcelona now.
Things have definitely changed since my fist visits here in the mid-80’s. I remember coinciding at a guesthouse in Montseny with a brother and sister from Boston, also in their teens. The sister had a headache. When she asked for and got an aspirin from our host, the brother was beside himself.
“You’re gonna take that?”
“Sure I am. It’s aspirin. I have a headache.”
“Aspirin, sure,” he hissed back, “but you don’t know what they put in the aspirin here!”
We spent the rest of the afternoon waiting for the convulsions to hit.
It probably had more to do with youthful naïveté than real prejudice, but there was something to it; a part of the old stereotype of Spain as a country that played fast and loose with just about everything. A place to have fun, and see cool stuff, but not trust.
The transition is significant and congratulations are due to those who have done their homework to make this a top tourist destination for americanos: political leadership, the business community, and whoever managed to get the cruise lines to make this a major Mediterranean hub. The article cites the city as secure, so progress has been made in public safety. Good news for everyone.
So what about us interpreters? I do not think I am the only one who has noticed the roller coaster ride in conference activity. In my case, over the past five years, the number of events grew until 2008, tanked in ‘09 with roughly a 75% drop, and got back on track last year with a return to pre-2008 levels. This has led us to look to other segments of the market –small meetings, courses, market research– to rack up the numbers we need to survive.
Another fact of life is that younger Spaniards do not need us that much. Go to a presentation and watch the table where they pass out the headphones. It soon becomes apparent that we are working almost exclusively for an older demographic. Whether the kids really understand what the foreign speakers say is beside the point. The truth is, when people now in their 20’s and 30’s  start organizing events, they may cut the interpreting altogether.
The Americans coming through Barcelona, however, definitely need someone to speak English to them. Even if they do speak a little Spanish, I would say that those who effectively get by in Spanish 100% of the time are a tiny minority. I think our future, or part of it, lies somewhere in here: putting on worthwhile stuff for these people to do while they are here. I’m not talking about becoming a tour guide: something slightly more sophisticated, more involved, like a mini-course or informal workshop. Produce some content, get them to go, see and hear it, and interpret it into English for them.
If you’re rolling your eyes like me, thinking that no one would ever go for it, think of this: one percent of one million is a hell of a lot of Yankee overnighters. The time has come to cast our nets into Río Gringo.