One of the best parts of traveling for work is that one sometimes gets out and meets the people for whom one is ultimately working. One of the worst is that usually there is no direct communication. Sometimes, with an associate who is reasonably out-going and self-assured, the nuisance of having an intermediary ask questions and relay replies is quickly forgotten. Other times, it becomes a little more difficult.

Today, for example, my guide, a pleasant and very helpful person, gave me too many answers without even consulting the people we were there to meet. Of course, I’d have been none the wiser had he actually been asking them about their marriage prospects, and then giving me the answers he wanted to. But it would have felt a bit better.

I know this is a problem social scientists have to grapple with all the time. And I know some of the methods they use to deal with it. Ultimately, of course, they learn the language of the people they work with. But for me, parachuting in for a matter of moments, that’s hardly an option. I wish there really were a Babelfish.

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