Wanted: a Translator with Ironing Skills

The weird heading is my translation of the title of a post from this French book review blog, ‘La République des Lettres’. An ad was posted by ANPE, the French Employment Agency: someone was offering a live-in position to a translator who would translate (and type) a novel from French into Arabic, while doing the usual tasks required of an au pair: shopping, cooking, cleaning and ironing. The successful applicant would receive the same hourly wage as a cleaning lady, and all expenses (meals, accommodation and laundry) would be taken from the salary.

A large number of variously ironical or inspired or funny comments was posted, and it wasn’t until the chairman of ATLF, the French Literary Translators’ Association, had written officially to ANPE, arguing that the ad was debasing for literary translators, that it was withdrawn.

The comments were strangely diverse, ranging from accusations of slavery to jokes, short comments, long flowery speeches. One especially caught my attention. The commenter was asking ATLF to advocate higher fees for literary translators. Literary translation is notoriously underpaid, given the requirements in terms of talent and time.

I can’t help wondering, why would someone post this kind of ad? Translating any literary genre into Arabic must be quite difficult, and it was the fact that an intellectual occupation should be paid the same (minimum) rate as cleaning and ironing, that generated the outcry, but also a strange feeling. Was it sheer naiveté, or as one of the commenter suggested, slavery? Or someone trying to get cheap labor by taking advantage of someone in difficult circumstances? In any case, it didn’t look good.


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