Happy New Year and Back to Work

January 1, 2008


Issue one last bill for 2007.

Finish off a few projects (those that could wait until after…).

Gather in one big envelope those tiny receipts and various stuff that have crept into the oddest places, to finalize 2007 accounts.

Do some serious de-cluttering of my home office (*sigh*).

Write a fairly uninspired post (this).

This is 2008, and the fact hasn’t sunk in yet. But those tasks should keep me busy for a few days, until business life starts for real again.

See you in 2008! Oh but THIS is 2008! Happy New Year, then! 😉


December 31 Resolution

December 31, 2007

Would you believe it?

Instead of making preparations for tonight’s festivities, I’m still:

  • finishing a translation project,
  • paying bills,
  • issuing bills

and more generally attending to unfinished business.


My December 31 Resolution is to make sure each and every 2008 project and administrative task shall be completed by December 30, 2008.

Is this feasible??? Let’s see…

How Many Kisses On New Year’s Eve?

December 30, 2007

It’s one of those cultural nightmares.

If you are celebrating New Year’s Eve in France, or among French people, be aware that geography has some implications in terms of the number of kisses you are allowed to exchange under the mistletoe.

Strange Maps has produced a ‘French Kissing Map’, read its history here.

Claire Ulrich has blogged on it here.

Use the map the rest of the year, too. Don’t assume this is a stupid game. I felt like an idiot the other day, because I left a friend kissing the air. I hadn’t seen her for a long time and I had forgotten. It’s one of those quaint cultural habits that even we French don’t agree on, but we never fight about it.

I wonder, at midnight tomorrow, how many kisses will you exchange with your friends?

The Power of The Human Mind

December 29, 2007

This, I think, is one of the reasons why instant machine translation systems are not losing their audience and continue to push on, despite their obvious and generally decried flaws. A marketing argument is made out of pilfering and butchering languages, but it works.

The power of the human mind is such that it can overlook all kinds of mistakes: spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, even an imperfect choice of words. Of course it has been spelled out here that this is not entirely true and you can change the meaning of a sentence by simply changing the position of a comma. Last year, Lynne Trusse published this exquisite book entitled Eats, Shoots & Leaves on exactly the same subject.

If you think this is a minor subject, think twice. I was once asked by a French client to edit one of his documents. Written in his own language, not translated. He was the kind of person who should be supplied with a special keyboard–without the ‘comma’ key. He was using commas every couple of words and the result was, well, unreadable to the normal mind, but recognizable if you stood 3 feet away from the text, like in the opening example above.

In a language, whatever the language, every little bit of information counts. By this I mean EVERY BIT. It’s the beauty and the specificity of each language.

There are extremes of this. My dentist, who travels extensively to, and speaks at, international conferences, was telling me once how he was priding himself on his speaking a decent level of Japanese. Until the time when, as he was asking an innocent question from an honorable colleague from Japan, he saw his colleague’s face turn colorless and the man hastily turned away.

He was so shocked that he talked about it to other people and quickly found the answer. By simply switching two syllables in the question, he had asked whether his colleague was homosexual. So the human mind has its limits: culture.

I am not the kind of person to rant about text messaging and how young people are destroying the language. I don’t believe that speaking or writing in another language (texting for me is another language, which I don’t use) makes you less fluent or educated in your own language.

For me, language is a human thing. What I am ranting about is the pretense under which ‘close enough’ translation produced by computers, however sophisticated they may be, is made to pass as ‘acceptable’ and even ‘workable’ translation. This is the product of our technology-obsessed world. To me, the power of immediacy over quality of communication is producing a slow, but inexorable shift in languages and is conducive to yet more incomprehension, and may be, in the longer run, counter-productive.

A Good Year After All

December 28, 2007

At close to 395,000 words translated this year, plus a substantial amount of editing, 2007 was a good year after all.

In particular if you consider that I do all the translating myself (apart from a little help from WordFast and Naturally Speaking), I can say it has been a good year. Of course, I am not including some voluntary, i.e. unpaid work in this total. I am not including conference interpreting either, because the unit of measurement is different (number of working days, and preparation days not accounted for, as I explained in a previous post) and there is sometimes some overlap with translation work, although I find it increasingly difficult – age must be the reason – to combine these two very different intellectual activities within the same day.

Financially speaking, it has been a good year too. By this, I mean that I was able to charge my own fees, and only on few occasions felt tempted to accept a little lower paid jobs.

This is no small feat. I remember the gut reaction of a translation agency secretary who approached me a long time ago. She wanted to know how much I was charging, and when I told her the figure, she simply cried out: ‘But that’s exactly what we charge our customers!’ ‘Well’ I said, ‘that is exactly the reason why I don’t work for translation agencies. I don’t want to work for a fraction of the price that my work is worth.’ I can accept small adjustments, depending on the client, deadline, etc. but I do not accept low-paid jobs.

It all depends on how you see things: I haven’t been able to update my fees in more than 10 years.

Depending on my mood of the day, I can say: ‘I was lucky to be able to resist the drop in translation fees that has happened in recent years,’ or ‘I am unlucky that my fees have remained unchanged, when just about everything else has gone up:’ social security contributions, taxes and rates, food, clothing, utilities (oh my God, haven’t they gone up a lot?), insurance, fuel for my car, office stationery. The only things that have gone down, telephone bills (sort of…), computer equipment (but I buy a new computer every 2-3 years, so where’s the big deal?). And these bills HAVE to be paid.

Some blame it on the introduction of the Euro. I don’t know, but one thing is for sure: I don’t earn more than 10 years ago, and some years a lot less, and I spend a lot more on necessities, and this includes things like books, etc.

o why do I say that it has been a good year, AFTER ALL? Because, on Jan 1, 2007, I had very little idea that it was going to be that way. If I accepted low-paid jobs, I would probably be able to work night and day, 40-hour days. I mentioned in a previous post 2-cent jobs I once saw posted on Proz. Do I want to work night and day? No. Is it possible for me to become a millionaire, well why not a billionaire even, translating millions of words paid 4 cents? No, not if I am doing the work myself, and not if I don’t compromise on the quality delivered.

So in exchange for some uncertainty and roller-coaster sensations, I am free from a lot of other constraints, and I like it better that way.

This doesn’t mean that I work full time and translate ‘only’ 1,500 words per day. Sometimes I have been able to do more than 7,000 words in a very full day. But the rest of the time, I have been able to engage in other, equally satisfying pursuits: studying a new language and learning about a new culture, going to the movies in the middle of the day, meeting people, seamlessly being away on a short vacation and working at the same time, etc.

I don’t live in luxury, and I have my own share of problems, like anyone else, but I am able to say that I feel fulfilled by my job/life combination. And I would love to cram even more things in my life: some serious traveling, for instance. That is why I’m looking forward to receiving my copy of The 4-Hour Work Week, by Timothy Ferriss. I don’t wish to become a billionaire doing no work at all, but I’m told that there is an number of interesting tips and work/life considerations in it.

So my 2008 wish for myself, and for all those who are kind enough to read my blog, is this:

A satisfying quantity of a satisfying job, and a lot of good life.

And if only I knew how to do it, I would add a lot of sparkle around this 😉

Let’s meet in December 2008 and see what we have achieved. We might be in for a lot of surprises!

Making Unusual Connections

December 26, 2007

The interview of Abha Dawesar here was translated by me.

Let me tell you about its background, it will show how diversified, and sometimes unusual, our sources of work and connections can be.

This year’s Salon du Livre (the Paris French Book Fair) featured India as Special Guest. Tirthankar Chanda, the author of the interview, is a literary critic for several French newspapers, a journalist on Radio France International and also a professor of Indian Literature and Bengali at INALCO, where I was recently learning Bengali. He is also an expert on African literature and literature of the South. He would probably qualify as a ‘/’ slash careerist!

One day at INALCO, he approached me and asked me if I could translate this interview for him. I was surprised at first, and I must say, a little nervous. Tirthankar Chanda, being Indian, is an expert of English and he writes perfect French. For this reason, and because I translate technical texts mainly, I felt a little uncomfortable, but I ended up accepting the job. The next two hours saw me at INALCO’s library, toiling away as if I was taking my first translation exam, and I’ve been working for almost 30 years!

When you read the text of the article, if you read French, you see that it’s fairly simple. But I checked everything at least 3 times, checked the grammar, the sentences, everything, and re-read the whole thing about 5 times. Never mind. A typo made its way into the copy, and when I re-read it just now, it made me shameful. It wasn’t mine. Still. There’s my name at the bottom. The evil perfectionist in me is grinding its teeth.

Your bonus: For an excellent presentation of Indian literature in French, follow this link.

No Dictionary, No Translation Software…

December 25, 2007

… but a very pretty gift I will hang next to my desk in 2008: a month-by-month calendar with 12 photos taken by me, or others, of those who support me (pets included! ;-)).

A sweet idea that will take me along from month to month.

Apart from that, NO work today. At last one quiet day.

Greetings to all!

Merry Christmas from Paris

December 23, 2007

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say.

For those who have the time or the courage to check this blog today, this picture from my collection. Again very amateurish, but it’s the real thing. I took the scintillating Eiffel Tower from a bateau-mouche.

Thank you for being around, and I hope you will have an enjoyable day.