Ask a stupid question

I changed my mobile phone plan recently. A few days later I was enjoying a pleasant siesta when I got woken up by the sound of a text arriving. It said:

“Help us improve. Reply FREE OF CHARGE to rate the service you received from our shop a few days ago (0 Not at all satisfied, 10 Very satisfied)”.

What is it with this obsession for getting us to attribute numbers to everything? Stupid question. I know perfectly well why they want numbers: it’s easy to feed numbers from 1 to 10 into some program or other. Whether it actually serves some useful purpose is another matter.

If you phone Movistar on 1004 with a query or a complaint you’re asked to rate the attention you have received after you’ve spoken to one of their agents, even though the person you actually speak to in the end is not the problem. There are no questions about how long you were put on hold before you managed to speak to someone, or whether you were shunted around from pillar to post and had to repeat your query in detail several times in the process.

Anyway, back to the text that woke me up:

The service was fine, but your text woke me up from my siesta.

“I don’t know why you’re bothering,” said my daughter, “you’re talking to a computer”.
“I know.” Which was borne out by the computer’s response to my complaint:

“Did the shop have an adequate stock of terminals, SIM cards, dongles. (Yes/No)”

You haven’t read my previous answer.

“Thank you for your reply. To end, your comments are very important to us. How do you think we can improve?”

Give more and charge less. And stop sending texts that wake people up from their siestas”.

Now I remember to turn off my phone when I want a siesta.

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The website project

I’ve decided I need a website. “You’ve left it a bit late, haven’t you?” said David, “at your age”. Charming. Just the encouragement I need. Well, OK, it has taken me rather a long time to get round to it, but I’ve got an excuse: every time I make a start some work turns up without me looking for it. But this month has been pretty slow so far and it’s been a week since I finished my last job.

That’s as far as I got with this post before some work arrived in my Inbox. Three contracts for tomorrow. I’ve done the drafts and feel like a break before I check them so here I am, blogging again. Finally. I always find it easier to get on with something when I’m trying to avoid doing something else. And if there are two things I’m trying to avoid, it’s easier still.

So why can’t I get on with it? The website, that is. You’d think it would be easy enough, wouldn’t you? Just write a bit about yourself and say what a wonderful translator you are, list your areas of expertise, rates, etc. You must be joking. I’ve been at this for weeks, on and off (not to mention previous abandoned attempts) and I’m stuck.

To start with I can’t decide whether I want to present myself as an individual and speak in the first person, or give my enterprise a name and talk about myself as if I were somebody else. I don’t really like either approach, but there don’t seem to be any others.

And since most of my clients are Spanish, I have to have a version in Spanish. After much mental flailing about I did manage a first draft. I even got my daughter to check it, since she lived in Spain all her life until she joined the brain drain to Germany. She changed a few things, but said it was OK. Then I gave it to three Spanish friends to look over, one of whom is a fellow translator. One could only find a minor error, another suggested several changes “to make it more convincing” and the third (the translator) hasn’t had time to look at it yet.

Anyway, I’ve just read it again and decided I still don’t like it. Where do I go from here?

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Hurray for deadlines!

Hurray for deadlines!  They hang over you and make you put off the procrastination for another day and actually get down to work. And not only that, you feel so good when you meet them and even better when you’ve met them and moved on.

I’ve been translating a very long thesis for the last five months, and it had to be in by the end of September. I made it, and I finally feel as if I’ve got my life back. Maybe I can even get back to a bit of blogging now, instead of slogging.

One way and another the summer was a bit of a dead loss this year. It was too bloody hot for a start. I mean, I like the sun, but 42º C is pushing it a bit in my opinion. Then they didn’t open the village swimming pool until 1st August to save having to pay a lifeguard in July. I was down there like a shot on the 1st to cool off and lounge on the fake grass for a bit.

It’s just as well I was quick off the mark, because on the 2nd the pool sprang a leak and all the water drained out. So much for my plan to go down for an hour every afternoon. The pool was only built three years ago, and there are conflicting accounts circulating about whether it was the alcalde, the local plumber or the construction company to blame for the chapuza. But the builders have gone out of business, so that might be a clue. Whatever. It wasn’t fixed and that was that. No pool for the hottest summer in living memory.

So I moved myself downstairs to the old part of the house where it’s cooler and closed the shutters during the day and opened them at night. I felt like a mole. Or possibly Dracula, hunched over my laptop. But at least I could get on with the thesis with nice cool tiles under my bare feet. Although the noise from outside was a bit of a distraction.

For some unknown reason the powers that be – in this case the provincial government in Alicante – decided that August was just the month to fix the church. Quite why this was so high up their list of priorities in the present economic climate I haven’t managed to fathom. So we had sandblasting machinery going on for several hours a day, plus what sounded like scaffolding being dropped from a great height and the builders’ radio going full blast. Not to mention (but I will) the clouds of dust produced in the process, which seemed to get into everything.

So I was glad when August came to an end and we quietly slid into September. And I’m even gladder now I’ve finished the thesis. Although I know if no translations appear in the next couple of days I shall start worrying about whether that’s it, I’m washed up and nobody’ll send me any work ever again.

Posted in Life in Spain, Translating | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Summer

So much for my determination to write a post every week – it’s now four weeks without a peep. I blame the summer. Too many guests, too much eating out (too much eating in, for that matter) and then fiestas. And while all that’s going on, I’m still supposed to be working.

I like working from home, but when we have visitors I spend half the time in my office feeling guilty for not spending more time with them and the other half enjoying their company and trying to work out how much time I really need to get my work finished.

And it’s hot. So I close my office door during the day and open it at night to let some air in. But everyone else is doing the same thing. So while I’m trying to concentrate, not very successfully, I can hear a full-blown argument from next door about Spanish politics. Lots of ‘¡sin verguenzas!’ ‘¡no tiene cojones!’ and ‘¡este país es una mierda!’ being bandied about. You get the general idea.

There’s only one thing to do at this point: leave the office, grab a glass of red wine and join everyone else…

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So, you want to become a translator?

A few days ago I received the following comment in response to one of my previous posts, Becoming a real translator:

you have piqued my curiosity. I have had ideas in my head for translation that I want to do once I retire to Spain. how interesting that you’ve done this and that you can work from home doing it!! did you do some course of study prior to becoming a translator? I’d love to hear details-if you can email me, that would be great. thanks!

It’s not the first time people have asked me this sort of thing when they hear I’m a translator, so rather than emailing a few lines, I thought I’d write a post about it.

Some people I meet seem to have a rather quaint notion of what being a freelance translator entails. They vaguely think it sounds like a cushy number because you get to work in your pyjamas (true), you can do it when you’ve got an odd moment or two (no, sorry, it doesn’t work like that) and people (unspecified) send you interesting things to translate (well, sometimes) that you effortlessly (no!) turn into Spanish, and get paid handsomely for (you must be joking).

Have I made myself clear? Sorry, I’m not trying to put you off!

To work as a translator in Spain you don’t have to have an official qualification, but it helps. Having a degree in translation and interpreting from a Spanish university, or a similar qualification from your home country, would probably be a good idea. The alternative is to sit the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs exam to become a registered “Traductor-Interprete Jurado”. But to get that particular qualification you need to be an EU citizen and have to hold a university degree.

However, unless you want to translate official documents there’s nothing to stop you working as a translator if you can find clients who will pay you. I hadn’t done any courses on translation when I started out, although I did do some studying along the way. Despite being told “you’ll never get any work in Madrid unless you know someone with contacts” – enchufe – I got my first serious work by answering a newspaper ad for translators. The agency gave me a test, I passed it and they gave me some work. It took me hours, because I wanted it to be perfect. They were paying 1.8 pesetas a word (this was 1983, but not exactly profitable even so).

When Dave heard what I’d be paid and saw how much it came out to per hour, he said “I don’t know why you’re bothering – I can get 10 times that doing private classes – tell them to get stuffed!”

When I took my translation in to the agency, I told them that in future I wanted 3 pesetas a word, because it wasn’t worth my while working for less. I didn’t think they’d send me anything else, but they did. For a few years they sent me a fair amount of work, and then it came to an abrupt stop. Presumably they found someone cheaper. But by that time I’d found other clients anyway.

Most of the work that came my way was standard commercial stuff: contracts, insurance claims, annual accounts. I also did some revision and typing for another translator: she’d been living in Spain so long that sometimes Spanglish would creep in when she wasn’t looking. It was through her I got my first archaeology paper to translate, which was a pleasant change from company by-laws.

I’d studied history at university, so the ‘style’ of language was similar. The archaeologist in question was pleased with my translation, so she recommended me to colleagues. So it went on, and over the years I’ve translated a fair number of conference papers and articles for academic journals. I like to think of archaeology as my ‘niche’, but to be honest the work’s not sufficiently regular to be a reliable source of income on its own. So I still do commercial translations as well.

Then there’s the question of how much you charge. That’s up to you. You can ask what you like, but whether you get it or not is another matter. You have to work out whether what you can get reflects the work you put in – is it worth it, or would you actually be better off cleaning floors?

For example, a few months ago an archaeologist I work with wanted me to translate a book he’d had accepted by a British publisher, and the firm asked me to quote. I sent them my quote, with what I considered a reasonable discount in view of the length of the job. It wasn’t low enough – the boss had found another translator whose quote was less than a third of mine. The commissioning editor then asked if I “could somehow manage to dramatically close the gap between the two quotes”. Doing that would have meant earning about 600 euros a month after paying Social Security. Can you live on 600 euros a month? Didn’t think so. So I turned it down. Sometimes ‘No’ is the only reasonable answer.

As a rider to that little story, I got an email back that said, “Thanks for your reply which, regrettably, is exactly as I expected. I completely understand your position. The other translator lives in Argentina – perhaps the money goes further there.” There you have it – the global economy in action.

The actual process of translating is the good bit: that’s why you wanted to become a translator in the first place, after all. It’s not just a question of having a good knowledge of Spanish, you need to be able to write good English too. You have to constantly prove you can turn in good quality work and meet deadlines. People will only give you more work if you solve their problems, not create more.

And I suspect that translators need to have a particular kind of mentality. We tend to be a bit obsessive, especially about grammar, spelling and punctuation. I sometimes wonder if I’m the only person on the planet who revises and spell-checks their emails and text messages. I can’t help it.

You also need to be fairly organised because there’s all the other stuff that goes with the job, like keeping accounts and making sure your clients don’t ‘forget’ to pay you. As well as translating, you have to issue invoices, pay tax, collect VAT for the government and cough up 254.04 euros every month for Social Security.

Still want to be a translator?

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“¡Muy castizo!”

I’ve been indulging in a little nostalgia recently, remembering when we lived in Madrid in the ’80s, in a fourth floor flat overlooking the Rastro. The great thing about nostalgia is that you can pick and choose, and even if you remember the not-so-good bits, like hauling a sleeping child in a buggy up four flights of stairs, you don’t actually have to suffer being knackered again.

But in general I just remember the good bits, it was great living in Madrid. “¿Han nacido en España?” taxi drivers would always ask me when my kids were small. I assured them that they had indeed been born in Spain, right here in Madrid in fact. “¡Muy castizo!” they would say approvingly, “They’re real Spaniards!”

Yes, real little Spaniards and, like all other Spanish children, admired, approved of, indulged and entertained. Is that just nostalgia talking, or was it really like that? What I remember is shopkeepers, waiters and neighbours happily talking to children and delighting in their company. They seemed to have infinite patience with them.

If Leah tried to pull the tablecloth off in a restaurant along with everything on it, an indulgent waiter would come along and take her off for a tour of the kitchen. She’d come back clutching an enormous peach or an entire box of toothpicks to play with. The portera who looked after the building next door let her slosh the mop around in the bucket and wash a bit of the street…

I took all this for granted until we went back to the UK on holiday. I just thought it was normal for kids to be treated as if they were the centre of the universe. In England life was much more complicated. There were lots of places you couldn’t take kids, and lots of others where it really wasn’t appreciated if you did.

This came home to me the first time I went back and met a friend in the coffee bar of the local theatre. Leah made a bee-line for the stairs to her practise crawling. The place was virtually empty, and she wasn’t in the way, but someone immediately rushed up and said, “Oh, you mustn’t let her go up the stairs – the bar’s up there!” Presumably they thought she was going to climb on a stool and order herself a gin and tonic. It was a great relief to get back to Spain.

In comparison with trying to fathom the unwritten rules of how English toddlers were supposed to comport themselves in public, such things as dealing with Spanish officialdom was a walk in the park.

When Sandy was two months old, I had to take him with me when I went to renew my residencia. It  turned out to be an unexpected advantage. I had to hand in my papers on the first floor, up a staircase crowded with people, so I asked someone in uniform if there was a lift. “Come with me!” he said, sweeping everyone aside as he led me and my pram to the lift reserved for staff, and whisked me up to the first floor. He then escorted me to the top of one of the extremely long queues of people who’d been waiting for hours and announced to the woman behind the counter “I’ve brought you a customer!”  as if I was the Queen of Sheba with the heir apparent.

“Sorry…” I said guiltily to the person who’d been peremptorily pushed aside to make room for me. I hadn’t been expecting special treatment, I just didn’t want to haul the pram up the stairs. But in that situation you’d have to be a saint to say, ‘Oh it’s quite all right, I’ll go to the back of the queue’. Especially when the queue goes halfway down the stairs.

Of course there were drawbacks to living in a small flat in a big city, but I can’t think of any right now. We had everything on the doorstep, even if the doorstep was down four flights of stairs. And OK, we didn’t have a garden, but the children didn’t seem to mind. They’d never had one, so they didn’t know what it was; and anyway, who needs a garden when you can sit on your balcony and throw Lego down into the street?

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Bailout? What bailout?

I don’t often stray beyond my own little world on this blog, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice what’s going on around me. At least when I’m brave enough to take my head out of the sand for long enough to turn on the telly.

It’s just that there seem to be plenty of other people out there who are better qualified than I am to comment. I start to write something and then realise I just don’t know enough about the subject, and I don’t have the time or, to be honest, the inclination to spend all day trying to find out enough to make sure I’m not talking rubbish.

However, every so often something takes my breath away and once I’ve got it back I feel the urge to rant coming on. Last night’s performance by the Spanish Minister for the Economy was a case in point. There he was, telling the world that what was never going to happen had happened but it hadn’t really because we’re going to call it something different. If you don’t use the B word, it doesn’t count.

If you didn’t know otherwise, you’d think he was your local bank manager telling you the powers that be had considered your application for a mortgage and in view of the fact you were such a good, reliable customer and they were very impressed with how you managed your bank account, they’d decided to give you one. Congratulations, sir! The terms are excellent and you’re very lucky to get it with such a good rate of interest. It’ll help you get your business back on its feet and everything will be hunky-dory.

It’s only when you’ve left his office you realise he didn’t tell you how long you’ll be paying for this wonderful mortgage the bank has so graciously given you, or how much it’s going to cost you each month. And what happens if your business doesn’t get back on its feet and you can’t pay it? Will they throw you out of your house like all the other poor sods that have been evicted?

 

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I don’t often stray beyond my own little world on this blog, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice what’s going on around me. At least when I’m brave enough to take my head out of the sand for long enough to turn on the telly.

It’s just that there seem to be plenty of other people out there who are better qualified than I am to comment. I start to write something and then realise I just don’t know enough, and I don’t have the time or – to be honest – the inclination to spend all day trying to find out enough to make sure I’m not talking rubbish.

However, every so often something takes my breath away and once I’ve got it back I feel the urge to rant coming on. Last night’s performance by the Spanish Minister for the Economy was a case in point. There he was, telling the world that what was never going to happen had happened but it hadn’t really because we’re going to call it something different. If you don’t use the B word, it doesn’t count.

If you didn’t know otherwise, you’d think he was your bank manager telling you the powers that be had considered your application for a mortgage and in view of the fact you were such a good, reliable customer and they were very impressed with how you managed your bank account, they’d decided to give you one. Congratulations, sir! The terms are excellent and you’re very lucky to get it with such a good rate of interest. It’ll help you get your business back on its feet and everything will be hunky-dory.

It’s only when you’ve left his office you realise he didn’t tell you how long you’d be paying for this wonderful mortgage the bank has so graciously given you, or how much it’s going to cost you each month. And what happens if your business doesn’t get back on its feet and you can’t pay it?

Posted in Life in Spain, Politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment