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Off topic: One way of looking at our profession
Thread poster: Jack Doughty

Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:16
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Jan 12, 2003

Just found this short story on another website & thought it worth sharing.

The Oldest Profession in the World

by Tim Nicholson

My first contact with the world of translation was in Madrid in the early

1980s where I was living in a garret flat, my only source of income a

monthly wad of notes pressed into my hand by an unregistered staff member

of the Irish embassy at a prearranged venue.

It was on a balmy evening in late spring that I first met Amaia who was

working the terraces in the Plaza Mayor. Of course I had seen the

\"palabreras\" before, shuffling from table to table offering cheap

translations, with one eye over their shoulders for the police, but I had

always avoided entering into conversation with such people. Amaia, however,

was different. Unlike the others, she held her head proudly, and her first

words were: \"Any of these (she waved a dismissive hand in the direction of

the other translators on the beat) could do the job in half the time and

for half of my price, but if you believe that quality is worth paying for,

I\'m the one you\'re looking for\". I had been brought up a strict

monolinguist, and I was instinctively repulsed by her offer, but I invited

her to stay for a drink with me.

After that, we began to meet regularly, though in all the time I knew her I

never once paid for her to translate for me. Her story was all too

familiar. She had had a respectable job as a prostitute, working in some of

the better clubs in the area, but desperation and an ugly knife scar across

her right cheek had led her into the sordid world of translation. Her

brother, Javier, sent by the family to Madrid to try to rescue her from

immorality, had fallen into the same trap. The first time I met him I knew

from the glazed eyes, ghoulish stare and nervous inability to stay quiet

that he was a simultaneous interpreter.

After a change of government in Ireland and a new policy on international

\"diplomacy\" even my pitiful income for \"information\" had dried up, and I

eventually went to live with Amaia and Javier and inevitably to work with

them. Despite the apparent misery of our existence, they were not unhappy

times. I worked mainly as a \"frilansa\", having learnt from my new friends

to avoid the agencies, which tempted innocent young translators in with

promises of steady work and careful client control, but which always ended

up sapping the spirit of even the hardiest, forcing them to work

unbelievable hours at low pay, and never allowing them the chance to turn

down a trick, whatever the subject matter.

Of course, we were continually hounded by the police, and could not afford

the back-handers paid by the agencies to keep the Civil Guard away. On man y

occasions I was forced by unscrupulous policemen to do free work for them,

and on a few occasions even ended up doing court translations. Eventually

though, my luck ran out, and I spent six months in Carabanchel for

\"comercio linguistico con el agravante de estilo libre\". Naturally we were

deprived of all writing instruments in the cell; no paper, no pencils, just

an old Apple Mac, sarcastically referred to as a computer by the wardens. I

found it easier to use dried excrement to mark the walls with.

After Amaia\'s tragic death, Javier went gradually downhill, working first

in a cheap agency and then translating computer manuals. When I last heard

from him he had become a lawyer.

I drifted north to the Basque Country. On her death bed, Amaia had asked me

to visit her parents but not to tell them how she had spent her final

years, and when I eventually found them, a poor but proud family of sheep

farmers, I assured them that she had managed to get away from the world of

translation and had been working in a strip club near Cuatro Caminos.

As for myself, once exposed to the \"mundillo\" of professional linguistics,

I could never escape. These days, Spanish law is more lenient towards us.

The revised Penal Code practically legalises translation, stating in the

preamble that \"...while the practise is generally considered vile and

repulsive, [...] and condemned by many religious groups, it is our opinion

that it is a necessary evil, and that no attempt on the part of the

legislators will ever succeed in entirely ridding society of the practise.

We also consider that legalisation of translation may help to ensure that

it is carried out under better and more salutary conditions\".

I am always heartened by the support of LANTRA*. Who would have thought just

a few years ago that so many people from all over the world would be

prepared to stand up in public and admit \"I am a translator\".

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Patricia Posadas  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:16
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Good irony! Jan 12, 2003

I sometimes feel like Amaia, and at first the opinion my parents and friends had of my work was quite pejorative too. But I am one of those who openly declares: \"I am a translator\"

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Raluca Ion  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:16
English to Romanian
+ ...
:) Jan 12, 2003

My name is Raluca, and I am a translator... Thank you for sharing, very funny...some truth in there too

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Claudia Iglesias  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:16
Member (2002)
Spanish to French
+ ...
Thanks Jack Jan 12, 2003

I enjoyed this story.

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Edward Vreeburg  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:16
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
maybe we should put it all in a book Jan 12, 2003

I hope my son will grow up and proundly say:\"my father is a translator\", instead of introducing me as \"a male stripper in a gay bar\"...he\'s only 4 now...

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Martine Etienne  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:16
Member (2003)
English to French
+ ...
And what about mother/wife and translator Jan 12, 2003

When someone asks my children what I am doing, they use to answer :

\"Mother, she stays at home\" or

\"Mother, she plays on a computer\" or

\"Mother, she plays on the computer at night because dad needs it to work earlier in the day\"

For my husband :

I may be a translator when :

- the dinner is ready at 6 o\'clock

- he has no troubles with anything concerning the children

- the house is clean

For my parents :

\" she has a good job, she works at home and works when she wants.\"

But I am nevertheless doing what I wanted to do and I am still wondering what the next subject to translate will be.


PS : I have described my husband as a \"horrible\" macho, he is not really that bad...

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Arthur Borges
Local time: 11:16
+ ...
Jack !!! Jan 12, 2003

That piece captures one of my mood modes so purrfectly! Fondest regards.

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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:16
Dutch to English
+ ...
Frilansa Jan 13, 2003

Thanks Jack!

Very funny! I have felt this way many a times especially when explaining my profession to other mothers at my children\'s school. Oh, you are a secretary ... Oh, it must be easy since you already speak the language ... And they pay you for that?

I am a frilansa and I am a translator!

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Silvina Beatriz Codina  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:16
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Oh, well Jan 13, 2003

I knew things were going to be hard for me when, as I was in college, someone asked me which would be my career; when I said I was studying to be a translator, I was asked \"Oh, but you need to study for that?\"

Actually, people don\'t think my work is similar to prostitution... they don\'t think it is that glamorous. More like making silk flowers at home. Something a lady would do in her free time to earn pin money.

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