Bad Day at the Office

16 May

If I actually had an office, yesterday would have been a bad day.  As it happens I work at my computer sitting at the dining room table or at the bench on a moooo stool, so all I ended up feeling was highly embarrassed, frustrated and then quite angry. At least in the privacy of my own home a ‘bad day at the office’ means I can cry into my pillow without upsetting the harmonious ‘wa’ of my Japanese colleages.

To be honest I’ve never really had a bad day at work before – I’ve had days where I’ve been upset about something personal and getting through the day was hard, or the day I had to run round preparing for a guest speaker and then had to stand for hours in a hot auditorium to field student questions, and during which I actually had to sit down as nearly fainted – which resulted in first miscarriage. OK, so there was no hard evidence that one busy day did it but the time frame fit and I needed something to blame.

What I mean are days where you are told your work is not up to par.

This happened once, on a much much lesser scale, way back when I was like 25 and really just starting out on the road of translating while employed in the Careers Office at ‘the’ university. I was asked to translate a letter from Japanese to English. I made the mistake  of translating the first line. Something along the lines of “As the spring weather turns to the warmer days of summer the leaves change and the rice paddies abound in luscious hues of green.”

Or similar. My wine soaked memory eludes me.

The Vice President of the University, himself, came down to the office, sat me down and bollocked me. Did we say that kind of ridiculous shit about the changing of seasons in the first line of English letters? Of bloody course not, so what the hell was I doing putting it in. It needed to sound natural.

amateur, amateur mistake on my part.

I changed it to ‘I hope this letter finds you in good health’ or something equally as unrelated to weather.

And then came yesterday…

A couple of weeks ago I got asked to do a translation through the ‘central translation office’ at ‘the’ university. It is actually a separate company but located on campus and as of April, they are now responsible for all university translations that need to be outsourced. They are the middle man. They are also the editors and checkers, to the best of my knowledge, although as far as I know they just have Japanese staff with really good English and no native speakers.

It was a questionnaire for students asking them to say, on a scale of 1-5, whether they identified with the following statements. Statements such as ‘Demonstrate initiative and take the lead in reaching team goals’ – or similar.  I finished it two days before the deadline and submitted it.

On the morning of the deadline I got an email saying the faculty or staff member who requested the translation wasn’t happy with it because it was too ‘wakarinikui’ and that non-native English speakers would be reading it too and therefore using words like ‘demonstrate’ and ‘persevere’ were shithouse and it needed to be changed. It was too much of a direct translation.

You should have seen the Japanese. Very direct and not non-Japanese native friendly by any means. The only instructions I got at the time I was asked to do it were ‘can you take this translation on please’. ‘Yes’. ‘thank you’.

So I read the ‘supervisor’s’ comments, took on board his suggestions to change things to ‘Am aware of’ instead and reworded the questions he just didn’t personally like.

I heard nothing back for TWO fuckin days so yesterday I sent a friendly email to my project manager at the central translation office – saying, hey, hi there, lovely whether, changing seasons and all that, have a free weekend up ahead and just wondered if you had any work on the horizon.

I do not have a free weekend (have girlfriends coming with children whom we are going to make all play nicely together while we drink wine), but had feeling something wasn’t right.

She replied with something along the lines of ‘the supervisor is not satisfied with your translation and is therefore commissioning another translator to re-do it. We do not budget for translations to be done twice so you will not be getting paid. We hope you understand, yaddah yaddah, changing seasons, green rice paddies.’

My first thought was shock – shock that I had done something so shit that they thought it needed to be entirely re-done. Twas highly embarrassing and I sat crying into my coffee (and then my pillow) for a good hour. I’m not used to being told I’m shithouse. I really just need to toughen the fuck up.

Hub got home, could see I had had too much wine, and still proceeded to say that perhaps I just needed to be more careful next time. Which set me off again cause who the fuck needs a husband that doesn’t get on the ‘bitch about the workplace’ train with you? He then asked to read my contract, and read it he did. Nowhere does it say if your translation is ‘unsatisfactory’ will you be paid nothing  – in this case about two days of work and 600 dollars. Also says translators will be given ‘ample’ time for changes and any requested editing – I wasn’t given a deadline for the changes so automatically thought it all still needed to be in by the actual translation deadline – which was like three hours away.

Today I asked one of the other translators (friend from working at the university days) directly if he got ‘the’ translation re-do. He said yes but couldn’t see why it had to be redone as it wasn’t incorrect it was just not in the style the supervisor wanted. A style I had no idea about when I got asked to do it. SOOO, he got sent MY translation (ya know, that one I’m not getting paid for), and a detailed fuckin description of the audience – i.e., it needed to be in monkey speak like ‘I try hard’, ‘I am a leader’ etc.

Anyhooooo, the office has agreed to send me the finished ‘good’ translation and I intend on comparing the fuckers and unless that thing isn’t 100% different I will be getting hub to pen a mean ‘give me my money’ you twats.

Or I won’t.

Don’t really want to rock the boat and become known as that difficult freelancer who likes to get too involved.

Meh, got another translation in today (short $60 job) so perhaps should just drop it.

What would you do?

In other news, it was hub’s birthday yesterday and we had the perfect family meal sitting around the dining room table and talking about our days. We should do this more often!




30 Responses to “Bad Day at the Office”

  1. Kym May 16, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    You should absolutely be paid for your time, it’s outrageous that they would push you around like that. Sounds like someone is on a power trip. You would have been able to “fix” the work yourself, had you been given the proper instructions.
    Ugh, but how awkward, it was your friend who got paid to fix it. I hope he can take up the battle for you. Good luck!

    • gaijinwife May 17, 2014 at 1:42 am #

      Thanks Kym.
      I agree, if I had been able to talk to the supervisor directly I would have been able to make it more to his liking I’m sure.

  2. Jenni May 16, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    I’m sorry, that sucks. And not paying for work you already did does not seem ok at all. I’m a translator, too, and also had a frustrating experience this week— spent about an hour going back and forth about the details of a job that the agency ended up giving to another translator. Grr…

    • gaijinwife May 17, 2014 at 1:44 am #

      Thanks Jenni.
      There is one company I do some work for sometimes and seriously if you don’t reply to the email in about three and a half minutes it has already been taken by someone else! Here’s to next week being void of frustrating experiences 🙂

  3. matchaproblem May 16, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    That’s really tricky. On one hand, yeah, making a fuss about it could affect how much work they give you in the future. On the other hand, them not paying you under those circumstances is just wrong. Sigh. That’s a lot of money to loose out on, but it really is quite a conundrum (uh-oh! BIG WORD) .

    And I’d have been shattered too.. they were just being horrible.

    • matchaproblem May 16, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

      *lose – stupid pre-coffee hasty typing

      • gaijinwife May 17, 2014 at 1:47 am #

        Gaah, I nearly didn’t understand you the words were too long 🙂 Seriously, the students are university level and my sentences shouldn’t have been that ‘wakarinikui’ for them, especially considering the Japanese was horrible. Am impressed you got ‘conundrum’ out without coffee 🙂

  4. SomedaysSarah May 16, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    Ugh. That really sucks.

    If the other guy just rewrote what you translated then the two of you should split it. If they were unhappy with your translation they should have worked with you and they DEFINITELY should have TOLD you from the start what they wanted if they wanted something so specific.

    But, that said, this is Japan. Any fuss you make is likely to cause a slowdown of translations – especially big or important ones – to you. Not so much a decision on their part not to use you, but just a tendency to go elsewhere if/when they can.

    That said, could you make it a point of asking for more background info about the translations when you take them on? Make up some garbage about not wanting to make the same “mistake” again (not yours – theirs, but you don’t need to tell them that!) and make sure you have all the info you can before you start?

    • gaijinwife May 17, 2014 at 1:51 am #

      Thanks Sarah.
      My project manager lady gave me more information for the latest small project but its just an article for the HP. They have only been in charge of outsourcing for a month and are definitely experiencing a few bumps and teething problems. The way they handled it needs addressing as it now leaves me feeling very vulnerable that if another person doesn’t like what I wrote then they’ll just not pay me again! Frustrating. Never had this before. Tis learning experience. Must think positively 🙂

  5. littlebelgianwriter May 16, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    That is so horrible! I am sorry this happened to you! Obviously they should have told you in which style the translation should be done.

    • gaijinwife May 17, 2014 at 1:52 am #

      Thank you, and yes, if the style they wanted was different to just a normal translation style then they should have told me from the beginning. It was a long document! Grrrr.

  6. Tracy May 16, 2014 at 7:28 pm #

    Difficult situation. I think you should send them a polite letter pointing out the terms of your contract & that not only have they breached those but that a) at no stage were you given instruction or direction as to what was wanted so had to use your initiative & b) you have done lots of work for them before which has been of good quality & completed within their tequired deadlines.

    • gaijinwife May 17, 2014 at 1:54 am #

      Thanks Tracy.
      Yes, I think that will probably be the way to go. Fuck, I might even go so far as to actually print it out, inkan it, and send it via slow mail. If this is how they plan on dealing with things then it should definitely be in the contract!

    • Lauren May 17, 2014 at 9:27 am #

      Sounds like good advice, Tracy.

  7. emilycsimpson May 17, 2014 at 2:04 am #

    I would expect to paid if I had completed a translation without any indication of what style they expected and they weren’t happy. The problem is at their end. If you don’t want a straight translation, make that clear. Or, provide the survey in Japanese and proper English so the students get exposed to words with more than one syllable. And hubby should back you up. All the way.

    • gaijinwife May 17, 2014 at 2:13 am #

      He should completely. Was very annoying. The next morning he gave me a hug and said ‘it will be alright, just be more careful next time’…. I told him to shut up :p

  8. Anonymous May 17, 2014 at 2:19 am #

    Has anyone else working for the uni had this situation of not being paid? Has your friend who is doing the re-write know of this situation before? If so, have they said anything? I would totally be pointing out the conditions of the contract in a ‘just for my clarification, can you please explain this section in my contract and your email that I won’t be getting paid?” type way. I don’t think I could live with myself by not saying anything – even if it meant jeopardising future work. (but you know that I can’t NOT say anything). Your time is too precious to be wasted by mo-fo’s like that. And if this is the relationship “maybe we’ll pay you, maybe we won’t” attitude, then you don’t need it!! Kirsten.

    • gaijinwife May 17, 2014 at 2:25 am #

      I know, you’re totally right but apart from this one incident it is such a sweet gig! The friend was very surprised when I said I wasn’t getting paid. He thinks its totally out of order and that a normal company would pay both translators especially as mine isn’t a mistranslation its just not written how this one guy wanted it to be written. Now if you were still here we could have drunk chuhais and penned an asshole letter to them 🙂

  9. Brenda in Nagano May 17, 2014 at 6:56 am #

    Wow! I can’t believe they would pull that “we don’t have the budget to pay for the translation twice” bullshit. I once re-translated another translator’s work because it was wrong. Like, the Japanese said “please don’t sit here” and the other translator wrote “please sit here”. I was officially asked to proofread, but the agency ended up paying me the translator rate and the other translator the proofread rate, but they still paid him and it was WRONG, not just a question of style. Total bullshit! But if it were me, more than the agency giving me the run around about it, that would be a huge blow to my pride. I’m already completely insecure, and being told something like that would just push me over the edge I think. At least you had the other translator able to assure you that it was a good translation. I would definitely need a bit of ego stroking after that.

    • gaijinwife May 17, 2014 at 7:42 am #

      Thanks Brenda. At the time I was definitely a lot more deflated and embarrassed than angry. I mean if I’d put it through google translate and submitted it fair enough but I spent two days doing what ‘I thought’ was a good job 😦 It will be interesting to see how it gets re-translated, because there are only so many words for ‘motivation’ and ‘initiative’ ya know!

  10. Elly May 17, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    Not paying you for 6man’s worth of translated text – which is correctly translated – while actually giving your translation as a base to the other translator (WTF!?) is seriously unprofessional and unethical. You should definitely do what you wrote above about the snail-mail letter with quotes from the contract, inkan, etc.

    I spent 7 years at a Japanese university (for my sins) and it really sounds to me that the faculty member is throwing a hissy fit because HIS English so shit he can’t fully understand what you wrote, and his ego/hurt pride is what’s causing this shitstorm. That would be fairly typical Japanese-professor behaviour from my experience… some alarmingly fragile egos in academia (as I’m sure you know).

    But apart from the uni staff member being a twat, which is sort of unpreventable, the translation office is behaving absolutely appallingly and illegally – you were not given any instructions to “dumb it down”, you translated it correctly and on time and in good faith. I would say that you can’t afford to let this slide – you may leave yourself vulnerable to it happening again. The law is on your side, from what you’ve said of your contract you have every right to demand payment. Good luck and stand firm 🙂 xxx

    • Elly May 17, 2014 at 9:37 am #

      Forgot to say, I totally understand the worry re. “but will they stop giving work if I make a fuss?”. I have had this a couple of times, where an agency has done something I consider to be taking the piss and I have always gone through the pattern of anger > low self-esteem (it must be my fault for fucking it up!-type thoughts) > agonising about what to do > writing a firmly-worded email. Never had enough balls to do it over the phone as am very conflict-averse 🙂 I always think “they’re going to stop giving me work now, but fuck it, I don’t want to be known as the translation monkey who will take shit like this lying down”.

      Anyway, in every case I’ve found that a) the agency capitulates and apologises profusely and b) they seem to respect me for standing up to them and offer me more work from then on, and occasionally at better rates too. This is all with Japanese agencies by the way.

      Sorry for the long comments, I really hope it all goes well and just remember *you are in the right*!!!!

    • kireikireikirei May 18, 2014 at 5:52 am #

      I agree with Elly.

    • gaijinwife May 18, 2014 at 9:49 am #

      You know I actually think its the giving it to the next person as a base that fucks me off the most!!

  11. Susan May 17, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

    I do not speak any language other than English (horrendous high-school level Spanish doesn’t count) and have never done translation work, but I agree with everyone above who jumped to your defense. The uni people are just dead wrong, and I do hope you are able to get paid for at least some of your hard work. Would love to tackle some sort of translation work after having just finished off a bottle of NZ sav blanc (Monkey Bay). Does it give me fluency in other languages, or am I just feeling that way?

    • gaijinwife May 18, 2014 at 9:48 am #

      Ditto on the Spanish, and perhaps if I’d submitted it in my shocking Spanish I wouldn’t feel so pissed about not getting any money! And yes, sav blanc makes you both very fabulous and fluent in swahili.

  12. Anonymous May 18, 2014 at 3:00 am #

    ALSO – I hate this dumbing down of English for Japanese students. Fair enough not to use works like flagellation and sycophant – but bloody hell! “Motivate” and ‘demonstrate’ are pretty key words. (kirsten – I really should sign up to this with a user name…..).

    • gaijinwife May 18, 2014 at 9:46 am #

      My thoughts exactly. ‘Try hard’ is like JH level for Christ sake. Persevere isn’t bloody difficult!!

  13. Mrs. N May 18, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    Well-I lost you for a while and then while searching for something totally unrelated to you-found you.


    Sheesh-this sucks. I know what I would want to do-write them a very detailed and direct letter about how wrong they are …..and maybe (probably) be a little forceful about it….


    I know…

    …..this is Japan.

    This is the kind of crap that we sometimes have to swallow. Well, we don’t HAVE to but…you know.

    If it were ME I would definitely keep my eyes peeled for an opportunity to set the tables right. Or whatever you call it.

    I might shut up for now….but I wouldn’t let it slide. If you know what I mean.


    • gaijinwife May 18, 2014 at 9:40 am #

      Definitely I think a letter will be in order, but maybe Japanese round about blame it on self while telling them it’s out of line and then mentioning the changing colors of the fields as we take the first timid steps into summer, kind of thing 🙂

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