Posts Tagged ‘Respect’

Peanut Depot - Morris Avenue by Alby HeadrickYes, I am still alive. I had a record-shattering number of clients in June, plus I had a deadline for the translation of a novel and, on top of that, I couldn’t ignore the World Cup, could I?

[Note to self: plan for the unforseen, just in case it happens.]

It’s been an embarrassing absence, I know.  Anyway, I assume everyone could still fall asleep at night, so it’s all good, I hope.

So, without further ado, let’s resume talking about translation. Let’s talk about peanuts. Today I would like to briefly examine one of the many “job offers” that I find in my inbox as often as those messages urging me to buy Canadian Viagra.

I received it a while ago, to be fair, but I have been meaning to talk about it for a long time.


I’m looking for a professional English to Italian translator to provide translations/localizations for several projects we have coming up.

Fantastic! I am so the man they describe, and they have several projects, coming up. Maybe it’s my chance to get a lucrative client.

We are an old business, but more recently our clients have started to request translation projects. These projects are quite large for us and are seeking the services of a translator that can help us with these and future projects.

Hmm, wait. So, basically, the guy does NOT run a translation business (it’s a copywriting service, I would go on to find out with a Google search), but instead of referring his clients to experienced translators, he thought he could act as a middle-man and get a slice of the pie in a transaction where he is actually completely useless.

These websites are tourist and hospitality websites (currently) and marketing documents. It’s important that translations are 100% culturally accurate and read in perfect Italian.

No shit! Let me write that down, I think he might be onto something here! All sarcasm aside, this couple of lines show that the guy either has only a very superficial understanding of what translation is, or he’s used to working with very unskilled translators for whom those criteria are not a given. Possibly both, i.e. the guy doesn’t understand the process behind a translation, and as a result of his incompetence he’s failed to get good translators on board, and he’s used to working with unskilled translators.

Please let me know if you are interested in this first project for approximately US$0.015 per source word of approximately 127,250 words.

Wait. That’s a lot of words. Roughly, I’d say that might take 200 hours for the average translator. Except that the rate is one tenth of what I usually charge. The total would be US$1908 (about € 1500), for a rough estimate of US$ 9.50 (or € 7.50) an hour, gross, of course. That’s just about what a friend of mine gets, working in a small-town Blockbuster in Italy. That’s about what my mother earns as un underpaid nanny. That’s half of what a cleaning lady would accept where I live, in Australia.  Why the hell – one might be pushed to wonder – did I even bother studying to try and master four languages and the process of translation?

It’s also worth seeing the link between this paragraph and the previous one. If an agency offers such ridiculous rates, it’s not surprising that only bad, inexperienced or desperate translators accept the job. And all three categories are unlikely to produce a quality translation. The inexperienced one might get there, one day, but prostitution is no shortcut, for sure.

The budget is limited on this first project but we are happy to put it in writing that future projects will be paid at a higher agreed rate. The second project is approximately 110,000 words and the price per word will be higher for this. Other range projects from 10,000 – 150,000 words and will be higher price per word.

Oh! Future projects will be paid at a higher agreed rate, he says. He does not suggest one, though, and while he’s happy to put that in writing. I might by terminally suspicious, here, but I wonder if he’d be happy to put in writing that there will be other projects.

But that is not even the main point here. Once again, we have to stress this pretty unique situation where the client demands the right to dictate the rate to the translator. Think about, there are not many cases where the client purchasing a service dictates its price to the service provider. Try and jump on a train offering to pay for a tenth of the ticket, not a penny more. See if you get far. Or try to have your house painted by the guy asking a fifth of what all the other painters are asking. I bet  it’s not going to look pretty.

I do hope we can forge a relationship together. I look forward to hearing from you and answering all of your questions.

I bet he does! Who wouldn’t want to forge a relationship with someone accepting a fifth or a tenth of what they should be earning for their work?

Finally,  even though I admit that I replied to this e-mail with a rare cocktail of smugness and sourness,  I did take the guy up on his looking forward to answer all my questions. I asked him a few. Needless to say, he never did reply.

PHOTO: Peanut Depot – Morris Avenue, by Alby Headrick

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As you know, this blog proudly endorses the No Peanuts! for Translators movement. We often complain – with good reason – about being exploited by translation agencies, clients, and websites that claim to provide a great service to translators while they actually further and streamline the exploitation process. Sadly, though, the worst problem, the one which is by far the most damaging to our profession, comes from fellow translators. Some of them might just work for peanuts. Others simply have no sense of ethics whatsoever. I’d like to share some excerpts from my correspondence with M.N. (how kind am I?) of the S.L.C. (again…)

Said Mr. N. needed a very short text (342 words) translated from English to Italian, and subcontracted the job to me.

On the 13th of October, I sent my translation, and my invoice, for AUD 85.50. The guy didn’t even bother replying with a ‘thank you’, or anything.

On the 4th of November, I still had not received the money, so I wrote an e-mail to him:

Hi M,

I was wondering when you were expecting to be able to make payment for the XXXXXXX translation. Cheers


He replied with

We expect payment next week. I can assure you we do not run away.

Fair enough. Except that, on the 7th of January, I realised that the guy still hadn’t paid me. So, remembering the Code of Ethics requiring me to be polite and courteous and diplomatic, I wrote another e-mail:

Hello M,

I just noticed that I still haven’t received payment for the XXXXXXX translation. It’s been three months since I did it and two since your reassurance attached below. Please make payment as soon as possible.



He got back to me with a real professional message:

Was not paid as yet. Closed for Xmas. I understand next week

Then, miracle of miracles, on the 19th of January, I noticed the deposit on my account, but it was only $68.00. I took a deep breath, counted to ten, repeated to myself that  “translators shall try to resolve any disputes with their colleagues in a cooperative, constructive, and professional manner”, then composed another message:

Hello M,

I finally received your payment for the XXXXXXX translation. The only problem is that I sent you an invoice for $85.50 (please find it attached again) and I only received $68 on my account. Please deposit another $17.50.


Giuseppe M Brescia

Now, it was 17 dollars. It’s half what I charge for a birth certificate. I don’t care. But it’s the principle that makes my blood boil. Especially when my server informed me that M.N. had read the e-mail, but did not reply. I half forgot about it; luckily, I have a life. But then, on the 10th of February, I thought about him again, and sent him yet another e-mail:


Twenty days ago – more than three months after I completed a job for you – I sent you this message:


I have not even received an acknowledgment of receipt. You do realise that even if it is only $17.50, it’s over 20% of
my fee. We did not mention such a discount, I am afraid.

It would be appreciated if you could respect the ethics of our profession and pay me the agreed fee.


Giuseppe Manuel Brescia

To which, finally, he replied with this:

Every now and then we have to compete and reduce prices. This was one of those occassions [sic]. Hope you understand.

Too much, dear M.N. Too much.I really struggled, but I managed to come off polite, although please don’t ask me to be nice.

No, M. I do not understand. And I do not appreciate being taken advantage of.

We agreed on a fee. I invoiced you according to that fee. You have to pay me for what I invoiced you. Then, of course, you are totally free to give the translation to the client at the cost you want. You can give it to them for free, but you still have to pay me. So, I am sorry to say your excuse is irrelevant.

Let me refresh the sequence of events:

You never mentioned this supposed reduction of price to me. You kept pushing the date of the payment and took three months to pay me, during which you didn’t hint to this supposed reduction of price. Finally, after three months, you paid me 20% less than what I was due and even then didn’t bother informing me of that, or of the reason why. Then I sent you two e-mails and twenty days later you still hadn’t made payment, replied to said e-mails, or even acknowledged their receipt. Then I finally send you this last e-mail and you come up with this nonsense.

I am asking you one last time, as it is common courtesy to resolve disputes between us, and in a civilised manner:

do you intend to honour your commitment and pay me my full fee or not?

Should you not answer this, I will consider it a negative answer and take the appropriate steps to defend my interest and the integrity and dignity of our profession.


Giuseppe M Brescia

Now, obviously, he did not reply, and neither did I take any step, because it’s not worth the time and effort to get $17.50. And this is exactly the reason why this guy acts like he acts. I don’t think all this needs many comments. People like M.N. are, in my opinion, even worse than dishonest agencies and clients, because this guy is a NAATI-accredited professional translator, like me. He is exploiting and disrespecting a colleague (although I’m probably neither the first nor the last), all for the hefty sum of AUD17.50. I know that likening him to a kapo sounds a tad harsh, but personally I bet that this is the kind of person who would have become one. Luckily, in this day, age and place, it’s just about peanuts.

Yet, how can we expect people to respect translators if they don’t even respect each other and, therefore, themselves?

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