Riflessioni di una traduttrice – Part 2

Settimana scorsa abbiamo introdotto Kira, traduttrice tra inglese-italiano impiegata in una grande azienda di traduzione del Regno Unito. Nel suo post ci ha dato un brillante scorcio della sua vita d’ufficio: le peculiarità dei traduttori (nomi, email e cartelle sulla scrivania…), la noia di una giornata senza lavoro, l’arduo compito di un project manager, il labile confine tra legge di mercato e sfruttamento. Oggi la ritroviamo dove l’avevamo lasciata, e cioè seduta a una scrivania in un rumoroso open-space, il giorno di San Valentino…



Or: That day when nothing really happened but I was in the office anyway.

– Part 2/2

My slow, slow day keeps slowly rolling onto the moment when I’m recruiting interpreters for a job in London and I’m not trained to do negotiations and the guy I’m writing to wants more money than agreed. I cautiously pose the question to my tutor. He sends me to talk to the senior PM (Project Manager), who replies that we can’t go any higher and that my tutor should deal with it anyway, because I’m not trained. My tutor quickly points out that he won’t be in tomorrow and that his colleague (a.k.a. my boss) should deal with it. So I forward the email to her. I don’t know it yet at this point, but she will reply in the morning telling me that the interpreter was probably trying to get more money (no shit?) and to just enter a negotiation that is ultimately not a negotiation because I’ll just say no. A negotiation that I’m technically not supposed to do, due to the lack of training.

Vaguely, in the back of my mind, I wonder if the senior PM has the faintest idea of how much effort her collaborators are really putting into the whole interpreters’ recruitment.

And then, out of the blue, the girls in the PM department start exchanging hairspray. It’s currently really hard to remain serious.

And OH MY GOD there is a translator called Samantha Winchester. I just had a Supernatural fangirl heart attack. I go check her CV out, of course, because deep inside I’m still a baby-nerd at heart, in spite of my oh-so-aggressive lipstick and high heels. From there on, I keep checking random CVs from the database because it’s a good way to kill the time and still look like I’m somehow busy. I mean, I don’t know why I’m worrying that much, the funny French intern sitting at the next table is reading The Uncanny X-Men n. 34 without as much as an ounce of shame. Must be a really a dead day for business, today – every single face in the office is sort of looking bored right now.

My exploration into the realm of our translator’s database teaches me a series of valuable lessons. If you speak both Urdu and Punjabi you can have a CV with no dates that only says that you’ve attended high school and that you like knitting, and that’s enough to get you into the system of the first translation company in Wales. All the other languages still need an unfair amount of qualifications and 5 years’ experience, though. Sigh.

Oh, even better. If you speak Krio, Yoruba and Nigerian pidgin, you don’t even need a CV.

Suddenly, I get a translation request. I dive into it headfirst, finally relieved of all the guilt of spending an entire day staring aimlessly at my monitor. As I try to concentrate on my legal contract to be translated into Italian, I realize that the conversation we had the other day within the interns’ gang – about the fact that this office is the most translator-unfriendly space I have ever seen – is sadly true. An open space shared by a constantly-on-the-phone sales team, a forever-listening-to-crappy-pop-music PM team and the poor I’m-trying-to-be-creative-right-now-and-it’s-really-hard bastards from marketing, content writing and translation, is an obviously bad idea. So bad that you’d think some of those business geniuses behind managerial desks would have flagged it up at a certain point. Think again. It’s impossible to focus on a translation in here. And while I sweat on my legalese and I try to tune out the sales’ manager pitching loudly behind my back, I realise he’s not even selling right now. He just went from talking very loudly with a client on the phone, to talking very loudly with his other colleague about the plans he has for St. Valentine’s tonight. Oh. Sure. Why don’t you also put up a stroboscopic ball and have a crack at disco dancing, while I try to do my job?

When on earth did I become so sassy? A month ago, I was a fragile flower stepping out in the wide world for the first time (what in the name of all that is holy was I reading a month ago to have induced the birth of such sugar-frosted imagination? My internal Jane Eyre is cringing really hard at the flower bit) and now I am already disenchanted by whole circus. They should be more careful in dealing with us interns. We’re all gonna end up being market sharks and put them out of a job.

And that would be one hell of a showdown, because if taken seriously, this job is about one of the most powerful, fundamental necessities man has. The need to express himself. The need to reach out to others. And yeah, translation is a messy, frantic universe where everything is upside down, where those that actually make money are the ones that don’t do the translation. But it’s still a beautiful, amazing, mysterious job. You never really know what will happen tomorrow – what job you might be given. Who knows, maybe it will be the medical report that will save the lives of thousands of children in Mali. It will stay your private little secret, because this is the job of non-disclosure agreements. Maybe it will be the heart-breaking, tear-inducing last letter from a dying mother to her son – in Latin. You will never know why she decided to write it in Latin, or why he decided not to proceed with getting it translated. You translate it anyway, just because you want to know, and it’s sad and beautiful, and you discuss at length with your friend in the sales team whether you should send him the translated text anyway, because he should know.

It’s a job where you never get to interact much with other people, and yet it’s the most human job ever – you get to take small tiny peeks into other people’s daily routines all the time. And in doing so you submerge yourselves into cultures and traditions and rituals and passions and love and hate and life. Marriage certificates and death certificates and birth certificates. Science and medicine and technology. Faith. Literature, poetry, history. In translation, it’s all in your hands. All there, ready for you to breathe it in and make it yours and give it back as a gift. As a door for someone less fortunate, someone who cannot access a different language – a different culture – as easily as you can. It’s a glorious, captivating job that can drag you down for hours and hours on an endless spin of “I just need to get to the next line and then I’ll take a break” and then throw you up in the hype of revision, when everything gets tidy and clean and accurate and you feel so much in control it’s almost a physical pleasure.

In those moments, the noisy colleagues, the jellyfish, the incoming maybe-date, they all disappear in one great swoop of ecstasy.

And then it’s 5:30 and it’s time for you to put away your notebook, grab your bike and go live that life you’ve been adoring all day.


Grazie ancora a Kira per le sue considerazioni e il tempo dedicato a questa pagina di diario. Con un po’ di fortuna (e impegni permettendo), potremmo trasformare questa collaborazione in una rubrica mensile. Soprattutto ora che è passata al lato oscuro della traduzione: il Project Managing… 

Stay tuned!


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