Undoubtedly the funniest reason to refuse work I ever saw

Well the project to translate the untranslated passage of Chrysostom’s Adversus Judaeos has collapsed; and for such a curious reason!  The translator who offered himself turns out to be politically correct.  My experiences with Lebanese translators who expect to be paid for writing gibberish “translations” has led me, invariably, to ask to see a sample page or two first, and to explain why I ask.   The translator himself is not Lebanese, of course.  I received this delicious epistle in reply:

After serious consideration concerning your conditions I feel in the need to decline your offer. I have too much respect for people coming from any other country and from any background (religious included) to accept an offer from somebody commenting about “awkward experiences with people in Lebanon offering translations”. I find this regional specification rather politically incorrect. Saying that you have experienced problems with other scholars is enough to justify your conditions, without reference to their place of origin.

Can any of us imagine writing to someone who is offering money and lecturing him on how to write a private email?  But best to know now.

I’ll seek out another translator, then. 


11 thoughts on “Undoubtedly the funniest reason to refuse work I ever saw

  1. Such a shame, and such an overly dramatic reaction. Have you had many problems with Lebanese translators then? And only from that country?

  2. I’m with him Roger. I’m astonished that you don’t see why he’d take offence. (“I’d like cash in advance: I’ve had one too many drunken Englishmen rip me off.”) I’m even more astonished that you think a demand of professional courtesy (the guy’s a scholar, not a shoeshine) is lecturing you on how to write an email. And if there is an endemic problem with Lebanese translators, all the more reason to word emails carefully.

  3. While he might be a bit thin-skinned, I can’t really see why you mentioned your previous problems with Lebanese translators in the first place. It is completely reasonable to request sample pages from a potential translator.

  4. Andy: unfortunately people advertising translation services from Lebanon are a hazard awaiting all who commission translations from Arabic into English. They will keep approaching you, and they expect to be paid but cannot do the job properly, or indeed at all. Unless you insist of samples, you will find yourself out of pocket but no further forward. This put me in some very awkward positions a while back.

    Nick: Well, I don’t quite see why someone ripped off by drunken Englishmen should not say so! Although it would be rude to say it to an obviously sober and decent Englishman; but I was not writing to a Lebanese. But how would you feel if I told you that you mustn’t criticise English drunks to Greeks? You don’t feel any hesitation in saying this to me, do you? NB: Nor should you, (a) because I’m pretty tolerant and (b)because we all know that this problem is all too true. Anyway… when did we vote that we mustn’t mention Lebanon? Maybe I missed that.

    Endre: Some scholars are indeed very thin-skinned, and I try not to cause them unnecessary discomfort, and so I try to explain just why I make certain conditions. You and I know that asking for a sample from someone whose work is unknown to us is not unreasonable. Yet this very morning I’ve had a scholar I’ve not worked with before object to it! (And I know that at least one published author is more than capable of producing gibberish; so I am very much in a hole now). My object in mentioning this bad experience, of course, is to be courteous; to make clear that it isn’t personal to him, and that people like myself get all sorts.

    In a free society people can say what they like. In an unfree society there is the “chill” on discussion caused by fear of denunciation for “incorrect attitudes”.

    The scam of political correctness is to create an ever-lengthening list of things that cannot be said or thought, enforced by social intimidation, backed up by discriminatory laws and special “star chamber” type courts, and promoted without regard for democracy or the constitution. That’s a serious evil of our day, which urgently needs remedy.

    But my point in this was not to attack PC, but to highlight the extraordinary level of intolerance involved in telling someone who or what he cannot mention (not criticise; not even mention).

  5. I find nothing offensive in your statement.I am an African.If am into a business with a white guy and he is looking at me with distrust becos he has been swindled or duped by so many Africans in the past,there is no need for me to call him a racist rather it is left for me to prove to him that Africans are not swindlers or dupes and that he was only unlucky to have come across some men with bad morals(within every race/tribe we have men with bad morals).And the only way I can do this is by being faithful and trustworthy to him in our dealings together.Thats the only way I can change the white guy’s perception about Africans.

    Your translator i think should have put things in their context,understood the position you are in and carry on with the deal.For him to abandon the deal makes me even suspicious of him.peace

  6. Thanks for your comment, Chaka. I agree with you. The answer to bad reputation is good work. I recall the days when “made in Taiwan” meant “cheap and nasty.” It doesn’t now; and not because of censorship of criticism, but because they did good work.

    Likewise if a bar owner in Corfu insists I pay in advance because he’s been swindled by English drunks, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. If we object to English people acquiring such a reputation, we should do something about those who deserve it. To censor criticism means only that we endorse those causing the problem.

    Like yourself, I wondered whether the reply was a pretext. But of course I don’t mind if people don’t do work for me; that’s their right.

    And in fact the Lebanese guys were probably not on the fiddle. I think that it is just really hard to translate adequately from your own language into another one.

  7. From Mr. Pearse’s perspective
    1. has he the experience with Lebanese translators? YES.
    2. has he the experience with non-Lebanese translators? YES.
    3. has the experience with Lebanese translators been mostly negative? YES.
    5. has the experience with non-Lebanese translators been mostly negative? NO.

    So… What is the problem? The problem is that we rewarding sub-mediocrity. Please. My Christ never had a problem calling a white washed tomb, a white washed tomb to their faces.

    You are killing yourselves and don’t even see it.

  8. Atilla, this (what you have wrote) does not sound Christ-like at all, and I don’t think Christ will be pleased, “having read your post”, being called “yours”.

    About the case that Roger has told us, I can’t comment, because I haven’t read Roger’s email to the Lebanese guy, and I do not have the full picture.

  9. Roger: I missed that the guy wasn’t Lebanese, which means the guy was taking umbrage at another’s potential offence. That changes things somewhat, though not overwhelmingly.

    Your private email is not Hyde Park, but it is a commercial transaction, and business deals can fall through because people misread (or read) your tone a certain way. It’s not the chilling effect of political correctness that dictates what you say when requesting a business arrangement, but it is common business sense. From the same school of thought that gave us “the customer is always right”. … what goes for business deals in your day job goes in this circumstance too.

    Common sense dictated that you explain why you request samples (and your commercial partners are fully entitled to reject that request). Common sense also dictates that you phrase that request in a circumspect way (because it does challenge the professionalism of the translator), and the naming of specific countries is not being circumspect. It would have gotten my back up too.

  10. (I’ve edited the latest comments a little to avoid any fist-fights – hope no-one minds).

    Nick, you’re certainly right that one must be circumspect in these cases.

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