So you know how I have a second job as a translator, right? I’ve been working as a translator since the age of 14. I have translated for all kinds of organizations and private individuals in a variety of countries. I have translated for Iranians who were secretly buying Ukrainian weapons technology, petroleum companies, artists hoping to promote their work overseas, fellow scholars, video game manufacturers, philosophers, and PR agencies.
The way you get translation orders is as follows: a company (or a governmental entity) makes it known that a translation order is available and a competition is open for translators who want to take part. A translator is given a small portion of text to translate (for free), and the person who did the best translation gets the contract. The process is very straightforward – you send an email expressing interest in the contract, get a file to translate, send it back, get the response. That’s all there is to it.
Today I discovered that the EU is looking for translators in my language pair. As usual, I tried to express interest in working for them (which, I repeat, is always a very simple process) and then I discovered that doing so is more complex and requires more paperwork than applying to grad school, for a green card, or a grant.
There is an elaborate mile-long form you fill out online. Then you print out page 1 of that form and use it as a cover page to your 32-page application form that has to be filled out on paper and submitted in two copies mailed in two different envelopes. The application form should be accompanied by a portfolio printed out on separate, very elaborate and long forms. The questions you are required to answer are extraordinarily condescending and intrusive. The list of documents you need to submit includes a written statement from your banker testifying to you being financially responsible and your bank statements for the past two years. You also are required to describe all of the translations you did in the past two years and state what you were paid for each. Just think about it for a second: they will be the ones to pay you (supposedly), but you are the one who has to disclose your financial history.
Mind you: this is not a job application for an actual job. (I don’t even want to think about what that would entail.) This is simply a way for you to communicate that you are interested in passing a translation test to be put on a list where you one day might be considered for a small, temporary contract, that’s all. This is not a life-changing career option by anybody’s standards.
Now think about it: who will be able to dedicate at least a week of their life to creating this byzantine portfolio, filling out forms, and finding supporting documentation? Will a good translator who has several orders going on be able to sacrifice the time for a vague hope of nothing in particular? Obviously not.
The system is set specifically to weed out productive, talented, high-demand workers and privilege lazy, stupid layabouts with nothing better to do than to fill out forms. And then we are wondering why the EU is in such deep shit right now???
14 thoughts on “The EU Is Doomed”
There is an elaborate mile-long form you fill out online.
Every large company ever.
You also are required to describe all of the translations you did in the past two years and state what you were paid for each. Just think about it for a second: they will be the ones to pay you (supposedly), but you are the one who has to disclose your financial history.
Sounds like every large company ever. But with every job you’ve had listed in their computer system regardless of whether it’s relevant.
The list of documents you need to submit includes a written statement from your banker testifying to you being financially responsible and your bank statements for the past two years.
Do you have any idea how many companies want permission to pull your credit history, for any job? This is just a more documented and time consuming method of the same.
Is the EU that much in demand as an employer of translators? Or as an employer? The process sounds like applying for a government job but without the printing out of multiple documents. People go through similar things to apply for government jobs but they put up with it because 1)they have a clear payment range and 2)benefits.
Adding: I can’t imagine the combination of someone desperate enough to go through this pre-application process and solvent and organized enough to get a written letter from a banker.
“Adding: I can’t imagine the combination of someone desperate enough to go through this pre-application process and solvent and organized enough to get a written letter from a banker.”
– Exactly! If one is starving and desperate, OK then. But in any other case, I don’t see the point.
“Sounds like every large company ever. But with every job you’ve had listed in their computer system regardless of whether it’s relevant.”
– I’m right now finishing an enormous translation order for a huge multinational corporation, and they never asked for anything of the kind.
“Do you have any idea how many companies want permission to pull your credit history, for any job?”
– But that’s the thing, this isn’t a job. This isn’t even a promise of a job. It’s a way to get on a list to be considered for some future contract, and a small temporary one, too.
“People go through similar things to apply for government jobs but they put up with it because 1)they have a clear payment range and 2)benefits.”
– And that’s my point exactly. You don’t go through all of this trouble just to get on a list of those who might get tested one day.
Technocrats in action. Their one and only response to any situation is to create a bunch of paperwork that, course, doesn’t address the real problem.
There is a problem in EU translation (esp legal translation where anonymous hacks have screwed up royally in Poland producing unenforceable gibberish).
A normal human being’s reaction is to do things like spot checks and eliminate anonymity etc. The technocrat’s solution is to create a lot of invasive bureaucracy.
Translator training is, in many countries, not very good. So quality control is important but technocrats don’t understand anything but raising the paperwork bar….
I honestly don’t see why anybody would need more than a CV and a small test translation to select a translator. Of course, even a test is tricky sometimes. I’ve been discussing a translation of a novel from Ukrainian. They said they wanted a test but the problem is that there isn’t anybody who’d be able to evaluate the results. This is a very literary text and the only person who can translate it is an actual writer, and a pretty powerful one. And the person who will evaluate the translation will have to be such a writer, as well.
“A translator is given a small portion of text to translate (for free), and the person who did the best translation gets the contract”
I’ve heard of a trick in Poland where a book is translated by giving a chapter or so to every applicant, telling them all that someone else was hired and then assembling and publishing the results.
That’s one reason I never work on spec.
“I’ve heard of a trick in Poland where a book is translated by giving a chapter or so to every applicant, telling them all that someone else was hired and then assembling and publishing the results.”
– This is why I never take on more than a paragraph to translate as a test. There have been people who asked for enormous portions to be translated as a test but it’s precisely as you say: to get a free ride.
Insane. But not surprising to me. Similar people-hating, mind-bogglingly inefficient forms of bureaucracy exists in EU member countries like Italy and Spain, and for some incomprehensible reason the EU seems to follow their example instead of trying to do better. I once submitted an application for an EU grant, and I had to call the specific “hotline for problems with EU grants” of my University about 5 times to figure out how to interpret instructions on the website, and I am really not someone who asks for help quickly. The website was designed as badly as a typical Italian public transport webpage, so very badly, full of links that lead nowhere, and instructions that contradict themselves. And the instruction manual for how to do the application was probably a 100 pages. It is very depressing to think how many hours researchers in Europe collectively lose with those things, instead of doing their actual jobs. And it is very depressing that they the EU apparently loses good translators too, so that their official documents will even be less comprehensible than they already are due to bad translations. It sometimes appears they want to be as obscure in all aspects as possible.
Yes, you are absolutely right, this did feel very Spanish (and not in a good way to me). Any group always tends towards the lowest common denominator unfortunately. And in terms of bureaucracy, Spain is just that.
“this did feel very Spanish (and not in a good way to me). Any group always tends towards the lowest common denominator unfortunately. And in terms of bureaucracy, Spain is just that.”
Víctor Lapuente Giné, a Spanish political scientist and professor at the University of Gothenburg’s Quality of Government Institute, wrote an article in El País entitled, “¿Por qué hay tanta corrupción en España?” in which he discusses the failure of bureaucracy due to a system of patronage (not unlike Quebec in the fifties) while dismissing the “Spain is too culturally deficient to have a functioning democracy” rhetoric of the Germans. If you read Der Spiegel, you’d think that Spain was solely populated by ‘Chorizos’.
On translations, I gather that you’ve been reading “Capital in the Twenty First Century” by Thomas Piketty. Your old friend at the NYT, Ross Douthat wrote an opinion piece on the book entitled, “Marx Rises Again” in which he reaches his conclusions on the basis that the title of the book is an allusion to “Das Capital.”
“Piketty himself is a social democrat who abjures the Marxist label. But as his title suggests, he is out to rehabilitate and recast one of Marx’s key ideas: that so-called “free markets,” by their nature, tend to enrich the owners of capital at the expense of people who own less of it.”
This is the Reductio ad Karl Marx argument that Conservatives like. Invoke the magic word and that’s the end of the discussion! Unfortunately Piketty had a discussion with his translator as to whether the title should be translated as “wealth” since that seemed closer to the concept that he was discussing. If it had been “Wealth in the 21th Century” would it have passed muster with Douthat because it was obviously an allusion to the “Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith?
Hah. This is the first article by Douthat that I’m seeing that I don’t completely abhor. I mean, he’s still an idiot and his conclusion is pathetic, as always. But the central claim – which is that while everybody’s got their smartphones, TVs and refrigerators it’s silly to expect them to care how much wealth the oligarchs accumulate – is undeniably true. Pickety is, of course, working within the Marxist tradition. Everybody with anything of value to say is working within it simply because there is no other alternative. The title is absolutely brilliant.
As for Spain, I have too much to say on the subject to address it here. I’m writing a book about the whole thing. The crisis in Spain is economic, political, cultural, intellectual, historical – it’s happening on every level. Right now the very existence of Spain is in question and the stupid Partido Popular isn’t even trying to do anything! Idiots!
Clarissa, you’re story is precious. In fact, it’s a wonderful plot line for a very good short story. That said, is this what happens when office holders mistake bureaucracy for a goal instead of a means to an end?
Exactly. Paper-pushing becomes an end in itself. This is just sad.