A slogan for the Ministry

The phone rings and my fave agency, Fair Translations, is on the line:

"Can you translate this slogan for us? Like, right now? The Ministry for Public Befuddlement has launched a new website and wrote this short slogan in Hebrew. It looked so simple… but I guess it isn't… so can you translate it please?... Uh, we're not charging the Ministry for it, so you realize we can't pay much…"

Why on earth is the agency not charging the Ministry – which must be pretty rich, considering we are constantly befuddled by it and pay a nifty monthly fee for this privilege – for the English slogan? Did the company that built the website and the advertising agency that came up with the Hebrew slogan do the work for the Ministry for free?

As it happens, Ms. Fair caught me in-between jobs, my head was clear, and I came up with a few slogans within minutes. I have no idea which one the Befuddlement guys will choose – probably the driest, most uninteresting one… I still have no idea how much I'll be paid for this job. Whatever. I've had a good working relationship with this agency for several years now, and I'd much rather help them than leave them in the lurch.

As for the Ministry – next time I need anything from them, maybe I can call in the favor? Tell them they owe me one?...


Update and anticlimax:

Ms. Fair called back, confused:
That's not what she meant… it's not the slogan that needed translation… what she actually meant was the title of the web page… or the name of the service being offered… or…
I referred her to today's Jerusalem Post, whose correspondent had already translated the name of the service in question quite adequately.

But who knows – maybe the Ministry will like my slogan and use it anyway some day...


What to read in a hospital waiting room

A person going in for one-day hospitalization probably doesn't need to take with any reading material. Not so the relative or close friend accompanying the patient.
So while my husband was packing his assorted test results, doctor's referral and such papers, I packed half a dozen Sudokus, a company profile in need of re-writing, the December issue of The Marker, earphones for my iPod Shuffle & Palm, and a Grisham – just in case.
I even considered bringing along my cute Eee, but decided against it, for reasons of extra weight and the concentration it requires. Must say, though, it would at least have kept my lap warm in that freezing waiting room. (Designed probably to freeze any stray swine-flu bugs in mid-flight.)

Concentration is exactly what one has difficulty with when hanging around a hospital waiting room, even when the surgery is – as was my husband's case – more limb-threatening than life-threatening. The crowd of family & friends tends to cluster around the thin, large monitors displaying the names of the patients and their whereabouts in the system.

Compared to the cramped, dingy, windowless, underground family waiting room at Ichilov hospital, the spanking-new Assuta Ramat HaHayal lounge is a five-star hotel. Airy and spacious, emphatically modern in design, with reasonably comfortable seats, some arranged in rows, others in clusters around low tables. At each end of the rectangular hall is a desk with a few hospital clerks, some more helpful than others. And at one end there are the coffee and soft-drink spouting machines. No snack dispenser, as far as I recall. If it had one, it must have not stocked any of my fave snacks, which is why it did not leave its mark, neither on my memory nor on my waistline.

Though the facility gives the distinct impression of not being completed yet, it does have some basic amenities for visitors called in Hebrew "melavim", i.e. those who come with the patients and then hang anxiously around. There's an Arcafe coffee shop, a Steimatzky book store, and a Metuka confectionary (sorry, they don't have an English site). So if you haven't brought a sandwich from home, you won't starve. Actually, if you just step out onto HaBarzel street, your options are nearly endless. Cafes, restaurants, and quite a few interesting-looking shops. In the days preceding the surgery, I saw myself, in my mind's eye, exploring them all. But I didn't – I stayed with the rest of the pack, close to the monitors.

I somehow managed one Sudoku without making a mess of it. The Marker proved to be too depressing: article after article telling me how the banks and investment houses were taking a huge chunk out of my investments and savings.
The company profile made no sense. (Surprise, surprise.)
That left Grisham.

I think I started reading John Grisham in the mid nineties, with The Firm, The Client, The Rainmaker, and A Time to Kill – each gripping and good in its own way. Then I came across a few that left a bad taste in my mouth, for various reasons. The Partner, for example, contains some distasteful, ugly torture scenes: the protagonist undergoes dreadful torture to protect his ill-gained money. Something about the plot is very dry and technical. Also, the entire story hinges on the absolute, total trust the protagonist has in his lover. I won't go into details to avoid a spoiler.
The Testament left me cold. The description of greedy heirs was as good as the description of greed in most of Grisham's novels. The quest through the wetlands of Brazil was interesting. What is wishy-washy is the Rachel Lane bit – character, motive, behavior… a missionary living with an indigenous tribe and carrying out "God's work." Not that such people don't exist. But it was unconvincing, unsatisfying.

The Brethren were also distasteful; the convoluted plot did not make up for that. And then, in December 2001, I read A Painted House, which is a complete departure from his white-collar crime novels. This Grisham story, with its portrayal of poor farmers in Arkansas, feels like it's trying hard to be Steinbeck, but it ain't. On page 150 the plot finally thickens and the story begins to gather momentum. I think 150 pages of exposition is way, way too much. Think of what other writers (Kazuo Ishiguro and Emile Ajar, to name but two) have accomplished in 150 pages. There's a conflict, a bad guy, a bit of a mystery… but it's neither here nor there. It's not The Grapes of Wrath and it's not a real thriller.
The Summons (read in February 2003) was – guess what - all about greed, and the two protagonists – the brothers – were unappealing, each in his own way, so that I didn’t really care who gets the money. The writing is sloppy and therefore annoying. Grisham doesn’t seem to have a clear idea who his protagonists are. Choice of words and descriptions of actions are often haphazard, no good reason for including or excluding them, they don’t serve any purpose. The dead judge is the strongest character in the book, which may be intentional, or perhaps stems from the fact that he is based on a real person that was very clear to Grisham. Anyway, the book was definitely not one of his best and not very memorable. [The only reason I could write the above paragraph is because I keep a journal of my reading.]

After these disappointments, I took a break from Grisham and skipped a few of his novels. Until I picked up The Broker.
Well, John Grisham redeemed himself!
Folks, it is a really good action-thriller, with not too much violence and dead bodies. If the book had been written by Ludlum, say, by page 30 there would have been a trail of mutilated bodies lying around. Also, if you don't care for the Italian language and descriptions of Italian cities, you may be tempted to skip a bit here & there. But it's good. Mind you, don't take the spy-related stuff too seriously. As Grisham says in the Author's Note at the end of the book, this is not his forte. I'm sure he did some research, but if you've watched enough spy or detective movies or TV series (how can you not?), you can imagine what a surveillance room or van looks like, and you can invent your own. The important thing is the chase, and the way the good guy outsmarts the bad guys; and the fact that the good guy is not as pure as the driven snow; in fact he was a greedy bastard. But he was caught, he does some penance, learns humility, and redeems himself – just like Grisham redeemed himself in my eyes. It was engrossing, and from a certain point downright unputdownable.

So how much of it did I actually read in the six hours of waiting in the hospital? Not a single page. I told you – you can't concentrate there. On anything. I got talking to two lovely women, one waiting for her daughter, the other for her husband. The latter, it turned out, had studied in the same elementary school (Hess) and high school (Eilon) as I did. We had a whale of a time reminiscing about teachers, their nicknames and their quirks. Really helped pass the time. As for the book -- I could read it anytime. Which I obviously did.

Whose translation is this, anyway?

On Friday, December 5th Haaretz (and possibly other papers) carried a 7x5 inch ad by Shalem Press, inviting the public to an event celebrating the launching of the first ever full Hebrew translation of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan. The ad contained the names of several VIPs and luminaries, and of course all relevant details of time and place. What it did not contain was the name of the translator.

Perplexed, I re-read the ad carefully. No, I had not overlooked it. The name of eminent translator Aharon Amir was glaringly missing.

In righteous indignation, and seeing myself as defending the honor of all mistreated translators, I wrote an email to Shalem Press, a division of Shalem Center, pointing out the omission.

I left the research, or at least basic Googling, to later. Which was when I found out that Aharon Amir (who died February 2008) passed away before completing the translation. Or at least, that was what one website said. Other websites make it sound as if Amir had translated the whole thing (from English,) whereas the editor, Menachem Lorberbaum, edited while comparing with the Latin version, and added a preface, notes and a glossary. Surely that was not the reason for omitting Amir's name?...

A letter (i.e. email) of reply arrived a few days later. Naomi Arbel, on behalf of the publishing house, thanked me for calling the omission to her attention. Said it was an oversight that occurred since there was no picture of the book jacket in the ad. (Strange excuse.) She continued to say that Shalem Press are always "very attentive" about having the translator's name on book jackets and in publicity material, and will continue to do so in the future.

Though the excuse sounded lame, I know that mistakes happen, and was pleased that the error would be fixed. Imagine my disappointment when this Friday, December 11, the exact same ad appeared again. No correction.

Now, I know it's a nuisance and probably costly to re-do the ad and insert another line. Though it could be done fairly easily, there is definitely enough space in the ad to make room for another short line of text. But no one bothered. Or maybe they tried and the paper said Sorry, too late. I don't know. It just seems so unfair. Such an important, huge, and probably difficult, book. Amir must have put so much work into it. See Shlomo Avineri's review, published in Haaretz, in Hebrew.

Maariv also published a review of the book, by one Mati Shmuelof who totally ignored the translator. No mention of his name or anything. If it weren't for a short comment at the very end mentioning the notes and Hebrew/English glossary, one could be led to think that he'd read the book in English or Latin. (Fat chance.)

Aharon Amir's list of translating credits is dazzling; surely he doesn't need me to defend his interests, his name? But that's not the point.

How many of you have read, or will ever read, this tome, unless you have to, as part of your studies? That, too, is totally beside the point.

The point is, that credit should be given to the translator. Period.

Would you translate this bank's slogan for free?

Once again, an Israeli bank demonstrates that it is unwilling to pay a dime to have its advertising – in this case its slogan – translated professionally.

One of my fave agencies called me and asked me to translate an ad for Bank Leumi, slated to be published in the J. Post. This type of job is always a rush job.
I said yes, because I happened to be in-between two other things and could afford to take time out for a 150-word ad.
However, I noticed that the ad ended with a slogan. I told the girl at the agency that I'd translate the ad, but not the slogan. Perhaps the big bank has already had its slogan translated into English (and Russian, and perhaps other languages), in which case it would be silly to re-invent the wheel. On the other hand, if inventing the wheel is called for, it costs money. I am a professional translator and copywriter, I don't create English versions of Hebrew slogans for free. That is, not anymore I don't.

The girl said other translators do it… why, only the other day someone translated a Bezeq ad for them, slogan and all, and didn't make a fuss about it…
I said, well I don't. On principle.
The client (the J. Post? Bank Leumi? Both?) said, that's the way we always do it.
I said, fine, but I don't. On principle.

I sent off the translated ad, minus slogan, to the agency, and apologized for causing them this headache. They now have to find some sucker who will, at a moment's notice, translate the slogan for peanuts. It might turn out good. It might turn out awful. Neither the Post nor Leumi seem to care.


To be fair, I must admit that in the past, in similar situations, I used to translate the slogan, with or without complaining about it being unfair. Why? Because I could. I suppose it was vanity: it was a challenge, and I got a kick out of being able to quickly think up good copy, natural-sounding English versions of Hebrew slogans. But slowly the realization dawned on me that I was giving away my talent for free. And to whom? Not to some poor, deserving non-profit association, but to the richest business corporations in the country. If I'm so talented, and save everyone involved lots of time and bother by coming up with a solution so fast, I should be paid more, not less, wouldn't you think?


Obviously, I am not the only one approached by the agencies, and I am not the only one who can do a good job. I think we translators and copywriters should show some solidarity. I think we should all stand up to the big corporations and refuse to work for them for nothing, or next-to-nothing. C'mon guys, show some backbone!

Would you let this bank manage your relationships?

Once again, an Israeli bank demonstrates that it's not a good idea to scrimp and save when having its huge expensive ads translated from Hebrew to English.

Today's (December 6th, 2009) J. Post carries, on page 5, a huge, yellow ad for Bank Hapoalim, covering nearly the entire page. You can see a snippet of it on the bank's Hebrew website. See it? Green grass, yellow sky, and a text about solar energy and loans for solar systems.
Great idea.
Forget the trivial fact that the English slogan uses superfluous capital letters:
Let the Sun Work for You. Forget other inaccuracies. I can live with those.
But then, after you've presumably been persuaded that this is a good reason to apply for credit or take out a loan, you read the following:

For further information, call your relationship managers, branches, or dial *whatever.

Relationship managers?

I couldn't figure out what they meant. Maybe this is a new term for "private banker", I mused, and clicked on the link provided.
The Hebrew page with the additional information said nothing about relationship managers; it says
לפרטים נוספים יש לפנות לסניפים, למרכזי עסקים או למוקד הייעודי בטלפון כך-וכך
i.e., for further details contact the branches, the business centers or the call center.
So I proceeded to the bank's unimpressive English language site, where the mystery was solved. The hapless translator must have gone to that page, where he/she came upon the following:
"Through our Customer Relationship Managers, our private banking clients benefit from yadda yadda yadda"

I'm quite sure the translator copied the phrase verbatim. Someone must have goofed at the proofreading stage, if there was one, which I doubt.

Once again, I wonder: why would an institution like a bank invest big shekels in an ad, only to make a fool of itself in the English version thereof?