Friday, February 28, 2014

(Small) Legal Culture

Culture is a word of many meanings.  To some, it means knowledge of literature and art.  With a small “c”, it implies the stated and unstated norms of behavior for any given group.  Recently, I had the pleasure of suing someone in Israeli small claims court.  I had taken someone to small claims court many years previously in the United States.  This experience was quite difference.  To clarify, having appeared in other court proceedings beforehand, I can attest that small claims court is unique and does not represent the general court atmosphere in Israel.

I will begin with a serious of random observations of our hour in court:
-             -  The judge was constantly giving orders to the clerk even during our “hearing.”
-             -  The judge immediately sent two cases to on-site mediators to reach an agreement.
-             -  The judge, when she did give us her attention, was not interested in our remarks, immediately sending us outside to reach a practical solution.
-             -  When we reentered the court room, she was out, in a meeting.  Another judge, much more serious, then entered to decide an urgent matter of custody.
-            -  Upon her return, she proceeded to resolve and provide instructions for the five cases in the various stages of settlement that were pending, including ours, while also giving instructions to the two mediators.
-            -   One of the cases involved an Arab young man who, during a race, has his car banged in by another driver.  The latter did not show up, which resulted in a heavy fine against the absent party.
-             -   The various parties wore jeans, disheveled shirts and sneakers, except for the lawyers outside who wore ties and white shirts.

This short slice of life demonstrates several aspects of Israel.  Israelis love to negotiate, treating law as merely another tool or, as they would say half-jokingly, the law is only a suggestion.  The judge as well as the involved parties ignored the absolute meaning of justice and sought only a reasonable compromise that leaves no party feeling completely defeated. By contrast, the failure to show up was severely chastised by the Court as a lack of respect of both the court and the parties.  Finally, the judge’s multitasking shows the wonderful Israeli way of trying to be efficient by solving many problems simultaneously.  As usual, I am not completely convinced that it is more efficient than handling one case at a time, but that is the local custom for all types of service.  By the way, as for our case, the store was ordered to repair the defective furniture with a date and time set, which is not exactly what we wanted, as well as damage award of ¼ of what we requested.   I suppose the entertainment value made up for the rest of it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Are we human or are we freelancers?

During a recent seminar on professional positioning, the participants had an interesting discussion  on the correctness of writing in a professional email that you are not available for work because you have to go to the birthday party of your four-year old child or something of that nature.  Does this open up communication and make you more accessible or is this completely unprofessional?  This issue would apply to almost all freelancers whose primary means of communication is email.

Before considering that question, the following social status facts should be considered.  At least in translation, the vast majority of freelance translators work from their home.  A clear majority are women.  A good percentage, but probably not a majority, is married with children.   This means that significant percentage of translators is busy with such household tasks such as laundry, cooking, and errands as well as translation during the day, not that anybody really cares.

Given that fact, household management tasks do affect deadlines.  As was stated by one participant in that workshop, it is clearly more professional to say “when I get back to my office” as compared to “when I get home” even if home is the office. So, freelances need to keep their professional life separate from their personal life. At the same time, there is a need to make an impression on Project Managers so that we become more than a faceless name in their books.  Discovering both you and the PM both have a child of the same age or name can in some cases lead to a dialogue that will lead to more referrals. 

The decision on whether to expose or ignore your personal life is both personal and cultural.  Some people, regardless of the culture around them, function with clear, distinguished domains.  It is often difficult to know whether the Project Manager thinks in this manner.  Cultural factors can be a determining factor.  Some cultures are more informal, such as Israel and Australia, while others are much more formal, such as Germany and England.  Also, the age of the parties is important.  For example, younger Americans tend to use their first names and be more informal in correspondence than the previous generation, where Mr. and Mrs. replaced the first name.

In response to the question in the title, I can quote that wonderful line by Oscar Wilde: everything in moderation, including moderation.  Think before you write, but you are allowed sometimes to share something besides your professional knowledge.  After all, we are both human and freelancers.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Passion for Words

As a teacher and a translator, I live in worlds that focus on words.  Yet, pedagogy and translation take radically different approaches.  I have just returned from the three-day Israeli Translators Association Conference in Herzliya.  The most striking impression taken from all the various encounters with fellow translators, whether through lectures, workshops or simple conversations, was the passion for language and purposeful meaning beyond the formalistic aspect. This dedication to communication was expressed in many ways.  Here is a very small sample of the products of such enthusiasm and dedication:

A reading in the Arabic original and Hebrew translation of a chapter of book from Mahmoud Darwish describing a Lebanese man making coffee that not only transmitted the meaning of the source words but the rhythm and sound of the process.  As the host said, you could smell the coffee being made.  See the following:,7340,L-4382946,00.html.

A lecture by Fabienne Bergmann and her husband Haim Shiran, who collaborated to bring into words the distant sights and sounds of the Jewish quarter in Morocco where he grew up.
A lecture by the translator who provided the documents that confirmed that Toyota was conspiring to hide safety issue explaining why she took the risk to share her words for the general good.

A seemingly business-only seminar on expertise positioning by the Polish translator and businesswoman Marta Stelmaszak, who showed that beyond the nuts and bolts of marketing is the serious desire to help the customer use words to succeed, in this case international businesses expanding into Poland.

Medical interpreters earnestly discussing the challenge and dire need to translate the content and culture of their customers so as to allow them to attain proper medical treatment.

A lecture on the translation of the Argentinean writer, Julio Cortázar, who invented words that anybody could understand.

A serious academic reading about the oral and written silence in Israel regarding the issues of the Holocaust and lost sons and daughters in Israeli wars, showing that even a lack of words express buried but existent thoughts.

Even in the driest of the literary fields, accounting, more than 50 people enthusiastically participated in a “quiz” compiled by Alan Clayman checking whether the translators knew the correct term because the correct term is important for everybody’s financial future.

There are countless other examples at the conference f this desire to express effectively ideas of one language into another, many of which I was unfortunately unable or too oversaturated to hear.  In any case, my heartfelt conclusion about the conference is that, like all good craftspeople, Israeli translators strive not only to earn a living, which is important, but also reach beyond the “good enough” and attain the beautiful of mix of beautiful and effective words.  Translators, like other artists, at their best make you say “wow!”

For another blog regarding the conference:

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Loving Mates

English is a practical language, but not ideal for people that like rules, such as non-native English learners.  One example is the masculine and feminine form of animals.  Distinct words describe the male and female of the species for barnyard and forest (hunted) creatures.  Examples include bull and cow, rooster and hen, ram and ewe, and buck and doe.  Please note that there is no pattern whatsoever in the manner the male/female pattern is formed.  As English teachers say about spelling, you just have to memorize it, what fun!

By contrast, Hebrew is ideal for those who like some sense of order.  Regarding the same issue, the Yosi Banai song, מרוב אהבה [merov ahava], meaning Because of Love, admirably shows the Hebrew manner of gender differentiation.  In this song, a male suffering from the inability to communicate with his loved one compares his poor communication skills to that of others, non-human, noting how each of them expresses its love.  The interesting part of the song, linguistically of course, is the choice of the standards of comparison:

ענן  / עננה  [onan] / onana] – Cloud – feminine form adding an [a];
זבוב  / זבובית  [zvuv] / zvuvit] – Fly – feminine form adding an [it];
פיל  /  פילה [pil / pila] – Elephant – feminine form adding an [a];
מלאך  /מלאכית  [malach / malachite] – Angel - feminine form adding an [it]
פסיק / נקודה [psik / neduda] – comma/period – well, 100% doesn’t exist in languages, right?

Any Hebrew speaker would instantly recognize the gender pair if s/he had never thought of flies or clouds for that way.  The forms follow an established rule for gendering that makes instant recognition easy.

Translating this song into English is almost impossible in terms of the sound aspect because the lyricist is forced to use the clumsy words such as male cloud and female cloud.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, a French translator could merely change the article from le to la to make that difference, but, while grammatically correct, it would lose the overall whimsical sound effect.

 If you are interested in hearing the song, here is a link:

In the meantime, like the tongue-tied lover in the song, I will shut up.