Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Place in the Sun

Festivals are very important for the life and identity of small towns. They provide exciting, around the clock life to quiet and staid villages for a few days, which is generally enough for most of the locals, and an important source of income for the area. More importantly, they create an identity for that place: X, home of the Y festival. It doesn’t make a difference how unusual the theme is. What counts is to have a fun event to attract outsiders and break the monotony of the summer. Some of my favorite ones are the Scandinavian Festival in Junction, California, where everybody turns into a Viking; the fire ant festival in Marshall, Texas, where virtue is made out of necessity; and the garlic festival in Gilroy, California, where everybody is welcome except for vampires, I suppose.

Karmiel, my home for the last almost 30 years, is a small town of some fifty thousand people.  It is a great place to raise a family but, alas, rather quiet after nine o’clock in the evening. Fortunately, for the last 30 years, for some three days in the summer, it is filled with several hundred thousand dancers and dance lovers enjoying numerous venues, big and small, to both dance and watch dancing. The major theme is Israeli folk dancing, with dancing around the clock, but also includes Balkan (my favorite), salsa, ballroom, hip hop, to name just a few. In terms of performances, all styles of dance are available starting with the top Israeli groups and branching out to foreign ballet troupes, Israeli and world modern dance troupes, national dance companies and unique styles, such as flamenco. This year, my wife and I saw a modern dance version of Carmen by a Hungarian group and a performance by the Georgian national company. For three days, there was music in the air and lots of happy feet. The organizers even got lucky with the weather, which was much more pleasant than in most of the country.  I imagine quite a few of the visitors were not looking forward to returning to the humidity of the Tel Aviv and surroundings. Then, it ended.


Karmiel has returned to being a nice, quiet place to live. Still, when I mention my home town, people generally say, “Oh, where the dance festival is. What a beautiful place!” So, as I wait for my aching leg muscles to recover and the tennis courts to be restored to their normal function after the dancing, I appreciate the beauty of a good festival for both visitors and locals.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Imitation and flattery revisited

All languages are not created equal as each has a different creator. The context here is neither the virtue nor beauty of languages but instead their structure.  Many translators in their loyalty to the form of the source language err by applying it to the target language. I will demonstrate by showing three differences between French and English form.

It is accepted use and quite logical in terms of logic to capitalize last names, places and company names in French.  For examples, in a French legal document, there may be a reference to M. Jacques COLON, residing in NICE working for the SONY company. This use of large letters makes it easy to identify key facts. By contrast, in English, capitalization of all letters in a word is the written equivalent of screaming, only to be used to accentuate in extreme cases. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME NOW? Therefore, applying French capitalization rules in English makes the text sound verbally violent. Mr Jacques Colon, residing in Nice, works for Sony. That is all.

Some punctuation rules are also not equivalent. The French, for reasons unclear to me, put a space between the word and the following colon, as in “les explications :” By contrast, in English the extra space is generally after the colon as in “the explanations:  fatigue…” Retention of the redundant space is generally the sign of an overzealous translator or non-English native speaker.

Finally, prepositions and articles must be restated before every noun in a series in French. Note the following sentence: Je suis protecteur de la liberté, de l’egalité et de la fraternité de chaque citoyen français.  By contrast, English tends not to repeat shared elements of parallel structure. The same sentence in translation would be: I am the protector of the liberty, equality and fraternity of each French citizen. Of and the are not repeated because they are redundant.


It may seems proper and even flattering to copy the exact formatting of the source language but it is neither correct nor professional to do so in all cases. As the French say, vive la difference!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Confrontational politics

As children, we are taught to tell the truth. As adults, we learn not to. Specifically, as we grow up, it becomes more and more evident that the price of being frank is often frankly high: losing friends, getting people angry and even social isolation.  In other words, most people either do not want to hear or are not ready for criticism and bad news.
Culture plays a major part in establishing acceptable behavior. Many societies highly value social cohesion, including Japan, main stream America and Britain and Arab countries. By contrast, “hotter” countries accept temporary unpleasantness, leading people to develop thick skin. The best examples are the Mediterranean and Latin American countries. There, people are allowed to yell and scream without serious social consequences. You get used to “rude” people or leave for more civil (civilized to some) places. Of course, the adjectives used by such locals are hot and genuine as compared to the cold and fake of more gentile countries. As the French say, chacun à son gout (to each his own). The challenge occurs when cultures meet.

I was at a conference when a woman from an Eastern European country gave a 25 minute presentation while sitting down behind a desk and reading into her paper. I don’t understand how the largely non-native speaker crowd understood anything as I found it difficult to catch any words. Not only that, it reminded me of the Yves Montand song, le telegramme (http://www.jukebox.fr/yves-montand/clip,le-telegramme,qvqu0p.html), in which an operator completes ruins the most romantic telegram by rendering it monotone. The method ruined the message. After some 10 minutes of suffering, I got up and left the room.

The problem arose at the next break when that same lecturer approached me and asked me why I had left early. I faced a cultural schizophrenic dilemma: my American side told me to mumble something about having to go the bathroom or the like while my Israeli psyche took the question literally. The latter prevailed. I told her the truth, trying to soften my words. However, she was not stupid and understood exactly what I meant. The end result was her getting quite upset and me becoming quite confused.


My issue was and is the best way to handle that situation in the future. Should I, as a colleague, defuse the tension by avoiding the issue or take the question at face value, i.e., if you want a critique, you will get one? For comparisons sakes, I had a similar situation a few hours previously but the person agreed with my criticism and thanked me. I tend to think that I will take the latter route as I live in a Mediterranean country where confrontation is a norm. Still, I recognize that discretion is sometimes the better part of valor.  Alas if knew which part.