Client education: a tragedy in one act

[This is one of my first blog posts. Reorganizing it now into my fiction collection.]

As the curtain rises, we find ourselves in Joe's cramped 6-tatami home office. Joe is perched on a spare kitchen chair, his head barely visible amidst stacks of dictionaries, old translation jobs, and half-empty coffee cups.

Slightly hunched, with deep frown lines and watery eyes, Joe looks like a weather-beaten and faded version of the bright young man who arrived in Japan 20 years ago full of ideals and optimism. He fell into translation after teaching English for 10 years. Frustrated in his secret desire to be a real writer, Joe takes special pride in crafting his translations of user manuals and corporate drivel into fine prose.

The phone rings. Joe picks it up.

Joe: Hello?

Tanaka: Hello, Joe. This is Tanaka from Sprocket Industries. [Joe's biggest client]

Brash and energetic, Tanaka is very confident in his English abilities, having spent two years in a US university (his closely guarded secret is that he went to community college and never made it out of the ESL program). Leveraging his "international" experience, Tanaka is on a meteoric rise to management, and therefore is desperate to prove himself and move out of his current position managing the outsourcing of janitorial services, catering, sprocket crank assembly, and translation, before he becomes a permanent fixture like the other madogiwa-zoku in his office.

Tanaka is speaking in Japanese, and the rest of the conversation continues in that language. While Tanaka prides himself on his English ability, he prefers speaking Japanese to his foreign translators in order to have the upper hand in communication. Plus he feels vaguely inadequate due to the somewhat bemused tone they take when he attempts to speak to them in English.

Joe: Oh, hello Tanaka-san

Tanaka: I'm calling about the last translation you did for us.

Joe: Which one? Oh, you mean the corporate driv — uh, Report on Responsible Governance ~ Lively Challenge Spirit ~?

Tanaka: Yeah, that's the one. I was reading your translation, and it's really great.

Joe: Oh, why thanks…

Tanaka: Yeah, great. There's just a few, uh, just a few places where maybe the Japanese nuance is just slightly off.

Joe feels a cold sweat beading on his forehead. He instinctively reaches for his ulcer medication.

Joe: Really? Where, exactly?

Tanaka: Just a few places. I went ahead and corrected the translation so that it would be more faithful to the Japanese, and correctly express these nuances. I just sent you over a copy with my revisions. It should be in your email inbox by now.

Joe: OK, hold on… OK, I've got it… Opening it now…

Tanaka: Great. So, if you could just give these corrections a quick approval, we can close out this job and send it to the printer.

Joe: What, you mean right now? Over the phone?

Tanaka: Yes, of course. We've got to have the report to the printer by the end of the day in order to have the brochures ready for that big exhibition next Monday.

Joe: Yes, I understand, but you actually seem to have made quite a few edits here, and … oh my …

Tanaka: What? What is it?

Joe: Well, I see here where I translated 連絡先 as "point of contact." You changed it to "contact place"…

Tanaka: Yes, you mistranslated "先". That's a very important nuance in Japanese.

Joe: But, um, the problem is … we don't actually say that in English…

Tanaka: Yes, yes, I understand, but isn't there a way to capture this very important nuance in the original?

Joe: [muttering under his breath] Well, I guess it's not that bad. [Speaking aloud again] OK, but what about this one? I translated お客様と顔の見える関係の構築に取り組み続けています as "We remain committed to building personal relationships with our customers." You changed this to "We are continuously work on building relations with the customers that can see the face."

Tanaka: Yes, your English was very pretty, but it didn't capture the subtle nuance of the Japanese, so I fixed it.

Joe: Um…

Tanaka: Look, if we don't get this out to the printer in 30 minutes, we won't get the brochures on time. I wouldn't have even called you, except that that useless old far — er, Kimura-san said we need to have all edits approved by the translators before printing. Can't you just OK this? You know Jack never gives me so many problems when I correct his translations.

Joe quickly calculates his lost income if Sprocket Industries decides to send all its work to Jack (that beyotch). He then calculates his mansion payment, car payment, private school tuition for his two kids, and his wife's astronomical shopping bills, not to mention his own prolific consumption of high-quality scotch to erase conversations such as this one from his memory.

Joe: OK fine. Send it off.

Tanaka: Great. Thank you as always for your hard work.

Joe: [Whimpers feebly while reaching for the scotch]

The curtain falls

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