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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Holidays and missed calls

I should go away on holiday more often. It never fails. I plan a week off somewhere and the phone starts ringing. This time it was a week of skiing in the Alps, not far from our home in Lyon. My life as a free-lance translator had been relatively quiet in the weeks leading up to our trip, so I thought I wouldn’t be missing much.

On Tuesday of the week preceding our ski holiday I had a meeting with V., a prospective customer. I had been calling her company on and off for two years. She said she wanted me to translate their press releases, starting in a month, and to update a glossary in advance. A dream come true!

Just before I left, V. called and wanted me to translate an unexpected press release! For a combination of reasons, including negligence and mobile phone morbidity, I didn’t hear her message until 11pm that day, when I plugged in my cell phone into the wall outlet.

Worry set in. Had I made a bad impression? Would she ever call back? Would I get a chance to set things right? I phoned the next day from the cross-country ski trails, the following day from the downhill ski lift. Still no luck. Why doesn’t she return my messages? Does she despise me? Thus began a four-week, one-way game of telephone tag. Usually I got voice mail but occasionally I got a co-worker who said V. would call right back. She didn’t. Then suddenly, she resurfaced and sent me a draft of a contract. But still, no real contact. Then she sent me the originally-planned press release. Oh, and we had one five-minute conversation, but no opportunity to actually talk about translation issues.

By now I’d realized the missed phone message was not a problem. I was not the most disorganized person in the story. My customer had said she wanted to work with an independent like me, rather than with an agency, because the agencies never assign the same people to them, and they don’t have any direct contact with the translator. But given the way she and/or her company are organized, they can’t take advantage of the direct contact when they have it. Should I expect the worst? And just what is the worst?

Steve Sklar