It is well known that translators are rare beasts. They tend to conduct their lives in the hermitage of impenetrable caves, sheltered by walls of dictionaries and crumpled words. They usually have naturally “screentanned” faces and measure time by the rhythm of their keyboard clickety-clack. Translators seem to exist on a diet of finger food (mostly nails), although they occasionally may not disdain chocolate bars and other sweets. But most of all, they’re passionate professionals who go to great lengths to improve their expertise beyond mere language knowledge for their clients’ benefit.

Surprisingly, though their daily interactions mainly involve digital beings, they still care about human relationships and most of them can even number their friends by hand. You may also think they’re distrustful of strangers, but their constant search for new opportunities actually makes them open to new acquaintances and experiences.

Once I heard about a translator who was called by a well-off friend who needed her fiancé’s marketing collateral localized. “A couple of pages”, she said, but she absolutely wanted him to handle them because quality and precision was not just of utmost importance – it was business critical. She said she would do it herself, but then admitted her knowledge of English wasn’t up to the challenge and preferred a professional to tackle it. They spent half an hour discussing the assignment, during which he took notes of any detail that could ensure them the best possible outcome, while considering his capacity fully booked for the next couple of days.

Everything went perfectly fine until the translator mentioned money, which was exactly when the conversation went down a weird road. The sum was considerably lower than the translator’s standards because of their friendship. Still, while his friend’s replies had previously been quick and clear, she now hesitated unexpectedly stumbling over confusing thoughts. Nevertheless, she eventually confirmed the job, giving him the green light to start translating the collateral. At least until late that evening, when she texted him to announce her fiancé had found someone else who would handle the task for less. “Although that might affect quality, it was his call after all”, she added.

The translator was puzzled by her words as they were in contrast with her initial request: he didn’t apply for the job, but was engaged specifically because of the proven quality he could provide, so mentioning a lower payment as the main reason for cancelling the assignment didn’t make any sense. Additionally, she never said the decision was someone else’s because she already confirmed the project, so her explanation didn’t hold water. All in all, the poor translator felt a bit like an Amazon item being returned for “better price” reasons. She probably expected to offer him a small amount of compensation as a token gesture, a sort of friendly flat rate for someone who studied English in secondary school (which is probably what she ultimately got), but without ever pointing out that saving was more important than anything else – friendship included.

Conversely, the same translator was later approached by a student who needed a whole essay translated for her upcoming exam. Her personal objective was equally important so, once again, quality was crucial. But the translator knew it would cost her a considerable sum. So, having learnt the lesson the hard way, he made his payment terms immediately clear, but without setting his hopes too high anymore. Much to his surprise, though, the student cheerfully and unflinchingly accepted his proposal, proving her good intentions. Although they were perfect strangers, she decided to put her faith in his talent and was rewarded with a professional service that eventually enabled her academic success at the university.

This short story shows us how money can often help us tell the difference between friends and strangers. Indeed, all that glitters is not gold. So while that translator may now have one less friend to please, he will have one finger more to count a new one. Any experience can never be negative as long as we are able to treasure it as part of our overall experience, in that literally anything can be an opportunity to learn something new and improve our ability to identify potential losses and probable benefits. And ultimately, to grow and get out of our personal caves!

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