Getting down to business- the cake is also a lie on the Continent

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📥  Politics Languages & International Studies

My job itself merits a lengthy description, so (brace yourselves) here goes.

The office is eeeeeeeenormous. The premises are actually shared by two separate companies, but ours is, broadly speaking, a translation company, working for big names of the luxury sector. It’s the kind of place where you need a special access card to get into the revolving door or use the lift, which for the first week or so gives you a slightly smug secret-agenty feeling (yes, I am easily amused.) There is an enormous marble lobby scattered with coffee tables laden with exclusive magazines for luxury products, just like you see in films, where smartly-dressed people of all nationalities flow in and out on their separate errands. This ground floor houses one large conference room, the HR department and a kitchen with a solid wall of microwaves and little cups full of plastic cutlery. One wall is painted with chalkboard paint, and underneath a deeply philosophical Victor Hugo quote you will often see such pastel-coloured gems as ‘THE CAKE IS A LIE!’ My personal favourite source of amusement is the passive-aggressive dialogue upon the following notice:

‘En cas de très grande faim merci de ne pas consommer le repas des autres!!!’- under a little ClipArt of a guilty-faced robber clutching a sack of loot.

‘Donc, quand c’est une petit fringole, on peut se servir?’- scrawled in black typically French handwriting.


‘Quoique :)’!

The next two floors are where the IT department work on integrating our translations onto client websites and some companies have their own PR teams, such as Rolex. The third floor is that of the Pôle Multilingue, and that’s where I worked. It had a communal fruit basket (a veritable cornucopia on Tuesdays, one piece for 20 cents, all for a jolly good cause) and even the proverbial water cooler, where we actually had a few hasty meetings between emergencies.

Imagine my astonishment at entering the main office, filled with around two hundred smartly-dressed, multilingual translators, proofreaders and project managers, all typing away furiously or barking into smart executive phones. Inwardly I quailed. But the two stagiaires from the English team herded me over to the correct desk. There are roughly eight people per team.  Behind us were the Russians, whose conversation I loved to eavesdrop upon with my one semester’s knowledge of the language. Then there were the jolly Germans, the businesslike Spaniards, and the Portuguese, Japanese, Italian and French teams. A computer hadn’t been installed for me yet, so I meekly took the hundreds of sheets of paper handed over to me with reverence, and studied the differences between British and American English, also brushing up (read: learning) watchmaking terms. Little did I realise I’d be reciting them in my sleep after a week.

At lunchtime we popped to a local bakery for (what else?) baguettes and patisserie, and sat outside the elegant town hall, basking in the sunshine. One of the (few) financial perks of being employed in Paris came in the form of lunch vouchers, presented to us each month by the HR department, just like little chequebooks. Each voucher is worth 7 euros and can be redeemed in most supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants. It does make you feel rather flash, handing one over. I would soon discover the joys of the steak haché baguette, basically a pizza in baguette form, often the highlight of my working day- and so revered it is only sold three days a week. Sigh...

My official job was that of a trainee translator, so I obviously assumed it would be like Munich, but on a bigger scale. Woe is me, I was so, SO wrong! What I actually ended up doing each and every day, 9 am to nominally 6.30 but usually 6.50 pm, was sifting and filing emails (sorting them by client company or project name), finding out the day’s assigned tasks and noting them down accordingly for the team, translating anything and everything into UK, US, international, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canadian English, from executive Powerpoint presentations and user manuals to power of attorneys, but mostly advertising, proofreading, so-called ‘urgencies’ which had their own special protocol and often came with the stupidest deadlines, issuing payment orders, filling in timesheets, filling in the ‘launches’ file and colour-coding it so we knew who had assigned which project to whom, testing new translators, filing projects in the appropriate folders, assigning projects to external translators (the bulk of our daily work), phoning project managers and errant translators (we all had our favourites- and it literally paid to be a favourite, because the amounts we paid them for one project were often more than we earned a month), formatting documents for use in the translation software, creating translation projects in this software (oh so time-consuming and complicated and error-message producing!), terminology and product research, website integration (HTML and back office), and in my last month I even became the subsidiary contact manager for Jaeger-LeCoultre, responsible for sending our translations of watch catalogues to company contacts in America and awaiting their approval. One key aspect of the job was the fine art of avoiding our team manager’s wrath. I had the dubious pleasure of sitting opposite him, and sometimes just the top of his head and an accusing pair of eyes would slowly surface from behind the monitor, and you would hear your name said very slowly and deliberately, “Lesleyyyyyyy......” and your heart sank instantly as you desperately tried to remember what you’d just done/sent/filed, because you knew you were done for. I was there a month before there was actually time to train me, so my previous knowledge of translation software was invaluable, but honestly, nothing could have adequately prepared me for this position.

Eep! Are you still with me? Had I known what a crazy learning curve was ahead of me, I might have opted for something else, I fear! Understandably, I was a quivering wreck at the end of my first day, and absolutely exhausted by the end of the week. But my colleagues were very friendly and helpful once you dragged them away from their desks, and little by little, the seemingly pointless rules I encountered each day gradually ingrained themselves into my very psyche- Chanel uses the term ‘Haute Joaillerie’, Nespresso is always UK English, etc.- and our team manager said my name in that very scary way less and less often. By month two, it was just great. I had stopped making mistakes- or at least those which mattered. It was pretty satisfying to wander round Paris and know that I had translated the legal notes on the tourist tax rules for Printemps; to see our translated Cartier adverts in the windows on Champs-Élysées, our Hennessy articles in brochures, our Tag Heuer plastered over bus shelters, even our Dior videos on a massive screen at the airport.

So next time you see an ad for a perfume you will never be able to afford, or a necklace that costs more than a car, kindly spare a thought for the humble desk jockey behind it. Merci. 🙂

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