Tagged: work

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. 🙂


Willkommen in Deutschland- a crisis, country-crossing and a new career

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📥  Politics Languages & International Studies

'Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit'- gosh, I'm getting misty-eyed...'Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit'- gosh, I'm getting misty-eyed...

I don’t think there’s anything quite like packing for your year abroad.

It’s not like university, where you can pop back over the Severn Bridge at the weekend for things you forgot, or if it’s desperate, nag your nearest and dearest (I still don’t think my father has quite forgiven me for the reading-glasses incident in Freshers’ Week.) It’s not like a holiday, where even if you forget sensible shoes (this time the finger of blame points to Mutti) you can hobble onto the plane and comfort yourself with the thought that you’ll be home in three hours. No, you literally have to think of everything- personal documents, clothes for all seasons, adaptor plugs by the handful- as well as quintessentially British bits and bobs, like Weetabix. (Yes, Weetabix. Yes, I brought a big box of it. It’s funny the things you miss when you’re away. I recently begged a friend for a voice recording, just so I could hear a lilting Welsh accent again!)

I think the year abroad is akin to the university experience in that nothing can really prepare you totally for it. Lecturers can (and will) hark back to their own experiences, and you may have friends who have taken gap years and tell you it’s the same kind of thing, but at the end of the day it’s just one of those things you have to do for yourself. Expect the unexpected- 40 euro fines for not knowing where to stamp a bus ticket, a cheeky opportunist trying to take a photo up your skirt on the U-Bahn escalators… But also expect to have a really, really fun time. It’s not like a school trip, where you stick to your Anglophone friendship group and leave all the admin to the teacher in charge. You do have to do everything yourself, for example, registering as a citizen of whichever city you happen to be staying in, setting up a bank account, getting to grips with the transport networks and visiting the tax office. It’s all a tad daunting at first, especially if you’ve led a rather sheltered existence, but with every little thing you accomplish, you begin to have more faith in your linguistic ability and your general getting-things-done ability. Give yourself a pat on the back. A wonderful thing about the Vaterland is that there always seems to be something to do, and more than likely you’ll accidentally stumble across it, think it looks like fun and join in, pretending you knew it was going to take place all along.

My own year abroad has, so far, been somewhat more stressful than most. I moved to Berlin at the beginning of July, completed training for a placement involving teaching English to kindergartners, started the job and realised it wasn’t for me, which was a real shame, because Berlin itself is an amazing place to live, absolutely teeming with things to do. But I had not realised that on top of my teaching duties, I would be left to shepherd kids into the cloakroom, make them put shoes and coats on, herd them outside, follow them to the toilets, stop them throwing loo roll and prancing around with their pants down- and all this was expected of someone who had never worked with children before. I was there to teach, not to babysit 25 children who didn’t know German yet, let alone English. A particularly attention-seeking little one lobbed a spade from the sandpit in my face. I resigned that evening and madly started scheduling interviews and house viewings, wishing I could sprout about six extra arms and multitask. Sadly, though, this was no sci-fi film, just a big clump of chaos. I very nearly got conned out of a lot of money by someone offering a non-existent apartment- the housing situation in Munich is notoriously difficult, and many unscrupulous people take advantage of that. When I got on the train with my cases and bottle of Müllermilch, I had nowhere to go on the other side.

Finally, just as I was at the end of my tether, things began to look up. I got an interview in Munich. I went to it. I got the job. My boss had found me a place to stay. It was incredible- something that had taken months to organise in Berlin simply fell into place here. Whoever or whatever was looking out for me deserves the biggest Bienenstich cake in existence. (Google it. Beg, steal, buy or borrow it. You’ll thank me later.)

Now I’m a translator in Munich, six hours from Berlin by train. Here, they only throw spades at me when I deserve it.

So that’s my most important piece of advice, really. Always do what suits you best. Ask questions, and if the employer is being deliberately vague or you don’t feel right about it, just don’t go for it. Think long-term, because you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time doing whatever it is you choose. Don’t just take the first job that’ll have you, like I did, thinking my language skills rudimentary at best- you owe it to yourself to make an informed decision in your own time. Remember it’s a real job, or a real course- if you quit, that is your responsibility, as is finding something else pronto. I half expected to be on a plane home, having to redo the year. You might say it was insane of me to change; I probably would do too, if it wasn’t for the small fact that I am me. Actually, forget that. It was insane of me. There.

But you know what? I haven’t been wholly unlucky, I’ve been unbelievably fortunate. I’ve got to know the people, places and personal quirks of not one, but two beautiful cities. I’ve sung ‘Viel Glück und viel Segen’ to Berlin on its 775th birthday in the Nikolaiviertel, and bellowed ‘Ein Prosit!’ with over 3000 merry Münchners at Oktoberfest. I have learned self-reliance, bits of Bavarian and even how to untangle the spaghetti-like mess which is a Tube map. (London, eat your heart out. For complicatedness, Munich wins hands down.)

Now that everything is organised and I don’t have to worry any more, I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.


So what exactly is A4e?

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📥  Politics Languages & International Studies

A4e stands for ‘Action for Employment’. Quite simple when you think about it, however in researching the role pre-interview I seemed to not come across its meaning.

Whilst sat in the waiting area of which I am now in charge, it suddenly occurred to me that I did not know its meaning and was therefore sure to fail. As I sat there, panicking, I looked at the material adorning the walls and figured it out logically. Proud of myself I then just hoped that logic had in fact served me well (not something which happens often with my natural hair colour).

I suppose it must have done so seeing as I now find myself firmly in the role, however I am still not 100 per cent certain that it is correct! The sentiment fits anywho.

A4E is a private social-enterprise company concerned with social mobility through employment and education. Basically the people the job centre struggle with get referred to A4E who have a more interactive and dynamic approach to help them find work. These people then become ‘customers’ of A4E, a term I once found strange on first entering the company seeing as the customers don’t buy anything from us… but now fully understand and appreciate.

They are customers, because they are treated with the same respect that any client for any business should be accorded. To a degree, they are in control of their own path, and the staff at A4E are just there to help actualise, facilitate and encourage this journey. Also A4E are paid by the government per customer they get into work, so in a round-about way, it is the customer’s actions which make A4E the successful business that it is. The staff are kind of the sales team if you will (to roll with the usual customer analogy), but instead of selling the latest gadget or trendy attire, we sell life skills, motivation and attributes which are actually useful to people’s lives instead of cluttering them and affect their happiness long term as opposed to being a short term distraction.

Customers are referred to A4E from the job centre for a plethora of reasons. They may be long term unemployed and need a fresh face and an extra push. They may have some extra trouble in their life such as domestic issues, health problems, or substance dependence. Or they may have been convicted of a crime, and spent time in prison. This makes the job all of us do at every level, very rewarding, very challenging, and of course, at times, very stressful. But even after three short weeks, I can see that the first two far outweigh the latter.

A4E is not only a nationwide initiative which is part of the government’s Work Program, but also stretches across three continents; Europe, Australasia and Asia. Personally I think such a program in America could go a long way to helping solve some of their multiple problems but I suppose that would be like asking Romney to support free healthcare.

A4E obviously cannot succeed alone, another important part of the mission to decrease unemployment and improve people’s quality of life who are commonly and wrongly thought of as ‘the underclass’ (on which I wrote an extensive paper if you are interested) is the partnerships made with employers in both the public and private sector.

A4E although primarily concerned with employment, also crosses the boundary into many other policy areas including welfare (my office’s remit), education, health, legal and financial. As all of these factors can be barriers to long term employment and are all very heavily related. I am shocked that the good work A4E does locally, nationally, and internationally is so poorly reported that even I; a student of politics interested in the ‘underclass’ and social mobility, and striving to be a journalist, has never come across them. Tut tut media, but then again maybe I have found my niche?

The A4E catchphrase reads ‘improving people’s lives’ which I admit when I first read... I scoffed at. How could a private company possibly have that as its goal? In my mind it felt a little like the moment I found out McDonalds were actually sponsoring the Olympics. But it does, and you can certainly see it at the heart of the staff on the ground. The diverse range of training, advice and general support available is the perfect environment for society’s most vulnerable and outcast citizens to find themselves again.

The offices are a safe space for many too, with customers having access to refreshments, fresh fruit, computers and a friendly person to chat to outside of all their troubles. This alone seems to make a big difference to many of the customers I have spoken too.

I think what makes this company and this job so inspirational to me is that I could have so easily been sat the other side of that table, in the customer’s position. Terrifying thought. Which is also why I think I can see myself wanting to be an A4E employee for longer than this original six month period… even if it is something I return to later in life.


Why variety is important

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📥  Politics Languages & International Studies, Uncategorized

I have one day left of bumming around and then I will be plunged into the world of a London working commuter.

Well, when I say bumming around, I mean researching my job, updating my blogs, social networking sites etc. I thought having a month break would nearly kill me but as it turns out after exams, before starting a job, and with moving house... I damn well needed the time to re-group, re-think and in general get myself together after a hell of a year and ready for another. In which as well as my placements, I plan to finally learn Teeline shorthand, make a start on a business idea and become a regular contributor to a website concerned with African politics.

But as Monday approaches, the excitement (and nerves) are building. Whilst researching my job I have realised it is far more interesting and relevant than I first thought. Many of my nearest and dearest when asking what I shall be doing for the next twelve months have questioned this particular placement’s relevance to my chosen vocation. This in turn made me do the same thing.

The thing with journalism is, you need a little bit of everything, as you never know where you will be placed or what area you will work in before getting to the ultimate; foreign reporting. I have heard stories across my times at various ‘insight’ days and courses that everyone starts with the big dream of breaking the big stories, from the deepest darkest corners of the earth, which in turn alter public opinion and hopefully policy. True investigative work such as that of John Pilger, Nick Davies and the late Marie Colvin is what the majority of start up journalists want to do, but many have to start where they have no interest at all, Sport, Fashion, Gossip etc.

Therefore me doing a law based placement is certainly no bad thing. Especially when at college the first time around Law was my favourite subject, and in particular the topic of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) which is one of the few things I can remember thanks to a wonderful teacher called Louise who was an almost Matilda Miss Honey like character. I will have a political aspect to my work in looking at how Public Inquiries can be improved. A journalistic aspect by making contacts and liaising with a broad spectrum of professionals that I may otherwise would never have had the pleasure to meet. I will also gain marketing and PR knowledge through my work on social marketing; which after all is the future (if not already the present) to every industry.

This placement will solidify my professionalism, and let me enhance the skills I already have in an office situation close to that of a newsroom. I will have deadlines, and expectations placed upon me. I will be required to undertake a certain amount of independent research and be given the chance to explore areas of more interest.

I really can’t wait until Monday, better figure out what I am going to wear...