If Translators were Car Mechanics…

I came across this text a while ago when a colleague shared it on his Facebook page. This brilliant analogy on how some customers treat translators was originally written by a translator named Gary Smith.

“Can you repair my car? I need it for tomorrow.”
“Can I see it?”
“No. Not until you tell me if you can fix it.”
“Um…What kind of car is it?”
“A blue one.”
“I mean the manufacturer and model.”
“That’s personal information I don’t want to disclose. When will it be ready?”
“Well…what noises has it been making? How old? Mileage?”
“Questions, questions! Am I supposed to tell you how to do your job? Just tell me how long it’ll take to fix it. Oh, and I can only afford €X. And I want you to use these complicated, old, rusty tools of mine. I’ve also started to tinker with the car myself, so you should give me a discount now you only have to finish off the job. And fix that leak I made while tinkering. Here’s a blurry photo of it to help.”
“Hmm…It looks like a Trabant from the Soviet bloc period. Do you have the manufacturer’s manual to give me a general idea?
“Yes, here you are.”
“This manual is for a Mini.”
“Mini, Trabant…they’re both cars, right? Anyway, it doesn’t matter because I want it to be a Rolls Royce when you’ve finished. A red one. I know a mechanic down the street who says he can do that for five euros in half an hour. I’d do it myself but I don’t have the time; I can drive, so I know a lot about cars.”
“Actually, they don’t make these car parts anymore. Maybe I can send for them from Cuba.”
“Whatever. Just make sure it’s ready tomorrow so my cousin can take it for a test drive with his myopia and arthritis after a few drinks in the pub. If he’s satisfied with the drive, we may have more jobs for you in the next decade. By the way, in order to pay you, I’ll need a complete list and sworn, stamped copies of all your diplomas, training courses and previous employers with their addresses, phone numbers and blood groups. Just send them by express post to our head office in Bhutan before tomorrow. Bye, then. See you next year—er, I mean tomorrow…though I might call you today every five minutes to see how you’re doing, tell you how to do your job and maybe just whine and send someone to poke you with a stick occasionally to encourage you with such managerial skills, as this will surely help you work faster and better. I might also change my requests and give you additional little jobs like changing the tyres, fitting a new radio etc. once you’ve started. At no extra cost. What do you mean, ‘no’? How unprofessional of you to refuse work. Somebody will take it…”


My Reaction to such clients



  • Berthold Kynast

    O yes, and not just one, they are all the same. And in addition what is not in here, they reserve themselves the right to payments only month after you delivered your high quality jog in perfect time! I have no customer paying below 45 days of notice, and even then, they are many times in delay another 4-6 weeks and I am getting in big trouble because I in turn have to pay my invoices at once to other institutions or companies. A mechanic would kick me out of his garage if I just propose to pay after 6 weeks, let alone to perform a test free of charge that I can test if he is doing his job well.

    June 13, 2016 at 5:23 am Reply
  • Andrew Pietrzak

    Sadly such clients do exist. The fact that they regard themselves as customers is regrettable because it indicates that they equate the process of ordering a translation with buying a chocolate bar from a supermarket. Experience has taught me that it is best to ignore them and the work that they offer. The satisfactory provision of a service requires mutual respect.

    June 13, 2016 at 9:38 am Reply
    • Rania

      Same here!

      June 13, 2016 at 10:35 am Reply
  • Sjoe!

    If only you’d post it in larger and better readable font. Thanks anyway

    June 14, 2016 at 3:26 am Reply
    • Rania

      This is the way I like the layout of my blog, but anyway you can always copy and paste the text onto a Word document and change the font as suits you 🙂

      June 14, 2016 at 6:38 am Reply
  • Michal Wiewior

    OMG, so true story! great article, you made my day! 🙂

    June 14, 2016 at 6:41 am Reply
    • Rania

      Glad you liked it, Michael! 🙂

      June 14, 2016 at 6:45 am Reply
  • josephinebacon

    I haven’t had such a good laugh for ages, thanks so much for that I love it!!!! Just today, I had a long email from stupid agencies, one that pays rubbish money and takes an illegally long time to pay it, that translators must not use online free translation resources. They quoted from some long article on the subject. Well, with the rates they pay and the time they take to pay, they are not going to get translators who use dictionaries or even translators who know what they are doing!

    June 15, 2016 at 7:42 am Reply
    • Rania

      It makes me angry!

      June 15, 2016 at 7:47 am Reply
  • Cnstanze Taylor

    Hi Rania,
    Great article! Not sure whether I should laugh or cry.

    June 22, 2016 at 7:11 pm Reply
    • Rania

      Thank you! Well, it is unfortunately true.

      June 22, 2016 at 9:05 pm Reply
  • Claire Mukhwana

    Hi Rania,
    This is one great article I have read in a long while.
    Most clients perceive translators to be convenient grocery stores where one bargains for an item and then discards it after piling it into their shopping basket just because one did not assent to their price. I have equated them to the small shops along the roadside because they demand high quality (do they really know what high quality means?) yet want to pay peanuts or delay payment with lame excuses after they have received the completed work.


    June 29, 2016 at 9:54 am Reply
    • Rania

      I wish there were client education seminars!

      June 29, 2016 at 11:24 am Reply

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