Posted by: patenttranslator | January 10, 2012

I Will Be Authentic In What I Do For Living …. Or Die Trying

The lack of authenticity is painfully obvious in modern world to the small minority of people who still dare to use their brain to question the grim reality that surrounds them everywhere they go.

In suburban America, you are surrounded by uniform chain stores wherever you go if you live in a slightly bigger town. I have my hair cut at a place called Great Clips, which is some sort of a hair cuttery chain, not to be confused with the chain that is in fact called The Hair Cuttery.

We buy our groceries at one of three chain stores in our neighborhood: Food Lion, Farm Fresh, or Harris Teeter. Food Lion is the cheapest store. It is owned by a corporation in Belgium but most people don’t know that, including the store employees. Harris Teeter is the most expensive chain store and it usually has the best selection of everything. Last year it stocked 5 different brands of Czech beer, but this year it’s down to only three brands (Food Lion only has Pilsner Urquell, Farm Fresh now has three brands too). We used to have a Piggly Wiggly supermarket here too but the store closed a few years ago, it then became a bookstore selling religious books, and now the former supermarket is a church. The building still looks like a typical shoebox type of a supermarket building with a huge cross on the roof.

Most restaurants within less than a mile from our house are chain restaurants, except for a few Chinese joints: Chinese people don’t like to start fake chains, they prefer to start their own business. We can go to Ruby Tuesday for burgers or spare ribs, to La Cantina for nachos and burritos, or to Subway to buy a foot long sandwich stuffed with various a-la-carte ingredients, but these are all chain restaurants. I thought at first that the Three Amigos was an authentic Mexican restaurant, but it is a chain restaurant too. So we mostly go to a local Chinese restaurant. We know the owners, we know a lot about them and their children, and they know quite a bit about us too, although they only know a few hundred English words.

There is no independent bookstore in the city of Chesapeake, VA, population 220,000. If I want to go to a bookstore, I can chose from two national chain bookstores: I can either go to Barnes & Nobles, or to a chain bookstore called Waldenbooks that sells books that are full of pictures to people who would probably not buy a book if it didn’t have a lot of colorful pictures in it. I would even say that calling Waldenbooks a bookstore is a bit of an exaggeration. Barnes & Nobles at least sells real books.

Most of the independent businesses still surviving where I live tend to be either car repair shops or ethnic restaurants. The car repair shops are usually authentic, the restaurants are often not. The owner of the car shop where I have been taking my business for the last 10 years is a car mechanic with a philosophical streak named Jimmy who is very authentic. Jimmy is the exception to the rule that American suburbs inevitably kill authenticity, and some would say love too. If you ask Jimmy how much is it going to cost to fix an oil leak, he will give you a lecture about the too common human failure to grasp the real meaning of existence worthy of Martin Heidegger or Jean Paul Sartre.

There are several sushi bars in the Great Bridge area of Chesapeake but they are all run by Chinese, Korean, or Thai people, and some of them sell fake sushi in addition to authentic Korean food or Thai food. The sushi were kind of mushy in all of the fake sushi restaurants that we tried so far. Maybe somebody could start a new chain of sushi restaurants and call it “Mushy-Sushi” (or “Mooshi-Sushi”)? It’s easy to remember, which is very important. There are two Vietnamese restaurants here called “Pho 76” with huge plasma TVs on the wall where customers can watch a football game while slurping noodles, so that must be a chain too.

The restaurants here in Eastern Virginia are really very different from the small Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Cambodian or Brazilian and Basque family restaurants that we kept discovering year after year in San Francisco, Petaluma and Santa Rosa.

The lack of authenticity is painfully obvious also in the translation business. Type the word “translation” in the Google search bar and take a quick look at the first 10 websites (I would skip all advertised entries if I am looking for authenticity).

They all look the same: Photoshopped images of enthusiastic young people representing different ethnic groups with fake smiles on the faces of human mannequins who never translated anything and never will. The women are usually young and curvy, but sometime they wear glasses giving them a serious, almost severe look. The men in the pictures are earnest, sincere, and studly androids. An 800 or 877 number  is usually answered by an answering service that only takes messages (but somebody will call you right back).

These websites often either have no geographical address, only an information/price quote request form to be filled out and e-mailed, or they have 5 or more different addresses in different countries … the more to chose from, the better and the more authentic.

You are not dealing with just one company … you are dealing with “a family of companies” in some cases according to the propaganda on their websites. Which means that a lot of people in this big, happy “family” have to take their cut first before the translator is paid … peanuts.

There is clearly an opportunity here for small but authentic translation businesses to enter the online translation marketplace, but few translators seem to be aware of this. Most just keep sending their resumes to agencies, including my humble enterprise. I send a dozen translators’ resumés to the recycle bin on my desktop most days. Some translators have websites, but these websites don’t seem to be designed to compete with the faceless and often addressless translation agencies who sell their services to customers on the Internet.

I think that it would be a mistake to use the same approach that is based on completely fake Photoshopped illusions to create a translator’s website. We all have different advantages and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses. But unlike the opaque yet transparent, bottom-line-driven translation enterprises, each and every one of us is a real, authentic individual. Why not use our authenticity to sell our product without a broker?

Here is my New Year’s resolution: I will not try to sell Photoshopped propaganda to my customers in my patent translation business. I am selling a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) product to my customers, with all the authenticity and sincerity that I possess.

Because as a smart politician once put it back when we still had smart and engaging politicians in this country:”If you can fake authenticity and sincerity, you’ve got it made”.


  1. Years ago there was a Ruby Tuesday in Omaha that had a fabulous $10 lunch special: a fat steak not a filet, grilled, with the greenest, best green beans ever and bread that was like homemade. (If memory serves, the fabulously designed Enron bldg was down the street. Wonder what they did with it….)

    Memphis had what I assume is a chain, Cozymel, which offered the best pasta dish with a cream sauce that had shrimp, mushrooms, something hot, and who knows what else, that was hands-down the best pasta dish I’ve had anywhere anytime. They also serve a terrific, gigantic Margarita.

    Of course the barbecue in Memphis is incomparable, and though it’s now a chain, Corky’s is the best of the best. Meat falling off the bone, biscuits like my mother made, banana pudding…oh, my gawd!!! (No wonder the people downtown are a mile wide; sorry, but true!)

    Another chain in Memphis is Houston’s, and the crab cakes beat any in New England; true.


  2. I go to chain restaurants like Ruby Tuesday, Baker’s Crust, La Cantina, etc., and they are OK. In a way it is comforting to know that no matter where you travel or move to in this country, these restaurants will probably be there.

    But I do that because I really have no choice here. In Northern California there were many small ethnic restaurants to chose from, which we don’t really have here in Eastern Virginia, and interesting small bookstores too.

    I think that it is a pity if people don’t mind that they have no choice but to go to chain restaurants, big box bookstores, vote for Democrats or Republicans, and watch Fox or MSNBC.

    I would like to see real choices instead of having to go for the same thing over and over again.

    Authenticity and diversity are good for you because life is short and then you die.


  3. Thank you for this article. It felt so close, even though I have never been to the States. I hope one of the Czech brands there is Kozel. Greetings from Prague!


  4. Yes, it is (or was) Krusovicky Kozel.


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