About seven weeks ago I received a phone call on a Monday afternoon from a translation agency that I did not hear from for 6 years, although I used to work for them quite often when I still used to work quite often for translation agencies. It was a project manager who was looking for a suitable victim for a rush translation job, a couple of French diplomas that had to be delivered that day. The problem was, the project manager promised on Friday delivery for Monday but then she forgot to place the job.
“Would you be able to help me?” she asked me with tension and some hope, both audible in her voice. I don’t like deadlines on the same day, even for short translations, because I usually have something else to do, not to mention that I also have my own life to live, but I sometime like to help out people if they have a problem that I can solve. So I delivered my translation about an hour and half later at my usual rate, and received thanks for my prompt delivery via e-mail.
Seven weeks later, I am still waiting for my remuneration for that particular rush job, a whopping 98 dollars and 20 cents. When translators do favors to translation agencies, it is very much a one way street. Next time I will ask for a considerably higher rate if these people call me again, and I will probably accept the job only if they prepay.
Last weekend I read bitter comments of an interpreter on a discussion group online about a major US law firm who owes him many thousands of dollars for work that should have been paid for months ago.
American law firms will sign agreements to pay in 30 days, but they never honor these agreements, said the interpreter who lives in another country. He also said that from now on he would not accept work from US law firms. And he named the law firm in question.
Because the name of the law firm rang a bell, I looked at my files and I remembered that one Saturday evening four years ago I received a phone call from a young lawyer from the very same law firm who called me about an urgent translation.
She said she needed an urgent translation of a German patent for Monday morning because she wanted to impress her boss. Although I was planning on going to the beach on Sunday, instead of soaking up the rays, jumping merrily against the indefatigable waves of the Atlantic and reading my mystery novel on my beach chair, I was sitting on my butt behind the computer the whole Sunday, working on that German patent. I hope her boss was impressed.
When I did not receive the payment from the law firm after a month, I tried to call the lawyer, but I could never get past her secretary who helpfully offered to take a message because she did not know anything about anything. The lawyer never called me back and I could not get an answer from the accounting department either without a confirmation of my claim from the elusive young associate. So I had to wait.
I see in my files that the law firm did pay me in 7 weeks, although my invoice clearly stated the payment term of 30 days net.
It was no accident that taxpayers in this and other countries were asked to bail out major banks a few years ago after the banks and other financial institution ran into major troubles as their fraudulent get rich quick schemes were unraveling. Anybody who follows the news can clearly see that they will ask make us pay up again soon when they come back for more of the same.
This is pretty much the way of life now: people who have no money are forced to bail out corrupt companies that are too big to fail when things start falling apart as they always do in the end. And translators who don’t have any money either are forced to give corporations big and small interest free loans as they have to wait to be paid for their work, often for months. That is just the flip side of the same coin.
There is a Czech idiom dating back to Austria-Hungary:”Na chudý lidi musí bejt přísnost!“, which would translate into English as “You’ve got to be strict with poor people”. It means that it is OK when important people kick around little people who are too small to matter. Kick them when they’re down, they’re used to it.
That was the operating principle in the old “ramshackle” Austro-Hungarian empire, just before it collapsed about a hundred years ago when it could not be bailed out anymore by the little people.
For some reason, I seem to be thinking about things like that a lot these days.
I e-mailed a PAST DUE INVOICE reminder to the project manager today with big fat letters WTF??!!!?? next to the due date.
It worked. The owner of the agency sent me the following e-mail:
Your invoice will be taken care of right away. Interesting way to do business! Please only send your accounting questions with that style to me directly. My co-workers do not need to be exposed to that. Thank you.
There is not a single word of apology in her e-mail, which means that this was no oversight. They expect me to put my life on hold and deliver my translation right away, and then they will take months to pay.
They definitely needed to be exposed to the way I do business. Except that I will not do business with them anymore.
All I did was used three letters in the English alphabet to express how angry I was. I was rude on purpose.
But these people are beyond rude without intending to be rude. Their attitude to translators is that of a slave owner to a slave. You can’t be rude to a slave, can you?
Once I receive the princely sum of 98 dollars and 20 cents from them, for which I am still waiting, their file will go into a file cabinet that is bulging with translation agencies that I will not work for anymore.