I received the following e-mail a few days ago:
I have a couple of files (attached) to be translated from ABC (language) into XYZ (language) by 10 AM Wednesday, January 3d, 2013. It is about 890 words.
I can offer $90.00 flat fee for it. Please let me know if you would be interested in this project as soon as you get a chance.
Please do not proceed before I send you a PO.
Thank you in advance,
[name] Project Manager
The e-mail was sent to 17 recipients, including myself, who were clearly visible in the e-mail header. I think it is likely that the Project Manager was able to choose from several “first responders” eager to finally have some work.
When I lived in Santa Rosa, California, I used to see on foggy Bay Area mornings when I was driving to my office people who are generally referred to here as illegal immigrants waiting behind a local Mexican restaurant (known to me for its excellent burritos) to be hired for a day’s work by men arriving in pickup trucks.
Illegal aliens, (pardon the language, but that is what we call them in English in United States), called “clandestinos” in Spanish are now here in Virginia too, waiting at the parking lot behind 7-Eleven and Lowes stores (timber, tools and plumbing supplies), although not as many now because there is less work.
Just like the clandestinos, translators too need to line up early and be ready to start working at a moment’s notice in the digital universe when somebody has some work for them. Most illegal immigrants probably have their minimum hourly rate, and most of the time they probably insist on being paid what they think is fair. Clandestinos determine themselves how much they will be paid. If the going rate is for instance 5 dollars an hour and a bozo in a pickup truck offers only 4, my guess is that the clandestinos would in response to such a lowball offer just spit on the ground, or on the truck, or on the truck driver, and wait for a better offer.
But if you are a translation agency and send your e-mail to 17 translators who can be easily found in one of many online databases of translators, the equivalent of the parking lot behind 7-Eleven in the digital world, there is no danger that somebody will spit on you or your agency. Not even this mad patent translator will dare to identify such an agency on his blog. So why not do it that way? It saves a lot of time. Plus it must be fun watching translators competing with each other scrambling for a tiny translation. So the more recipients there are for one e-mail, the more the fun.
One reason why illegal immigrants get paid even less than American workers, (and most American workers are not paid very much either these days), is that they can be used only for relatively simple tasks not requiring a lot of explanation and coordination because they don’t speak English. I was told by people who work in construction that they are hardworking and reliable, but you can’t use them for complicated tasks if they don’t understand English and you don’t speak Spanish.
Illegal immigrants are thus stuck at the bottom of the wage pyramid because they are in the country illegally and they don’t speak the language. People like that can obviously be easily exploited. But why does a translator accept a job offer at a low rate while competing against 16 other warm bodies for a job offer?
Because he can’t figure out with his big, multilingual brain how to find better work would be my guess. So he just adds his name to another database on the Internet for the awesome chance to compete against other translators at rock bottom prices.
And also because unlike in other professions, including lawyers, dentists, and probably even day laborers like illegal immigrants, there is no solidarity and no pride in one’s profession among translators.
If I walked into a dentist’s office and said to him:”Could you please fix my teeth by Wednesday, January 3d, just these 2 teeth right here? I can offer you 500 dollars for that”, he would think that I am crazy. Ditto if I made a similar offer to a plumber:”I need you to fix my toilet by January 3d and I can offer you 350 dollars”, or said to a lawyer:”I need you to file a divorce petition for me and I can offer you 250 dollars”. If you tell to just about any professional who has some pride in what he is doing for living how much their work is worth to you, they will not take your seriously. Which would include also illegal immigrants who as I noted above are probably likely to spit at you or at least your truck if your bid is too low.
On the other hand, if you are looking for somebody to walk your dog, babysit your kid, or translate something from one language to another, it is perfectly OK to offer them what you think their work is worth to you. You can’t offend children or translators by a lowball offer. That’s just how it is.
So what is the difference between illegal aliens, lawyers, dentists, plumbers, and translators?
Well, one of the differences is that some of these people are proud about what they do for living. And they will laugh or spit at you if you insult them.
And some will be happy to make a buck any way they can.