Posted by: patenttranslator | June 4, 2017

In Praise of Healthy, Wholesome and Holistic Laziness

A few days ago somebody called me to ask how much would I charge to translate what the caller said was a police report about the death of her mother in a certain European country. I was trying to concentrate on proofreading a long patent translation I had just finished the previous day and although I felt sorry for the caller, I did not feel like tackling a translation on this particular subject.

So I quoted a relatively high rate in the hope that the potential direct customer would keep looking so that I could concentrate on finishing the stack patents and then take a break.

And the caller probably did find somebody else, probably cheaper, because I didn’t hear from her again.

Yes, I am sometimes particular when it comes to what kind of direct clients I want to work for, although in comparison to translation agencies, usually not nearly as choosy.

Yes, I am definitely getting lazy. After working in the salt mines for 30 years, shouldn’t I be entitled?

Now, at the age of 65, (for some reason I almost wrote 35), there is no longer that much to play with in my free time…

I can’t really practice sports anymore other than chess, which I don’t play (too complicated for me), and romance went out the window decades ago when I weighed half as much as I do now and had twice as much hair.

What I’m basically left with are books & teevee when I enjoy an occasional protracted period of wholesome, soul-nourishing laziness. Oh, and thank God for Netflix, the Russian Probe (into a potential collusion between Donald’s election campaign and Russia), and other highly entertaining highlights of American politics!

Limited though my options may be, they are still better than work, I think. I do enjoy being lazy tremendously.

In fact, I’m so lazy now that I frequently behave like a prima donna just to avoid laboring for long hours on a long-term project that only a few years ago I would have literally killed for.

After I finished those patents I was proofreading, when there was in fact a longish period of little work, somebody called to inquire about my services. The call was not from a client or a translation agency, but from a headhunting agency.

The headhuntress, who kept calling me honey and sweetie, was so excited that she found me! She was looking for a translator to tackle a continuing translation job for an FDA (Federal Drug Administration) project in one of my language combinations.

Right off the bat I asked for a rate that was 3 (three!) cents higher than the rate I saw in one of about a dozen questionnaires to fill out and sign that she sent me. Oh, well, that should be OK, she said, since yours is a “limited diffusion language”.

I started filling out the numerous forms, but the headhuntress, who continued calling me sweetie and honey, kept mercilessly hitting me with new demands.

The check marks indicating my acceptance of the conditions must be in blue ink, she said. So I had to redo the whole damn thing in blue ink.

Your résumé does not show enough experience with medical translation. Can you do something about it?, she wondered. So I redid the damn résumé too to emphasize my experience with medical translation, in particular my experience with good manufacturing practices (GMP) for pharmaceuticals and with double-blind medical studies.

I have been translating these subjects from several languages for the last 30 years, but that still was not enough for her. She kept asking for more and more information.

She asked for and obtained my social security number, as well as consent to obtain my credit report from several credit reporting bureaus, and she also had to apply for security clearance for me because the translation project was for the government.

I was kind of wondering whether the blasphemous and heretical content of my blog might make me ineligible for “gobmint work”. I was also wondering whether the government understands the difference between a government employee and an independent contractor who works only when he is needed and when he has time to work because he also has other clients.

I tend to think that the government and headhunting agencies working for the government see this as a difference without a distinction.

At this point, I was getting majorly annoyed by all this paperwork and a continuous barrage of new demands on me, an independent contractor who, unlike an employee, has no guarantees of any work in the future whatsoever, not to mention employee benefits.

At the end of the process during which I was filling out numerous questionnaires with many items that should naturally be inapplicable to an independent contractor, the headhuntress had one more request.

She told me that I needed to pass an evaluation test administered by a translation agency that among other things makes money by administering such tests.

I know the agency because I have been working for them for more than 20 years, and in fact I am occasionally still working them. So I responded that I would do the test, but only if I got paid for it. But the headhuntress misunderstood me: “Yes, of course, you don’t have to pay for it, we will pay the agency for the test”, she said.

“No, no, you have to pay me”, I said. What I meant was that although I am willing to fill out a battery of forms, one of the principles that I live by is that I translate for free only for family members or friends and I do not consider a headhunting agency, or the government, to be family or friends.

I also said that I consider such a test to be a joke, which is why after 30 years of being in business as an independent translator, I don’t work for free and why I would waste my time on it only if I wasn’t getting paid for it.

The headhuntress was stunned that a mere translator would be so incredibly rude, sassy and cheeky as to call a translation test a joke and demand to be paid for it. Most of this negotiation was done by emails, and I was downloading the various assorted forms, filling them out as best as I could, signing them in blue ink, scanning them and emailing them back, modifying my résumé to better fit the job requirements, etc.

But when I refused to do a free test, she called to try to twist my arm and make me agree to do the damn test for free. I told her that I would be happy to work for her if she found a way around this particular requirement as it is contrary to my principles. Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot be asked to serve in the armed forces of any country, and experienced translators should not be asked to work for free, that’s what I think.

I seem to remember that she was no longer calling me “honey” or “sweetie”.

When I would not budge, she said during the phone call that she would call me again on Monday to see if I had changed my mind (this was on Friday). I might in fact have changed my mind had she called on Monday depending on how skilled she is at twisting arms, and she is probably very good at that. But either she did not call or I managed to miss her call on Monday.

So since I did not get to work on this new continuing government project, I blissfully lazed during the sunny afternoons, as the Kinks sang one of my favorite songs that is about 50 years old now.

I got busy again within a week with my usual bread-and-butter kind of translations, basically patents, patents, and more patents, which pay significantly better than government projects obtained through translation or headhunting agencies. I got so busy that I longed again for the blissful time when I had nothing to do all day for several weeks.

Few things are as enjoyable as turning down work, being lazy and refusing to take on new responsibilities when it is pretty obvious that somebody will come with new demands on my time soon enough – and if not, that I can live from my savings, meager though they are, for several months.

During those weeks when I was not doing much of anything, I finished three books. In the last one, Escape Clause by John Sandford, one of my favorite authors narrates a complicated saga about two Amur tigers who were stolen from a Minnesota zoo to be turned into highly prized products that are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The male tiger is unfortunately killed at the beginning of the book and then dealt with accordingly by being processed into various medicinal products, while the female tiger, whose name was Katya, was kept alive to simplify the logistics of the gruesome process.

Three other people connected with this loathsome act were murdered in the book, including the elderly Chinese millionaire who placed the order for tiger body parts.

Throughout the entire book I was hoping that Katya would somehow find a way to get out of her cage and kill the murderous sociopath who was the mastermind behind the entire disgusting operation.

On page 272 Katya finally escaped from the cage, crushed the skull of the sociopath—who had been keeping her hungry for such a long time—in her mighty paws, and ate him.

There is nothing better in life than being able to savor a long period of healthy, wholesome and holistic laziness, when one finally gets to enjoy a meaningful book with a profound message, without being constantly interrupted by people who want to make us work for them.


  1. Sometimes I wonder what kind of spiel the headhuntresses and project manageresses tailor use when hunting female translators.


    • (sorry, premature dispatching on my end)

      “Honey” and “sweetie” works on other boys around them, so it makes sense that they use it while “hunting,” but it wouldn’t work with women translators.

      On a somewhat more serious note, I heard through the grapevine that some specially reviled agencies have approached translators on the web using online personas that are more or less made out of whole cloth. Maybe you “headhuntress” is one such case. What do you think?

      Finally, some comic relief: That company where “240,704 professional translators and 99,154 customers have been translating the intelligent way since 1999” is sending me their ads via your page again.


  2. I’m afraid I don’t get your comment.

    What did you mean by it?


  3. OK, I got it now. I checked out this agency on the web and they seemed legit, although I wonder about the spiels they use too and am wary of them.

    But how can a company use my page (blog or website?) to send adds through it to you? I did not even know that something like that was possible.


  4. Here’s a screenshot of some ads on your page:–QTRLNDFNSl9VMFE/view?usp=sharing

    Apparently there’s some bug and they are showing in duplicate.


  5. Got it, thanks.

    Don’t know whether I should be glad or mad about it.


    • AdSense is actually more or less a “mirror” of Adwords. Google places ads on sites that sign up for AdSense and gives the site owner a cut. You can check it out at

      Maybe there’s some $ waiting for you somewhere…, but i admit now I’m puzzled too.


      • No dollars for me, I’m sure, but maybe it’s good for ranking in search engines.


  6. Here’s my own run-in with a stupid agency. I have been a legal translator for 45 years, my father and brother were both lawyers (my father is dead and my brother is now a doctor). I even worked in my father’s office in the school holidays. I was contacted yesterday by an Italian agency for a 10,000 word legal translation, routine stuff. I was asked for a sample, which was the first part of the translation.They replied to me in pidgin English that my work was full of mistakes and not good enough. They argued with me, essentially, about two words, which can be translated in several ways, due to the fact that we are talking about legislation in a non-English-speaking country that operates under Roman law. That is because their project manager, who is allegedly English, decided that these two words were the ones he had chosen rather than the ones I had chosen. Not only was it extremely offensive to be told that I don’t know my job but what is worse, they had sent the whole document, unredacted, so I could see the names of defendants, etc who were accused of very serious crimes! So this kind of information is being bandied about all over the net by translation agencies. Nice for clients to know!


    • Hi Josephine,

      The situation for medical records is similar. An agency employee redacts the patient-identifying information in house before emailing the files. The snag is that many of these employees don’t speak the source language, so a lot of stuff goes out unredacted.

      I sometimes wonder whether an unwitting agency client will be hit with a 7-figure HIPAA settlement someday.


  7. I once received an unredacted medical record of a patient that was sent by a translation agency to 14 translators with a request for a price quote.


  8. Hi, I had a call from the same agency and the same lady and I told her to take a hike a bit earlier than you.


  9. Hi Josephine, from your response it sounds like you decided to do a free sample translation. Free is always a waste of time in my book.


  10. Ha, ha, ha.

    Did she call you sweetie and honey too?

    I find it embarassing if they can’t see what I look like and I can’t see what they look like either.


  11. I have a weakness for any kind of laziness, I must confess, but I have an especially weak spot in my heart for wholesome and holistic laziness! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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