Sunday, 30 November 2008

In case you were wondering...

... why I moan so much about Sevenoaks, here is a random sample of the local demographic:

Giles works for a private wealth management firm near St James' Square. He and Annabelle lived in a trendy flat in Pimlico before moving out to Sevenoaks in search of fresh air and prestigious school catchment areas. Although he paid off the mortgage on his Blackhall Lane mansion with last year's bonus, Giles suspects that this year Payroll will not be so generous. At worst, he may have to sell the au pair's Landrover. Giles is keen to fit in with the local community, and has been making advances on the constituency Conservative party.

Annabelle. After graduating from Durham and taking an obligatory year out to travel, Annabelle briefly worked as a temp receptionist for a wealth management company, where she met Giles. Since moving to Sevenoaks, Annabelle has relinquished her tiresome career with a sigh of relief: after all, who has time, what with gym, yoga and collecting the boys from rugby practice on the au pair's day off?

Hannah is relieved she managed to fit in her GCSE History coursework this evening when choir was cancelled due to an outbreak of flu. Tomorrow she has piano; Friday, singing lesson; Monday, music theory and Tuesday is an exhausting combination of ballet and tap dancing. Hannah's singing teacher says she has the voice of a young Maria Callas and ought to spend a year in Italy before applying to the Royal College of Music. Hannah has a pale, hunted look: she quite likes singing but is more worried that her fake ID won't get her into the Angel Centre Ball with her classmates on Saturday.

Lee has lived round Bat and Ball all his life, not like them posh twats up Gracious Lane. He's a delivery driver for his mate's dad's firm and can't wait for the weekend, when he's going to watch Arsenal vee AC Milan with his mates down the New Inn and then go up the Slug and get completely f*cked on seventeen pints of Fosters (f*cking Stella: too f*cking expensive). He reads the Star and wants to batter the f*cking paedos that killed baby P, although he's not above giving his own lad a good thrashing if he gives him any of his f*cking lip, cheeky little c*nt. He also can't stand those stuck-up birds you get round here: f*cking feminist lezzers.

You know what? There are tons of these. I may have to write a Part II...

Excuse the stars: I'm not normally such a prude, but I don't want my blog to get blacklisted.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Just a formality

One of the hardest things in any foreign language is learning to use the formal register.


That was the sound of thousands (read 'one or two') of readers simultaneously clicking their browser windows shut.

French is ok: anything French is normally work and therefore 'vous'. Unless you're elderly, or married to a diplomat, anyone you meet socially is 'tu' (although traditionally apparently it's a bit naughty to ask guys if you can se tutoyer: so that's one to remember when you're out hunting for a sugar daddy on Bvd St Germain). Having said that, it's now a bit trendy to call your colleagues 'tu', especially in a translation company where everyone is under thirty and wears jeans to work. It leaves you a bit confused with older colleagues and the boss's PA... will they be offended because you've made them feel old??

Polish: well, everything about Polish is hard. You can forgive a stupid foreigner a couple of mistakes here and there.

No, the really complicated one is Italian. If you learnt Italian at university, you probably studied abroad on the Erasmus scheme, and you probably hung out with lots of long-haired groovy sociology students who called everyone 'tu'. If you went to a British or American university back home, your professors were probably relaxed enough to slip into the informal at the earliest possible moment (not wanting to distract from important things, like Italo Calvino and Marco Tullio Giordana, with complicated things like personal pronouns).
In the formal, pronouns work in a similar way to Polish: the formal personal pronoun is the same as the third person singular, except with only one gender: everyone is a feminine 'Lei'. Having said that, there's also a very archaic form: 'essi', which I am not too sure about.
Basically you are calling the person 'Her' all the time (hmm - like a Scottish laird: 'is Himself at home?), and conjugating as appropriate (la, le, with or without capital letters).

Now, when you're applying to work for an Italian firm, you send them an email in polite Italian, they email you a test translation in polite Italian, you complete it, they give you a score and ask about your rates, etc, all in nice polite (hellishly complicated) formal Italian. Cordiali saluti all round.

When a slightly harassed project manager sends you your first job request, it's still all 'La prego di consegnare ...' and 'Le mando i files ...' ecc.
And you continue - watching your step, because the more correspondance is exchanged, the more chances you have to slip up - with the polite forms of address.

I can't even begin to list the possibilities for disaster here. Imagine you are a professional linguist with an image to maintain. Imagine that - unlike me, ahem - you have up until now managed a steady flow of dialogue without any typos, or mistaken endings, or bent genders.
Now you are getting to know your project manager better, you want to build up an easy working rapport with them, but at the same time maintain a professional distance. Do you stay formal and risk sounding archaic (imagining mirthful project managers reading out bits of stilted Italian from their English correspondants to peals of laughter)? Or do you slip into 'tu' form and hope they don't notice?
I was doing my best to keep a formal tone, when suddenly, the project manager starts calling me 'tu' (rather offhandedly - 'when you translate, make sure you check this and this, and then spellcheck, and check for uniformity' and so on). Relieved, I started using the informal too, along with all the accompanying dry rot of modern email correspondance (lower cases, lack of accents, etc).

Suddenly: wham! We're back in the formal, effectively Szanowna Pani - ing each other all over again.

Have I offended her? Should I have stayed virtuously formal while she slipped into the second person? Have I won or lost respect through some complex pronomial game of which I was not aware? Did I use some anachronism of antique Italian and is she mocking me??

Find these answers to these and more in the next exciting episode of Pinolona's translation life...*

*Welding glossary not included.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

In the bleak midwinter

Ohhh and I was doing so well with my resolution to post every day a la Expateek. Cue a whole string of unpublished, half-started drafts, left unfinished because I simply couldn't stand to look at the screen any more.

It's been a while since I woke up to falling snow in the UK (actually it's been a while since I spent a whole winter in the UK).

-Wake up, it's eight thirty and it's snowing.

There's no-one like my Dad for giving you a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

It was true: I drew back the curtain and there was a pretty powdering of snow just tinted green by the lawn underneath. A fine dust was falling from the sky, rather like powdered sugar sprinkled onto one of those giant baked jam doughnuts we're no longer allowed to eat in obesity-crisis Britain*.

This time last year I was in Kraków and my brother was stranded at Balice by Easyjet and the Wrong Kind of Snow.

And, talking of the wrong kind of snow, we in Britain are spectacularly bad at dealing with Weather.

When I was small, we used to get up extra-early on snowy days to listen to Radio Kent presenters reading out the lovely long list of all the primary schools in the area that were closed due to 'bad weather' (read half an inch of fairy dust).
Ours never was. And sadly it was only down the road so no excuses there either.

Public transport, now that just shuts down completely. Imagine if, in Poland, or Sweden, or even the north of Italy, trains simply stopped running because the snow was the wrong sort. I kid you not - it's got to be full-on Antarctic tundra for the trains to roll on it: this powdery stuff just doesn't cut the mustard and no self-respecting train driver'll run his engine through that mush (nasty muddy splatters all over the windscreen).

Better still, people go nuts, queuing up for petrol, stocking up on tinned food, working from home...

National Emergency! Three millimetres of snow swamp central Kent! Duck and cover!

In any case, it's immaterial since by lunchtime the pretty flakes had turned to icy drizzle and all the lovely sparkly snow had been washed away - with the exception of a few sad-looking lumps of slush in front of a neighbour's house: their children's forlorn attempt at making snowmen.

*although rumour has it that Alastair Darling may be about to announce pre-Budget Doughnut Breaks so we can all comfort-eat our way through the credit crunch. Save money on heating! Put on an additional inch of lard! Extra Weightwatchers Points for all (although we'll be paying for it with new calorie restrictions for 2009)!

Monday, 17 November 2008


I rather feel as though this blog has lost direction.

Since I'm no longer in Poland, it can clearly no longer be an ex-pat blog.
Note to self - no matter how hard I try at Polskie Delikatesy etc.

And since I don't intend (read can't afford) to travel anywhere at least until after Christmas, it's going to be a pretty poor excuse for a travel blog.

On the other hand, I like to write. Especially when it hasn't already been written by someone else in French. It's just that I'm rather lacking in subject material. I can't just write a blog about me:

"- Ho hum, well today I sat at my desk all day stalking people on Facebook I mean translating ... I took the dog for a walk ... why do we exist? ... Nobody loves me! ... Well ok, I'll have a doughnut, but I'm definitely joining WeightWatchers tomorrow ... got really pissed last night ... etc."

and so on ad infinitum how dull.

As with all Art Dahling, I need an angle.

There are several options (note to self, try to avoid easy-way-out list format).

I could write an achingly dull Bridget-Jones-style account of the trials of being a single girl in her late twenties in a recession (none of this London media lifestyle lark). I could join the abovementioned waist-reduction club, wear lip gloss, sign up for internet dating and recount the highs and lows of my racy singleton lifestyle.

More dull still, I could sit here in my room alone, gazing at my navel (WeightWatchers, I hate you) and regurgitating everyone else's musings on existence (are we the only things that are conscious of living? And, if we were all suddenly annihilated, would the universe still be here with no-one to be aware of it? What would be the point of that? If other forms of intelligent life existed on another planet, what would be the corresponding EU immigration policy, and what would the Daily Mail have to say about it all?) and confirming Polite Society's suspicions about the perils of forcing young girls to read nineteenth century French literature (*involuntary shudder au souvenir du temps perdu malheuresement dans de poussiereuses salles d'université ecossaises*).

How very teenaged.

Or, I could go in another, much more positive direction, and make it All About Work.

I can't write a blog about translation. Do you really want a 'Daily welding glossary'? It's not interesting.

I could turn it into an exciting interpreter wannabe blog and write about dummy booths and Social Fora and how to cram vocabulary and Tips for Language Acquisition, not to mention pages and pages on my struggle with the tantalizingly ephemeral trade secret that is Note Taking.
But that would simply mystify my other readers*.
Plus it requires much more gravitas than I possess to write a Real Interpreting Blog ( ;

Chyba mogłabym pisać (jak zasugerował mi kolega) czasami po polsku, aby doskonalić moj polski pisemny, rozśmieszać polskich znajomych i jednocześnie alienować anglojęzycznych czytelników.

Chyba nie.

I could write a Polish learning blog, but Anna already has that one covered... and very good it is too.

Or I could just carry on as I am, writing sporadically, more in the navel-gazing vein than anything else, and watch my stats dwindling, and wonder when I will ever get around to taking that exam / applying for that course / writing that book / moving out of my parents' house.

*Both of them.

Friday, 14 November 2008

edited highlights

I'm afraid I've been too busy and important (read lazy and distracted) to post anything for about the past two and a half weeks.

Besides which, I don't leave the house an awful lot so I'm starting to lack cutesy, quirky anecdotes to write about and at times I've found myself all too tempted to start a wry commentary on current affairs.
This has been a fairly packed couple of weeks, and luckily, I've been able to resist, so you've been spared the Travels without my Spaniel* version of the following events:

- Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand leaving naughty messages on Andrew Sach's answerphone and the (slightly delayed) ensuing Daily Mail-inspired witch hunt
rather an excessive reaction, particularly since the majority of the 27 000 Disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells didn't pick up the phone until after they'd read about the incident in the abovementioned publication.

And Radio 2 is crap on a Saturday morning now.

The US presidential election.
THANK GOODNESS! and isn't it kind of foreign countries to hold their elections for our entertainment in November (see Poland, 2007), thus brightening up what is arguably the most depressing month of the year.

Recent research reveals that these are part of the winter family 'hollyberrium tinsellitis', due to their propensity to bloom ever earlier year on year.

- Strictly Come Dancing
This is English for 'po prostu tańcz'. It's also on at 6.30 on a school night when it's too dark to play outside. (I'll have salsa lessons and a long sparkly ball-gown please).

The New Bond Film
no gadgets? no car?!

*I'd love to say that I'd picked this title as a clever nod to my imminent move to Poland and in tribute to Ryszard Kapuscinski's Travels with Herodotus. Let's just pretend that I did.