Thursday, 22 March 2012

10 Things I Like About Germany

I will probably have to disappoint those avid Interculturalists amongst you who are just waiting for the words "clean" and "efficient" to crop up  in order to respond with a lofty "oh yes we all know about the ruthless efficiency and the penalities of Germany". It's just a personal little tour of what I like and a bit of why. It's very subjective, in no particular order, and you probably won't agree. But still.

1. The smell in chemist's shops (Apotheken). It's not really medicinal -  more herbal, fresh and aromatic. I've never smelt it anywhere else, and it's intoxicating!

2. The fact that women (of a similar age-group) tend to smile at each other on the streets, or in shops, or trains. Rather than glower.

3. That people at neighbouring tables in a restaurant ackowledge each other with a smile or a nod, and say good-bye when they leave, rather than pretend there's nobody sitting next to them.

4. That there is a market in every town, even the very small ones. Not an artficially created Farmers' Market but a century-long established one, with brilliant fresh produce, seasonal flowers - and that everything is so nicely presented, in baskets, wooden boxes etc.

5. The fact that Germany is so centrally located within Europe. I have this thing about not liking marginal locations. It makes me feel cut-off and side-lined. (I also don't really like islands, sorry.)

6. That (whilst they do exist) there isn't a "mall culture" when it comes to shopping. Shops are strewn about the whole town and are plentiful and varied. I'd hate having to drive to some out-of -town shopping centre and loading up the car with everything in one oh so sensible trip.

7. Its variety. Big modern towns (like Hamburg), strange towns (like Berlin), picturesque towns (like Munich). Wonderful seaside, (North Sea, and Baltic), the Alps, the wonderful lakes, both Alpine and in the North. Heaths, rivers, vinyards. It's so much more beautiful than other countries which constantly blow their own trumpet.

8. Which brings me to my next point: Its modesty. Germany is probably the most affluent, economically successful country in Europe. People are generally wealthy, there's no major strife, integration is voluntary and painless. Its politics is mostly consensual.Yet it doesn't boast of its assets. Probably all due to its history, but right now, in 2012, I find that  a very sympathetc trait.

9. That it's still governed by middle-class values. Many people might not like this, but I do. I'm not keen on seeing people do their shopping in pyjamas, and don't want to get used to it either. Or being asked, threateningly "And what's wrong with that, eh?" I don't like seeing people face down in the gutter on a Friday night. Or ramshackle little houses with huge expensive cars in the driveway.

10. And finally, yes: That is has a functioning infrastructure which -it has to be said - functions because a lot of money is being poured into it. What's so great about trains being late and rubbish not being collected? Or fast-lanes for rich drivers? Sorry, not for me!

My next blog might be about 10 Things I don't like about Germany....

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Translations, Translators - A Predicament

I certainly don't want to attack translators in this post. There are an awful lot of excellent translators doing excellent work out there. But so often, you will read a text, and notice immediately that it is "translated", and awkwardly at that. I just looked at the web page of quite an inovative advertising agency in Germany. Except their English version website was appalling. Tooth-grindingly awful . Here is an agency with a innovative concept, obviously keen on self-promotion and attracting new clients. So why have such an embarrassing English blurb?

The answer of course is: They don't know it's bad. They had it translated in good faith (or they did it themselves. "Sonja, du warst doch 6 Monate in London"...) "Sounds okay, they'll think when confronted with the English version. Sounds good, yeah. Put it in." And whilst this is no way of going about, there is also not much you can do about it if you're not proficient yourself.

You're in the hands of your translator who by dint of certificates and clients served past and present, you have to trust. And that is the problem. Certificates gained long ago, esp. the much admired "Vereidigter Übersetzer"-tag will be of little value when, say, you need an innovative marketing concept translated into a foreign language.

Sadly, tranlators aren't very well paid, and will therefore never turn down an assignment they don't quite feel up to. Doggedly, they will leaf through their dictionaries (equally outdated, and certainly not able to cope with today's online vocabulary!) and hope for the best, i.e. that their client will just take what ever they produce. And unquestioningly use it in their promotional material ...and make a fool of themselves.

That is the predicament - and there's not much you can do about it. Demand better pay for translators, appeal to their ethos... it won't work. The market is disparate, and anybody (with or without certificate) can do their worst.

There simply aren't enough people with excellent language abilities, specialist knowledge, and a feel for good copywriting about.