It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over

It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over

A few years ago, I happened to be staying at a small town in the west of France during one of the hundreds of summertime festivals that take place in that region. I remember standing at a street corner, my arms crossed, waiting for a large procession of revelers to pass by, when one of them looked me straight in the eye and exclaimed, “Hé ho! Inspecteur de travaux finis!” I was both taken aback and amused by this phrase, whose meaning is, “inspector of already finished works.” I later learned that this is what they call someone who is looking busy, but just hanging out, and that’s just how I looked, anxious to cross the street, but having nowhere to go.

This phrase came to mind recently, in my work as a Project Manager, during a friendly discussion about delivery packages. I have become, in a very literal sense, an inspecteur de travaux finis.

The process of translation may at first seem pretty straightforward: take the meaning of some words written in one language and convey it using words of a different language, one step, done. Well, if you thought translation worked this way, I’ve got a newsflash for you.

It’s never enough simply to finish a job in one step. Even this blog I’m writing right now will take many steps to be published after I am finished writing it. It will take copy editing, and sub-editing, it will even take picture editing and creating a proof to check before publishing, not to mention adding relevant tags for SEO. Yes, it will take much more than a little musing and a little keyboard gymnastics to turn it into something publishable.

In XXth century journalism each of these steps required interaction with one of several large and complex mechanical beasts. Today, because of computers, they are less visible but nevertheless important. Industrialisation didn’t come about simply to make production massive, it came about to make production better.

The same principles of production that apply to journalism also apply to translating documents. In the process of translating a document, a translation is first checked for accuracy and edited to become more readable. Then, a proof is made and checked for any errors in punctuation and formatting, and finally a quality assessment is made. Yes, Tom, Dick and Harry have each put in their work and the document is ready to go, right?

No, not exactly. When translation is finished, the most important part of the work begins.

Enter l’inspecteur.

“That picture on page twelve, is that high resolution? Lower it. Lower. Up a bit! And when you’re done could you please make a lightweight preview? Oh! And did you save that other file in an editable format? Why are the dates and times in ISO again? I told you to write them in American!” We’re the Sybil to your Basil Fawlty. We’ve got ants in our pants and we need to resolve now, even if we have to do everything ourselves.

Our job is to take care of the fine details that make the difference between a mediocre job and an excellent one. And it really is the fine details that make that huge difference. Take for instance your neighborhood butcher. Do you really want to remind him to remove the fat and get every bone out every time you buy a chicken? What about that room in your house you’ve just painted, the one with the big windows? Isn’t it time to buy new curtains? And look at the cuffs and collar of your shirt. Did you starch and press them after washing and drying?

I ask myself all those nagging questions all the time because, when everything is perfect, especially in a translated document, few may appreciate it, but when the smallest detail is out of place, it sticks out like the mother of all sore thumbs.

We have to create creating that sense, a sense of trust and completeness that let the client know how important he is to our work. Because, at the end of the day, their patronage is what keeps the operation going.

So I would say to that jolly reveler I ran into that summer night that he is right that I am a proud inspector of already finished works. I’m not just hanging out, I’ve got a keen eye for  your every tiny imperfection and I’m ready to nag the devil out of you about it.