The customer knows best/Der Kunde ist König

What do other people do when the customer wants the text changed but is wrong? I sometimes suggest a possible alternative that is also correct, but it makes me angry. Why do they want a translator if they know better themselves? I just did a short urgent job, and there was a question later, via an agency. This was followed up by the information that the (end) customer doesn’t like my translation of ‘entsprechend § 5 des Vertrages’ as ‘under § 5 of the agreement’. I said, if he doesn’t like ‘under’, which is correct, he is bound to love ‘pursuant to’, because all Germans love ‘pursuant to’. I took my frustration out later on a little motorbike that shouldn’t have been parked in our entrance when I locked it in. Someone will find it takes longer to escape the building than expected.

Another time I can’t forget and may have mentioned before was the woman who wouldn’t accept Cluj for Klausenburg. Of course, I now realize I could have written ‘Cluj (German name: Klausenburg)’. At the time it didn’t occur to me, and she said the American embassy had rejected the word the last time.

Of course sometimes one understands what the customer doesn’t like. But many customers don’t concede one any expertise and know they could have done the translation themselves if they’d had the time. Maybe I should simply tell this agency that it’s their problem to suggest a different word when what I did was correct.

2 thoughts on “The customer knows best/Der Kunde ist König

  1. I can well understand your frustration. And yes, there seems to be an almost religous obsession with “pursuant to” (though many translators seem to be infected, too). It’s like when your translation of “Bilanzierungs- und Bewertungsmethode nach IFRS” as “accounting policies under IFRSs” gets changed to “accounting and valuation methods pursuant to the IFRS”. Or every instance of “amortisation” (for intangibles) gets changed to “depreciation”, and write-downs/impairment losses suddenly become “non-scheduled depreciation. Grrrrr.
    The longer I translate, the more I wonder whether many of the really awful translations that get published aren’t the fault of the translator after all, but rather the best efforts of people at the clients who “can English better”.
    Is this phenomenon peculiar to German clients, or does it affect other language pairs as well?

  2. I presume it relates to a lot of into-English translation in a number of European countries. It surely must be the case in the Netherlands and Scandinavia? Life must be quite different for translators of other languages, although I suppose there are relatively few Finnish to Spanish or Slovenian to Portuguese people around.

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