Why was my problem lost in translation?

12:52, June 07, 2010      

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I quit my last job in a perfectly appropriate way: I handed in my resignation half a month before I left and recruited a new translator. I finished all the handovers and gave my thanks to everyone during my last team-building meeting. My coworkers expressed their best wishes for my future and my colleagues and bosses were so nice and approachable as I walked out the door that I started to wonder whether I was making a big mistake in leaving such a nice team.

One week after I left, I got a call from my former department manager.

"Hey Yuli, are you busy?" she sounded nice and friendly. "I have got some German materials here and I wonder if you could help me translate them?"

It was unexpected but I could help out if the price was right, I thought.

"It's urgent. I know you will do me this little favor."

She never mentioned payment and I suspected "a little favor" might equate to "doing it for free". I said I had a full schedule.

"All right then," she said coolly and hung up.

Later, I told my friend Y about it. He also worked as a department manager.

She will call you again, he said surely.

"I don't think so," I replied. "I think I hurt her feelings by refusing her so soon. "

Oh, really? He laughed.

Early the next month, she called me again.

This time, she got straight to the point: she had a German video clip and wanted me to translate it.

There it was, again.

"It's really short, less than half a minute; just a piece of cake for you."

I felt like I had no excuse so I agreed.

But when I opened the file from my email, it was a lot more than half a minute!

It took me more than two hours to get it done and all I got in return was her "thanks" over SMS.

I soon fell in a bad mood and turned to my friend Y again.

"I knew it," he said immediately. "But why did you take it?"

"I was afraid that if I rejected her again I would hurt her feelings."

"Well you are paying too much attention to personal feelings in business," he said. "And she definitely doesn't. She will call you over and over again, getting you to work for free."

His words sounded cool and cruel. "Believe me, she'll call you again."

My friend W, an HR manager, heard my story. "Why didn't you ask for pay?"

"She was my former boss, I felt uncomfortable raising the issue," I said.

"Then, it's your problem," she said. "What's the big deal, even if you get rejected! You don't work until you get paid. It's simple and it's fair."

It seemed like it was indeed my problem. My friend Y then pointed out that the fact that she didn't mention payment showed my former manager was comfortable taking advantage of my timidity.

He then raised the example of his colleague, X, who asked a former subordinate to do him a favor. The poor guy worked hard for one month on a project without getting a penny. But when he needed X later, the former boss showed no sympathy.

"If you don't even fight for yourself, who else will fight for you? Y said. "If you agreed to do me a favor, why would I pay you?" W added.

So, the next time my call display showed it was my former employer ringing, I let the phone ring and ring.

Calls came through and I ignored them four or five times during the next three months.

And, then, almost a year later as I stood in McDonalds' with both hands occupied with food and no time to check who was calling, I picked up.

"Hey, Yuli, how have you been?"

Oh, my Lady Gaga, again, it was from my former company, only this time it was not my department manager, it was her boss, the sales director.

"I've got some German materials on hand; could you translate them for me? I'll pay you."

He especially emphasized the word "pay".

I couldn't understand it: why call me again and again? It seemed like they were haunting me. If it's really so hard to find a German translator, why do I hear all the time that students majoring in German find it hard to snare a job?

I was not interested in the work, paid or otherwise, this time.

But I did do him a favor: I introduced him to my friend and I told her: "Charge high; this man is rich!"

Source: China Daily(By Huang Yuli)


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