The translation nightmare

In early January 2023 I commissioned the translation of one of my apps from English to French to the translation agency UniTranslate based in Z├╝rich, Switzerland. Since my first contact email I was taken care of by the business owner, Mr. Polat.

The translation I got back was full of errors of all kinds (punctuation, typos, etc.). I pointed the different kinds out in a list by email. The second version of the translation I got back still contained a considerable amount of errors, some of them the same as in the previous version and some new ones, which I again pointed out. In a sarcastic formulation Mr. Polat inquired whether I had found more than one error; I replied that yes, I had found several of them. That seemed to be the boiling point for him. In a reply written in all caps, he wrote that “NO WRITING ON THIS EARTH IS ERROR-FREE!” Can this really be the mindset of a translation agency? That every text shall contain errors? In my case, had I requested the translation of a text the size of a young adult book, it would have contained hundreds of errors. I’m sure that if Mr. Polat would put his own all caps words as a slogan on his website, he would loose most of his clients.

The instructions I had given along with the original documents which explained that some parts of the text should not be translated, were apparently ignored. So not only did they skip the background information I had prepared for them so they would be able to better understand the text, but they also effectively wasted their time translating parts that shouldn’t have been translated. I asked twice why that happened and if I should have given more explicit instructions, but both times the questions were left unanswered.

Apart from many typos, I pointed out that the translation contained several double whitespaces between words instead of a single one, and extra whitespaces at the beginning or end of some sentences. Even though he had assured me that they had experience with translating user-facing text in software, apparently he had never witnessed how having randomly distributed whitespaces at the beginning of texts would make them appear slightly unaligned, raising the impression of a weakly curated software to the end user. According to him, it would be my job to remove extra whitespaces, even if they didn’t appear in the original documents. He made it clear that it’s silly to argue about whitespaces, showing that he has no sense of how to deliver a precise work and is not willing to question it. (He later criticized my emails as being “unprecise”, so preciseness is not a new concept to him.) What worries me is: if he doesn’t care about whitespaces, which are an essential part of written text, how many other things will he consider silly and unworthy of attention? Will a customer who doesn’t understand the language be able to spot them all?

That was only the tip of the iceberg. He didn’t acknowledge that some of the translated documents had the wrong encoding: what should have been foreign characters appeared instead as bogus characters or even ancient symbols that made no sense. According to him, it was not their job to make sure that I was able to see the text correctly, and that he didn’t know what was wrong with my computer. He said that as a programmer I should know that there’s a very easy way of correcting such issues, which is to copy and paste the text into a new document. Of course this doesn’t work, but I still followed his orders just so that I could prove him wrong. I replied that every online tool I tried was unable to display the file correctly, so it couldn’t possibly be a problem with my own computer. He never commented on that. After begging him on the phone to read the text that he saw on his own computer (which wasn’t easy at all, since he kept interrupting me by insistently asking what my problem was), he showed me that in fact he himself wasn’t able to see the correct text. In what was becoming an increasingly embarassing situation, he admitted that he didn’t know the language that well, then made some corrections himself and sent me the file. I was probably supposed to accept it as a completion of the whole job. When I pointed out that there were still wrong characters in the text he had just corrected, he told me I should replace the remaining wrong characters myself. He didn’t seem to share the belief that if someone knows a language in and out to be able to correct everything themselves, they probably wouldn’t hire a translator in the first place.

Still on the phone, he criticized my emails as being difficult to understand, unprecise, illogic, while the only thing that I had done was pointing out the different kinds of errors in the translation. And then, surprisingly, he confided that they had decided not to work together with the translator of my text anymore. It was completely unexpected, because I had never been offered a translation from another person, nor was I offered a refund. Instead, I was accused of wasting his time and not having any idea of how business life works, and that he had a lot of other customers to take care of and many urgent calls to accept. He also told me that I had a “rude style”, which he had already anticipated in the same email which he wrote in all caps. I tried to tell him that his own style was quite rude to me as well, but before I was able to finish my explanation, he interrupted me by repeating that I was again being rude, and warned me that there would be no more phone calls between us. The first thing that I do when someone accuses me of anything bad is apologizing and asking what I did wrong, which I had already done multiple times in this case. Mr. Polat instead kept insisting that I tell him what my problem was.

At the end of our phone call he had the idea of offering me the translation of a “small file” (his own words) into another language. I accepted the offer, requesting Chinese as the target language, but at the same time I did the mistake of asking if the firing of the translator for a future project couldn’t be a reason for the translation to be assigned to another translator. He replied that I won’t go far with hypotheses (I still don’t know what he meant by that) and that the conversation was over. I will never understand how some people can one-sidedly decide that a “conversation is over”.

Since I always try to understand people and make myself understood, and I found that him simply turning away from me was unacceptable, I invited him to lunch so that we could exchange our different opinions. I wrote that I felt abandoned by him and apoligized once more in case I had said something rude. He never acknowledged my invitation or showed any sense of remorse.

So far, I had paid for a translation full of errors (even after a revision), some of them corrected live on the phone by someone who doesn’t even speak the language. Mr. Polat apparently is a person who refuses to take responsibility, quickly looses his patience and turns away from criticism. I challenge him to give a reasonable explanation to each of his actions and words that wouldn’t scare off future customers. He kept asking me what I wanted from him, but my questions in the emails he didn’t answer and my explanations on the phone he kept interrupting. This text he cannot interrupt though, so here I can finally express in all safety what he wouldn’t allow me to tell him in person. What I want, and what is at the same time the only way to show that you’re as responsible about your job as you claim, Mr. Polat: the translation from someone you didn’t fire.

I sent the above text (from the very top until this point) as an email attachment to Mr. Polat six days later. In the email itself I wrote that since he wouldn’t allow me to speak out on the phone, I had to process and write everything down, and that without an answer from his side I would assume that he didn’t read my emails anymore. He immediately replied, asking me to call him. I denied, explaining once more that I couldn’t possibly talk to him again on the phone. He asked again what I wanted from them. I politely replied that he could find that answer at the end of the document I had attached. At that point, he said that he wasn’t in Switzerland because of the recent earthquake in Turkey, and that he couldn’t take care of me now. I asked when he would be able to take care of me. He said once more to call him.

Two minutes later he said that he would send a colleague to my home, and that I should tell him my address. Since I was becoming increasingly scared of him and didn’t want to reveal my address, I offered to come to their office. He told me that nobody was there. When I asked why he couldn’t send his colleague for a meeting at their office, he ignored the question and asked again what I wanted. One minute later he asked what my desires are, because they had to fulfill all my fantasies (his words). I wrote that he wasn’t taking me seriously, and repeated that what I expected from him was written at the end of the previously attached document, and even repeated it in the email itself: I expect a translation from a translator whom he didn’t have to fire. Just as he had done on the phone, he wrote that our business relationship was terminated, that all problems were solved, and that for any error I might find in the translation I must call him, otherwise I shouldn’t contact them again. Again, I explained that calling him was impossible for me, and asked why his colleague couldn’t come to their office or meet me anywhere else, and explicitly said that I would interpret a missing comment from his side on this matter as the confirmation that he was trying to find out my address so that he could intimidate me in other ways.

He never told me why I couldn’t meet his colleague outside of my own home, but instead I got another email from him a couple hours later in which he asked if I was feeling well and if I even read my own emails, quoting the text I had just sent about my suspicion of why he wanted to find out my home address. Then, out of the blue, he wrote that he would assign the translation to someone else, and for a conclusion, again in all caps, IF AFTER THAT YOU STILL CONTACT US AGAIN, I WILL CALL THE POLICE! I didn’t want to imagine how intimidating he must sound saying those words aloud. The first time I had kindly asked him not to virtually shout at me, he had replied that he wasn’t shouting. Now he had either forgotten that again, or was still convinced that writing in all caps didn’t mean to virtually shout, or truly wanted to shout.

I didn’t let him intimidate me, relieved that I had refused to talk to him on the phone. I decided to point out once more that he still hadn’t answered any of my questions, not even the one about the meeting with his colleague which I had explicitly said that, should it be left unanswered, it would make me suspicious of his own intentions. He replied in one single sentence that apparently I didn’t require their services anymore. I replied that I didn’t say anything like that, that I still expected the translation from someone he didn’t have to fire, and that since he hadn’t commented on my summary of our interaction which I had previously attached, I assumed that he agreed to everything. I also noted once more that I had tried everything so that we could talk to each other, but he had made it impossible by not allowing me to finish my sentences on the phone, by not replying to my invitation to lunch, by not allowing to meet me outside of my own home, and while I had repeated multiple times that I felt harassed, he had never acknowledged it or apologized for it.

Two weeks later, I still hadn’t got a response, so I wrote again. Ten days later, he wrote that the Chinese translations were ready and asked two questions, outlined in a numbered list: 1) if I would be satisfied with their services after getting the Chinese translations, they would give me the Chinese translations and 2) would it be possible to apologize for accusing them falsely? He also asked me to reply to his questions with yes or no, in order to keep the communication as simple as possible, and that I wouldn’t get or hear anything more from him. He added that he was offering me the Chinese translations because that’s what he had promised me as a compensation. I replied that I couldn’t possibly say in advance if I would be satisfied with something I didn’t have yet. More importantly, I asked if he intended to keep the other promises he had made, including the revision of the original translation by another person. Finally, I asked what false accusations he meant.

Six weeks later I was still waiting for his response. I wrote that he had accused me of being a liar but wasn’t able to mention a single lie I had apparently told. I repeated that I was willing to apologize for anything wrong I had done, if only he could tell me what, and that despite telling him several times how mistreated I felt, he hadn’t apologized a single time. I concluded that last email by writing that I was ready to publish the review about him and, in case he was still wondering what I expected him to do, I repeated for the last time that I expected to get the translation by someone whom he didn’t have to fire.

Five weeks later, still no reply. That’s when I published this review.

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