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Das gehört nicht zum guten Ton July 15, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings.

I am so livid right now that I can’t see straight! I started work an hour later than I usually do, because yesterday was such a grueling day. I had delivered a medical report in the morning, then spent the next six hours translating 3,904 words about diarrhea medication, while also making my 2 PM deadline for a big medical report that I had sent to a proofreader. I took a couple hours off to take my dog to the dog park and then came back and finished two short proofreading jobs, calling it a night around 10:30 PM.

I open my e-mail to find an e-mail that was sent from an agency in Munich at 5 AM my time that says “Bitte QS Machen! Bitte bestätigen Sie!” with the PO pasted on the bottom. I assumed it was in regards to the short proofreading job I delivered to them last night and responded that I had sent the file last night at 9:43 PM. A little further down in my inbox were two e-mails – one at 8:05 AM and one at 10:39 AM – stating “Wo bleibt die QS?” I scrolled back to the original e-mail and saw that it was a brand-new job that was due at 12 PM German time – 6 AM my time. At that point I got really upset and wrote the client a rather irate e-mail asking them to not contact me anymore. Normally I am calm and professional, but it’s hard to stay that way when you are being yelled at on e-mail.

I had recently started working with the client again, after almost 6 or 7 years of not hearing from them. I had worked with the agency back when I lived in Germany, when it was a one-woman show. She would call and ask me if I was available, and since I usually was we had a nice working relationship. The agency has grown a bit, and I have a feeling the PMs are overworked – and perhaps not native Germans. That still doesn’t excuse the lack of etiquette in the request, because I am not a native German and I can compose polite e-mails when I’m not really upset.

In the meantime the PM has written back apologizing because she hadn’t considered the time difference, but it’s too late. I don’t need a client who can’t be pleasant on e-mail. “Bitte QS Machen!” is not the way to ask a translator to accept a proofreading job from you.

For those of you non-Germans who are wondering about the title of this post, zum guten Ton gehören basically means “to be in good form” or “follow the rules of social etiquette.” Ton can also mean tone, and I certainly didn’t like the tone of her e-mail job request!



1. Tom Ellett - July 15, 2009

Wow, Jill, that’s so incredibly rude! I would have been equally livid. “Just not the way things are done,” I think would be an appropriate translation of your post title in this case.

2. Kevin Lossner - July 16, 2009

The assumption that you will take the job in the first place is rude; if there is no confirmation, a reasonable person would assume that you are unavailable in some way – traveling, sleeping, whatever. And c’mon – surely she knows you are a US-based translator and can do the math to figure out the time. If not, she doesn’t belong in this business.

However, if this is an out-of-control PM I would probably have just had a few words with the agency owner. In many cases they are unaware of the shortcomings in communication skills for their employees, and they welcome a bit of polite information on the subject. For example, one agency I know had a PM who was apparently “terrified” of me. This was mentioned one day by a coworker, and that was when they found out that nearly every word count on almost every job from that PM had been wrong and that I had largely stopped accepting work as a result. It gets tiring when the bookkeeper sends an e-mail for each bill asking what’s up. I always got paid, but somewhere along the line I starting speaking very “directly” to the hapless PM, who desperately needed to develop some skills to keep her job. Apparently she didn’t manage that either…

3. MT - July 16, 2009

Shocking story. I’d have been livid too.

I get the impression that many Europeans agency employees don’t understand how many time zones the United States actually extends across… Shouldn’t that be a basic part of PM training, too?


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