Meditation mantra

Letting go is never easy. After working on a 200+ page project over the course of 4 weeks, you cannot help but get attached. Or should I say, I cannot help but get attached. Sending off the final version can be bittersweet.
Allow me to explain.

Recently, after handing in a project that had kept me busy for a full month, the client sent back an email to inform me of the changes he had made. The top of the list was his inexplicable decision to replace certain adverbs with the adjective form of the same word. When I looked at the final document he had sent with the changes, I realized that he had quite truly hit search and replace, turning at least half of the document into incomprehensible gobbledygook. When I told him that an adverb cannot simply be replaced with an adjective without rewriting the sentence, he assured me that a “native speaker” had been present when the changes were made and he was confident. “A native speaker of what?” is what I wanted to say but resisted. Luckily most translators don’t get any credit for their work. In this case, I hope that my name is nowhere near the text.

It can be so difficult to release a translation and send it out into the world. As soon as that text leaves your hands it is no longer yours – but then they say it was never really yours to begin with…


US imports

I’m not sure if it can be categorized as a translation mistake because it looks like the name of this shop was decided upon in English.

Nail salons are relatively few and far between in Berlin; they appear to be an import from the US hence the name:  “The Nails of American” or just “The Nails” for short.

Business Denglisch

Working in-house means meetings. The more meetings I attend, the more so-called “Neudeutsch” (new German) I learn. Here, a list of just some of the “new German” words I have heard spoken in the first quarter of 2011:
best practice
last but not least
community feeling
service follow-up
data mining
product support
early warning
pay by use
thank you
in a nutshell

Keep in mind, these meetings were held at a German company, before a German audience, in Germany. Usually the speaker would interrupt himself in mid-sentence to warn us that the next words spoken would be “Neudeutsch”. In this case, Neudeutsch seems to be just another word for English.

I can understand when foreign words are adopted out of necessity but the majority of the English terms and phrases in use in the German business world do not seem to be filling in any gap in the treasure trove of German vocabulary. In fact, in many instances, I’d say that the same concept could be expressed more succinctly in German. Now, how do we tell the Germans that?

Translator civil servant

It appears that even a translator can be a civil servant in Germany. Here are just 2 in-house, German-English translator positions available now:

In-house translator position available at the Federal Ministry of Finance in Berlin.  Read the full job description on their website.

In-house translator position available at the Federal Office of Justice in Bonn. Read the full job description here.

Tax Class

It is tax season again – though for freelancers in Germany, when is it not tax season? (Income tax returns are due by May 30 but Umsatzsteuer {VAT} has to be filed quarterly if not monthly.)

I took a tax class in Berlin last year and it proved to be a tremendous help. I learned all the ins and outs of what’s expected of freelancers in Germany in terms of taxes. And then I hired an accountant. At least now I know that it truly is worth the extra cost.

Upcoming tax seminars at Berlin’s Volkshochschulen (VHS):

  1. When: Friday March 25, 2010 6:00pm – 9:15pm
    and Saturday March 26, 2011 9:00am – 4:00pm
    Where: Frankfurterallee 37, Friedrichschain-Kreuzberg
    How much: 39 €
  2. When: Saturday May 14, 2011 9:00am – 4:00pm
    and Sunday May 15, 2011 9:00am – 4:00pm
    Where: Schulstraße 29, Pankow
    How much: 48.60 €

To charge VAT or not to charge VAT, that is the question

To charge VAT or not to charge VAT, that is the question. Many freelance translators I know in Germany have been asking themselves that very question lately. It is that time of year.

Of course, freelancers who earned more than 17,500 EUR in 2010 are required to tack the extra 19% onto their invoices in 2011 – known as VAT or Umsatzsteuer. Those who earned less or are just starting out have a choice.

Some people worry about scaring off clients when they make the change and start charging VAT. Your business clients won’t mind the extra charge though since they get the same amount refunded to them in their own tax return –  just like you get the VAT you pay for business expenses refunded to you. That is actually the single biggest advantage to taking the VAT leap. If you are planning any major business purchases (computer, software etc) this year, it is definitely worth your while to get that 19% back.

A major disadvantage, of course, is that the laws in Germany concerning VAT tax code are extremely confusing. I filed my own taxes in Germany for years until I was responsible for VAT. As a result, I had to hire an accountant. Unfortunately, the amount of money I had to pay my accountant was significantly more than the amount I was reimbursed from the tax authorities.

Back in 2009, I wrote about some of the exceptions concerning VAT and freelance translators. It is not all that well-known in Germany (even among the tax authorities themselves) that a law is in place that says services provided to business outside of Germany but within the European Union are exempt from VAT. And that includes translation services.

That means, if you – as a freelance translator in Germany – work exclusively for business clients outside of Germany, then you save yourself the trouble of having to charge, collect, and pass on the 19% VAT but you can still get all of the VAT you pay on business purchases refunded to you. And that can be very good for you freelance business.

“Happy New” to you too

It may be mid-January officially but there are still plenty of well wishers out there with a “Happy New Year” greeting. In these parts, though, you will more likely hear “Happy New.” Well, it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it in English as it does in German.

The German language may be infamous for its long words and equally long sentences, but even the Germans know that sometimes less is more. Why bother with “Frohes Neues Jahr” when “Frohes Neues” gets the point across just as well? Maybe the adjective ending gives it away or just the time of year, but either way there is really no doubt about how that greeting ends.

The same phrase in the English-speaking world may result in some strange looks as your conversational partner hangs onto your every word waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop. You have a few more days at least to get out there and wish someone a “Happy New” otherwise you’ll just have to wait until next year.

Achtung Dachlawinen!

The signs in Berlin read “Achtung Dachlawinen” or better yet “Gefahr von Dachlawinen.”

Dachlawinen: a winter phenomenon in Germany that can be very dangerous. The signs are there to save property owners from liability. If you’re not sure what it means, looking it up in the dictionary may not help you either. The word can be broken down into two parts:

Dach + Lawinen or   roof + avalanche.

It is especially a problem this winter since Berlin was hit with significant snow in the month of December. Temperatures are now climbing and the city is experiencing a thaw. The result is roof avalanches.
Look out down below!

Adventures with the (awful) German Language

Mark Twain may be most celebrated for his tales of adventure featuring Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but close to the end of his life he spent some time in Germany, which resulted in a lesser-known but equally entertaining tale of The Awful German Language.

With all the humor you would come to expect from Mark Twain, he writes about his experiences and observations in studying the “perplexing” German language. In an excellent rendering of a sentence the length of which is closer to the German variety, Mark Twain describes the German sentence:

“An average sentence, in a German newspaper, is a sublime and impressive curiosity; it occupies a quarter of a column; it contains all the ten parts of speech — not in regular order, but mixed; it is built mainly of compound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any dictionary — six or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seam — that is, without hyphens; it treats of fourteen or fifteen different subjects, each enclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and there extra parentheses, making pens with pens: finally, all the parentheses and reparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other in the middle of the last line of it — AFTER WHICH COMES THE VERB, and you find out for the first time what the man has been talking about; and after the verb — merely by way of ornament, as far as I can make out — the writer shovels in ‘HABEN SIND GEWESEN GEHABT HABEN GEWORDEN SEIN,’ or words to that effect, and the monument is finished.”

He goes on to critique separable verbs, adjective endings, pronouns, genders, nouns and all the things that make the German language something awful that some of us have come to love. He has some of his own translation stories to tell as well:

“I translated a passage one day, which said that ‘the infuriated tigress broke loose and utterly ate up the unfortunate fir forest’ (Tannenwald). When I was girding up my loins to doubt this, I found out that Tannenwald in this instance was a man’s name.”

2010 is the “Year of Mark Twain.” This year marks the 175th anniversary of Mark Twain’s birth (November 30), the 100th anniversary of his death (April 21) and the 125th anniversary of the publication of his most beloved work, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

There is actually one more Mark Twain anniversary in 2010: it was 130 years ago that my favorite work by the American writer was published.  The Awful German Language is a relatively short work and can be downloaded as an ebook here for free.

Freelancers and upper management

Most freelancers value the freedom to set their own hours. Finding time to run errands, exercise or travel are things that employees complain about more so than freelancers. But those in the know, know that freelancers work more than most. In fact, the Berliner Morgenpost recently reported that upper management and freelancers work more overtime in Germany than any other groups. Though 48 hours is the absolute maximum that an employee can work per week by law in Germany, some still put in more than 60 hours per week. Again, the majority of those people belong to upper management or are freelancers.

Germany has laws in place to protect employees and workers from abuse, but I am prone to ask myself just how many freelancers abide by those laws. Freelancers do not have bosses leaning over them, ensuring that they follow the rules. As a result, it is not uncommon for freelancers to work 8 hours at a time without a break, whilst it would be illegal for an employer to expect anything of the kind from an employee.

Freelancers may be interested in knowing that employees in Germany are not allowed to work more than 8 hours a day.  All workers are required to take at least a 30-minute break after working 6 hours. And at the end of the work day, employees must have 11 hours of uninterrupted rest time.

Freelancers may want to read Germany’s complete working hours law here (in German).