Saturday, 18 November 2006

Being rude in an email is... being rude

I don’t work full-time as a translator any longer. The short deadlines I used to have to meet were killing me – literally. Until recently I was still doing three ‘big’ jobs a year, now I have only two left (hope I didn’t jinx them for next year): you may have read the story of how I lost the third one. Anyway, since those jobs aren’t enough to live on – far from it – I also update a couple of guidebooks a year for a well-known publishing company specializing in helpful tomes (they are rather big and heavy) for the ‘discerning traveller’.

In order to get up-to-date information, I email all the tourist offices mentioned in the guides and kindly ask them to send me their address, phone number, URL and opening hours. Things like that. I leave spaces for them to fill in the details and all they have to do is to return the email to me. Since I need to update information about hotels, restaurants, museums, etc., I also ask them if they would be so kind as to send me any brochures they might have, because, although everyone has a website these days, I’m not paid by the hour and don’t have the time to trawl the Internet and search through hundreds of sites that are all organised differently (some websites are very good at hiding info). Most of the tourist offices understand my predicament and send me loads of literature; I plunder it and write down anything that’s new, before phoning most places to find out what is still missing. There’s always something, but at least it cuts down on expensive phone calls abroad (they’re not paid for by my employers).

I am currently updating the guide to Provence. Last week I emailed the tourist offices and, as usual, mostly got wonderfully courteous responses from them, and a whole pile of brochures is at this very moment sitting my floor, ready to be taken apart by me.

I said ‘mostly’ because this is what I received a couple of days ago from the tourist office of a very very small place near Arles. The person (a woman) filled in (badly) the blank spaces in my email and added this – in bold red type – at the bottom of it, before returning it to me:

Un peu de perspicacité, de curiosité, de créativité, surtout si il s'agit d'enrichir sa culture personnelle et rendre son travail plus intéressant me semble indispensable lorsque l'on travaille dans le tourisme. A quoi servirait tous ces outils fantastiques mit à notre disposition (le dialogue, le téléphone, internet etc. …) si non à l'enrichissement personnel, à la communication avec l'autre, avec le monde ENTIER.

Il est bien plus facile de suivre la culture du pré-mâché, du pré-pensé et suivre le chemin de l'uniformité en recopiant les informations que j’aurais pris le temps de vous transmettre, car mon temps n'est jamais compté.
Avec toute mon compassion

It translates like this:
A little perspicacity, a little curiosity, a little creativity, especially if it means enriching one’s personal cultural knowledge and making one’s work more interesting, seems to me to be essential when one is working in the tourist industry. What would be the use of all those fantastic tools we have at our disposal (face-to-face communication, telephone, the Internet, etc.) if not for one’s personal development, for communicating with others, with the WHOLE world.

It is much easier to settle, like everyone else these days, for what is pre-digested, pre-thought, and follow the path of uniformity by copying down information that I would take the time to send you, since my time is never taken into account.

With all my sympathy

My jaw dropped when I read it. I was so shocked. I felt as if I’d been slapped. That woman doesn’t know me. How dare she assume that I’m some ignorant, lazy and narrow-minded person who is scared of new technology! How can anyone be so rude and patronizing?

I wrote back to her and told her who I was and what my qualifications were. She apologized. She said ‘culture’ is what matters to her most of all; she deplores the lack of it these days and she thought I was one of those people who didn’t have any. What, in my well-phrased email (in French, I hasten to add), with its correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, made her think that, I don’t know (especially since her email contains no less than six grammatical errors). Furthermore, the whole point about what I’m doing is that not much ‘culture’ is required: all you need is to be able to speak and write the language properly and be very thorough. I am not ‘writing’ the guide; I am just ‘updating’ it. Keep also in mind that it is November and that the village in question is most probably devoid of tourists at the moment so the woman is unlikely to be overworked and short of time. Anyway, she works in a tourist office, what else is she supposed to do but supply information about her village?

I’m sure she would never have said any of that to my face. Although she signed her name, she must have felt protected by the anonymity afforded by the Internet. That was what allowed her to behave in such an outrageous way.



  1. Votre réaction d'incrédulité et de colère était parfaitement justifiée. Quelle suffisance dans la réponse de cette employée de l'office du tourisme, quelle impertinence même, d'autant plus insupportable que l'expression est effectivement truffée de fautes de grammaire.

    J'ignorais que “le dialogue” fût un “outil fantastique mit (sic) à notre disposition.” L'intelligence aussi est un outil (??) fantastique, mais elle semble faire défaut à certaines personnes (dotées, à l'évidence, de perspicacité, de curiosité, de créativité).

    Comme disait Claude CHABROL:
    La bêtise est infiniment plus fascinante que l'intelligence... L'intelligence a des limites, la bêtise n'en a pas!

    “you may have read the story of how I lost the third one.” De quel billet s'agit-il, Bela? Je ne le trouve pas.


  2. Merci pour la citation de Chabrol, Jean-Paul: je ne la connaissais pas. Elle m'a bien fait rire.

    Le billet dont je parle est celui-ci:

    2006 a été une année bien difficile sur le plan du travail.

  3. I think it's possible she might have been rude to your face too, Bela. There are people who have the patronising gene and people who don't. It's a question of respect, and of making sure you have the correct idea of your own place in the world (and that's really hard to get right - it's easy to be deluded - so it's best on the whole to assume other people are clever and kind until they show evidence to the contrary, no? After all, any such evidence will be quick to be dispayed!)

    But what is that woman doing in a customer service job? Even if she felt like being rude personally, shouldn't the fact that she was representing an organisation have stopped her? In my job people are annoying quite a lot, but if I ever say anything it has to be moderated by the fact that it's not just me I'm speaking for.

  4. What was she thinking of? you were up-dating a travel guide book, you could have obliterated her whole damn village from the pages, she should have been bending over backwards to be charming and to encourage you to big up the place. Give her another slap for stupidity as well as rudeness.

  5. L, I don't think she would have said it to my face: 1) she would have seen straight away I wasn't a young kid; 2) I wouldn't have let her carry on past the first sentence. LOL! No, seriously, I believe she was just hiding behind the fact that we would never meet. It was a cowardly act.

    She's so not right for that job! She was indeed representing that particular village and, as hershelian says below, it would have been easy for me - if I had that kind of power - to 'obliterate her whole damn village from the pages' of the guide. That was very silly of her.

    H, it's a shame I can't do what you suggest. And, anyway, the village she represents is rather cute and doesn't deserve to be 'promoted' by someone like that.


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