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« Free Reads -- L.A. Cathedral Redux | Main | The Oldenburg Story, Part II »

September 19, 2002

No Respect for L.A.


As a Southern Californian, I am indignant that so little attention was ever paid to Translating L.A.: A Tour of the Rainbow City. It’s a great travelogue by Peter Theroux, who moved to L.A. in 1985 after 10 years in the Middle East. He finds it far better than advertised:

At first glance, Los Angeles is such a spreading ethnic sprawl, and such a pretentious mess, that newcomers often compare it to the Third World—a sly insult that was immediately given the lie to me, after ten years in the Third World, by the simple fact that practically everyone was coming here instead of leaving.

One of Theroux's more amusing adventures comes in a talk given to a group of professional translators (both multinational and racially mixed) by a corporate diversity consultant, Fred. After trying (and failing) to get a rise out of the translators by hinting that they are unwitting cogs in the mechanism of cultural domination, Fred changes his tack:

“How are we supposed to treat others? How did our mothers tell us to treat others?”

“The way you want to be treated. I mean, the way one wants to be treated himself. One is supposed to treat others in the manner in which oneself wishes to be treated,” offered Gaon Shabazi.

“Three wrong answers,” marveled Fred, as if impressed. “I mean, that is what our mothers said, but Mother wasn’t on the money, was she?…[R]emember that the slow poison of prejudice at work in every American body,” he intoned, “begins with thinking everyone is like me. Everyone should be treated like me. Others want to be done unto the way I want to be done unto. This is our egoistic culture…Could it be—do you think—could it just possibly be that we should treat others the way they want to be treated? How about that, people?”

The longish silence was broken by the gay laughter of Tillie Albright, a Dutch-to-English translator with a small agency…

“You are very young, my dear!” She actually shook her finger at him gently. “Do you know how people want to be treated? Like kings and queens, if you please! Believe me, translators would love to be treated as if the words ‘hard work’ and ‘discipline’ were not in their dictionaries. Treat me as I wish to be treated? Lots of coffee breaks, and martinis at lunch! A little discreet harassment from the right person will not be a problem! Even some dancing!”

"We will come back to this point when we get to our role playing," Fred announced, to cut off the laughter she had set off by winking at him.

Check it out.



posted by Friedrich at September 19, 2002


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