Friday, November 16, 2007

Translating Argentina

Hello, my friend. How are you? Did you enjoy last night’s Democratic presidential debate? You did not watch it? No, I understand. I too am repulsed by Joe Biden’s hair plugs. No president should have a head like a Barbie doll. It makes me think that if you were to take off Biden’s pants, all you would find in his crotch region would be a smooth, flesh-colored piece of plastic. No, I agree, it is better not to think about it. Plus he is from Delaware, a state which I have seen with my own eyes and yet still do not believe actually exists. But enough about Joe Biden’s non-existent hair, genitalia, and home state.

As you know, I support my lavish lifestyle here at the Hacienda by doing translations. I recently found this website where people post translation projects, and translators can view them and bid on them. After a few weeks of bidding on projects, I finally got one. Some Indian company needed a translation of some tax documents from Spanish to English. I put in my bid, they asked me to translate a sample paragraph, I translated the holy shit out of it, they loved my work, much laudatory praise was exchanged, and I got the gig.

Too bad the gig was a nightmare. It turns out that what needed translating was a user guide to a software version of the form Argentinians need to fill out in order to calculate the value added tax they owe. A week from now, when you sit around your Thanksgiving table looking at your turkey and mashed potatoes and whatever cranberry-based side dish your family prefers and you give thanks for all the great things in your life this year—how awesomely expensive your health care is, all the Kevin Federline knowledge you’ve managed to accumulate, and the fact that Scooter Libby runs free amongst the Colorado aspens—take a moment and give thanks that you are not an Argentinian taxpayer subject to the value-added tax.

A week ago I didn’t know what a value added tax was. And, after translating 43 pages regarding how to fill out the forms required in order to declare and pay it, I still don’t know what it is. I do know this:

- both book editors and annually-salaried agricultural workers are expressly stated to be subject to it

- there is a special provision for when you have had your septic tank or cesspool cleaned by a specific type of taxpayer

- the Spanish-language instructions for using the value added tax software are completely incomprehensible, and now in English they are even worse. It is like that time on “Newsradio” where the boss wrote a book on management titled “Capitalist Lion Tamer” and the Japanese translated it as “Super Macho Donkey Wrestler.” Only much, much worse.

- the software in question has a special tab when dealing with transactions involving “ordinary natural water, common bread… and fuels not sold at service stations.” What kind of fuel is not sold at service stations? Buffalo chips? Plutonium? Who lumps alternative fuels in with “common bread”? Perhaps in Argentina common bread is leavened with Strontium-90.

- Argentinians have made up one of the best words ever: “monotributo” (and its derivative, “monotributista”). You have no idea how hard it was for me not to go with “Tribute Monkey” as the translation for this.

The lesson I want you to take away from this is this: Argentina is a wonderful country, but you do not want to live there. Yes, they may have glaciers, roaring waterfalls, and bats with dark, glistening, enormous batcocks, but their tax code is not something you want any part of.


Katie said...

Ah, sounds like to the sort of stuff that I read about at work all day. I recently edited a section of our website called "Choose the right VAT scheme for your business." It made me want to poke my eye out with a spoon.

Adrian said...

I am totally starting the Scottish Monotributista Party.