The Invisible Woman

I’m a professional French to English translator, and as such I’m invisible. “How come?” I hear you cry. Well, the best translations are invisible. That means you don’t notice that what you’re reading has been translated, and I’m sure you don’t think about the person who’s translated it.

So what is life as a translator on Reunion Island like? Personally I work mainly with local clients in Reunion, but also with some translation agencies in Europe. As a freelancer I’m glad to say no two days are alike! During the course of my working day as well as translating I also have to find time to answer e-mails and phone calls, draft price quotes, invoice clients, chase up any late payers … and make myself copious cups of tea of course.

When you translate you have to be an investigator and an explorer. You’re constantly solving a complex puzzle: you can’t just take words from one language and turn them into words in another language; you have to rearrange, and rephrase, and think very hard about the word choice in order to produce seamless writing in the target language.

If I’m home for lunch I follow the news in French on TV and/or in English via the internet. As somebody who translates into English but who lives in the French- and Creole-speaking environment of Reunion it’s important for me not to lose my native language!

In addition it’s essential to keep up to date with Continuing Professional Development, or CPD as it’s known, and although Reunion is far away from where most translation industry conferences and presentations take place, I manage to stay abreast using online webinars.

When I go out I admit I sometimes have trouble switching off, as at the cinema I tend to compare subtitles with the dialogue, and at a restaurant if the menu has been translated into English I invariably end up finding a humorous mistake: souris d’agneau translated as ‘lamb with mouse’ for example, or the fish cabot de fond translated as ‘dog’s bottom’! At the weekend in ‘Meeting’, sorry Reunion Island, I could go and stay in Saint Pierre at the ‘Beating of the blades’ hotel…

If I want to visit one of the ‘circuses’, as I’ve seen Reunion’s caldera called many a time, I could go to Cilaos and see its famous embroidery ‘days’, or hike in Hellbourg on a path whose sign proudly proclaims that it’s been ‘done’ (as opposed to amenagé).

All in all I think there’s plenty of days work left for us ‘invisible’ translators to do… and I’m not talking about embroidery.

Vocabulary

translator – traducteur
“How come?” – comment ça se fait?
to draft – rédiger
price quotes – devis
to chase up – relancer

late payers – client retardataire
to solve – résoudre
to turn into – transformer
to rearrange – reorganiser
to rephrase – reformuler

seamless – harmonieux
up to date – à jour
to stay abreast – se tenir au courant
webinars – webinaires
to admit – avouer

to switch off – décrocher
bottom – fesses
blades – lames
caldera – cirque
embroidery – broderie

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Living in Saint Denis

We arrived in Reunion in 2011 with nothing but our backpacks.  As neither my partner nor I had a job, we decided that it would probably be best to settle in one of the bigger towns or cities.

Having read in our guidebooks that St Pierre was amazing, we headed south the moment we arrived.  From our little holiday studio flat in Le Tampon the first things that needed organising were for us to buy a car and find a place to live.

After contacting a bunch of estate agencies in St Pierre and responding to numerous flat ads online, we realised that our time was quickly running out and we hadn’t even managed to visit one flat!  Either fate was telling us something or there really were no flats available to rent in St Pierre that fell into our price range.

By that stage we had been up to St Denis a couple of times to look at cars.  After spending some time in the city centre doing touristy stuff, we realised that we actually felt better in St Denis than in St Pierre.  With that in mind we decided to get in touch with a couple of estate agencies in the north.  By the end of that week we had signed a lease to a flat in the city centre and bought ourselves a car. And it just so happens that five years later, we still live and work in St Denis.

It’s not like we haven’t considered moving but the pros of staying always outweigh the cons. Staying where we are means that we can stick to having one car between the two of us.  This choice is ecological as well as economical and walking is really good exercise. We are so lucky to not spend time in traffic jams.  We do most of our daily tasks on foot.

Now I’m not saying that it’s only peaches and cream.  St Denis is busy and noisy during the day and summers in our flat can get terribly hot.  And no, we can’t just pop down to the beach for a quick swim before or after work!

But here is what I do appreciate: I love the many well preserved Creole villas and their architecture.  I enjoy walking up rue de Paris to Jardin de l’Etat – what a little gem with its well-kept lawns and ancient trees.  And who wouldn’t enjoy eating an ice-cream on the steps of the cathedral on a Sunday afternoon overlooking the little square and the bubbling fountain?

So St Denis it is for the moment!  But who knows what the future has in store for us!

Vocabulary

backpack – sac à dos
to settle – s’installer
flat – appartement
a bunch of – un tas de
estate agency – agence immobilière

flat ads – annonces immobilières
to manage – réussir à faire quelque chose
fate – destin
to get in touch – contacter
a lease – un bail

pros and cons – le pour et le contre
to outweigh – être plus important que
to stick to – s’en tenir à
to be lucky – être chanceux
traffic jam – embouteillage

peaches and cream – chouette
gem – bijou
well-kept – bien tenu
lawn – pelouse
to have in store – réserver

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Visiting the Insectarium

Recently, I discovered Reunion’s insectarium for the first time when our home-schooling group went on a guided tour. A handful of adults with about ten kids between us, we showed up at nine a.m. on a very hot morning in Le Port. I’m not the biggest fan of insects, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect. Would there be cockroaches crawling all over the place? Would there be bugs flying around my face and touching me?

But I shouldn’t have worried. On arrival, we met the loveliest guide in the garden of the insectarium, who had an obvious love of her job and of nature. She quickly introduced us to a couple of adorable young praying mantises, and we took turns holding them. Then it was time to feed one of our new friends to the spiders. The children watched, fascinated as the spiders trapped their prey in their web for breakfast. The second praying mantis was reserved for a chameleon, who grabbed it in a split second with its long tongue. Next, we visited the butterfly enclosure. There were dozens of different coloured butterflies, from metallic blue to pale yellow. We looked for butterfly eggs on leaves, which were smaller than a grain of sand.

Then, our guide led us into the education centre. Glass enclosures were filled with insects, spiders, ants and other creepy crawlies in natural habitats. Each enclosure had a little sign with information about its inhabitants, and I was happy to finally put a name to several insects I recognised. By then, the kids were starting to get tired and hot, so we sat down and listened to a story. Keeping with the theme, we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but not without a quick correction to the story. As it turns out, the book depicts a chrysalis, rather than a cocoon as written.

We also learnt how to tell the difference between moths and butterflies. You simply wait for them to fall asleep and check if they fold their wings behind their bodies, or lay them out to the side. To finish off a great morning, we made butterfly hotels out of five litre water bottles. We came home with a caterpillar and a chrysalis from the insectarium, which became a butterfly a week later. I’m still not best friends with the insects around my house, but it was a fascinating experience nonetheless.

Vocabulary

homeschooling – l’école à la maison
handful – une poignée
cockroaches – cafards
bugs – insectes
worried – inquiet

obvious – évident
praying mantis – mante religieuse
to hold – tenir
prey – proie
web – toile

grabbed – arraché
in a split second – dans une fraction de seconde
creepy crawlies – bébêtes
The Very Hungry Caterpillar – La Chenille Qui Fait Des Trous
moths – papillons de nuit

to fold – plier
wings – des ailes
to the side – sur le côté
nonetheless – néanmoins

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Carless in Reunion

Driving through St Paul at seven am, or better yet, driving to St Denis when the coastal road is closed and you are forced to take the winding road through La Montagne. I think these are the moments that make any resident of Reunion wish that they were home in bed, or riding a bike, or doing anything but driving in their car. In 2014 there were an estimated 336,000 cars on the island; that’s almost one car for every two inhabitants (and many of those inhabitants are not even of legal driving age.) That’s a lot of cars, and now, a few years later, I can only assume that there are even more!

Since arriving on the island almost four years ago, my partner and I are on our fourth car.  We sold the first one, broke the second one, the third one is still going strong, thank goodness, and I bought the fourth one just last week. After breaking the second car I decided to go without a car, I let my partner take the third car to work each day, and I stayed home. I was the literal definition of a stay-at-home mum. After spending seven months of being trapped in the hills of St Leu with an infant, I gave in and I bought a car.

If I still lived in Japan, going carless would be simple, hop on a bike, metro, train, or walk. But in Reunion living carless means riding a bike up huge hills (by the way, I live five hundred metres above sea level), walking on the road, since sidewalks are almost non-existent, or waiting forever for a mini bus with seven seats and sporadic hours. Not that I am criticising the bus system, actually I’m impressed at some of the roads that they venture onto. I was just not ready to wait in the sun and hop on a bus with my diaper bag, stroller, beach gear and new-born in arm. I chose to buy an inflatable pool and stay at home instead. But now that the pool turned green and my son is almost walking I decided that I needed to get out of the house. So, car number four is in the driveway.

Sitting in traffic on my way to St Paul last week didn’t feel so bad, even if the new car is making weird clunking noises, it’s all a part of the game. I have accepted the fact that in Reunion a car is almost a necessity. Unless of course you live along the coast, close to everything, but then you have other necessities… Like air conditioning.

Vocabulary

coastal – littoral
winding – sinueux
to assume – supposer
partner – compagnon, compagne
thank goodness – heureusement

stay-at-home mum – mère au foyer
trapped – bloqué
in the hills – dans les hauts
infant – nourrisson
to give in- craquer

by the way – à propos
sidewalk – trottoir
to criticise – critiquer
venture – se risquer
diaper bag – sac à langer

stroller – poussette
newborn – nouveau-né
inflatable pool – piscine gonflable
driveway – parking
traffic – bouchon

clunking – bruit sourd
air conditioning – climatisation

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Why (did I come to) Reunion?

Very often, when we native English speakers meet people for the first time here in Reunion, one of the most common questions we get asked is: ‘why on earth did you come to Reunion?’ It’s funny, you don’t hear the same question for people who have come from Mainland France, but I guess that’s because its commonplace. But when we say ‘I’m from Melbourne’ or ‘London’ or ‘Texas’ the reaction of people is often this amazed look on their face, going wow! Why would someone as cool as you come to a place like Reunion?

Well, we all have our different reasons. For me, it was a collection of about five or six. First and foremost, I was living and working in London, but it felt so boring, predictable and I was having a fun time I suppose, but I knew that if I didn’t leave then, I would never leave, and the prospect of spending the next fifty years in the same place scared me to death.

Number two was that it was also 1999, which meant that I wanted to mark the beginning of this new millennium with an outstanding experience, one which would really put me to the test.

The plan was to spend six months here, and then see how I felt afterwards. 99% of me thought I would be back in the UK within a year, but there’s always that little 1%, that little spark which leads us to do adventurous things, to take new risks, and also to break the mould. Like many people, society expected me to get a job in the same place I was born, and follow the crowd.

But that would have meant staying in England…

Which brings me to reason number three: the climate. I’ll admit it: sunshine makes me happy. Rainclouds and gloomy skies get me down. Before London I had lived in Beziers and Montpellier, and had fallen in love with the south of France. And reason number four was the language. What’s the point of spending four years studying a language and never using it? I had to get back to the strange and exotic world of croissants, fine wines and the joys of the subjunctive tense.

So it was a classic example of when you know exactly what you want, and you go for it – my criteria: somewhere hot, French, adventurous and unique. Someone suggested a tiny place in the Indian Ocean, and off I went. Reunion Island it was.

They say that the rest is history, but the second question I often get asked, and this will be Part II of this podcast, is ‘Why on earth did you stay…?’

Vocabulary

native English speakers – anglophones
funny – marrant
commonplace – courant
amazed – étonné
first and foremost – tout d’abord

predictable – prévisible
scared – effrayé
outstanding – remarquable
afterwards – après cela
spark – étincelle

mould – moule
to expect – s’attendre
crowd – foule
gloomy – lugubre
what’s the point – quel est l’intérêt?

you go for it – tu te lances
tiny – minuscule

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