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Hello,

I was just working on a translation for a restaurant website, and came across an issue I have often come across in such jobs. I thought I would post about it here to see how other translators deal with it.

In Japan it is common and perfectly acceptable for businesses, often those selling food or drinks, to say a particular item is "popular with women" or "recommended for women." (They may even say something like, "This drink is fruity and not very strong, so it's easy for women to drink.") However, in English-speaking countries such language would likely be perceived as sexist and may offend people, so restaurants in the west will never use this common Japanese marketing strategy.

Obviously this is a cultural difference, but how do you deal with it as a translator? If you translate these expressions just as they are, native English speakers may find them offensive even though Japanese people probably would not, and surely the business does not want to offend customers. Would you try to explain this cultural difference to the customer? Would you somehow try to "soften" the translation a little? Or just translate it as it is?

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    Andrew

    Hello Janalisa. Is recommending a specific product for women really considered sexist? I don't think it's such a big deal. But regardless of my personal opinion, I think that our stance at Gengo is that we're translators, not localizers. If you can soften something without losing accuracy, that's great. But otherwise, I don't think it's our place to recommend changes to the customer (even though I'm often tempted to as well). Would be interested in hearing Gengo's official opinion on this.

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    janalisa

    Thanks for replying, Andrew. I don't think it's necessarily sexist to recommend a specific product to women, but it can be perceived that way in some instances. The main situation that comes to mind is with alcoholic drinks. Drinks are often recommended as "easy even for women to drink" because they are fruity or smooth tasting. In the west, many may take offense at this because it seems to imply that women are too weak to handle stronger drinks. Out of curiosity, I actually did an informal poll on Facebook to see if my western female friends would indeed find such statements offensive, and many of them did, with some saying they would even leave the restaurant and take their business elsewhere. So it's not just me. But Japanese people would likely not be offended, so I believe there is a significant cultural difference in how such statements are perceived, and in such cases I personally feel like it may be appropriate to change the wording a bit, as long as the main message remains intact. (i.e, remove the reference to women and simply say "This cocktail is easy to drink.") Of course it would normally not be our place to modify the customer's words in any way even if they seem offensive to us, but if a statement is perceived one way in one culture and another way in a different culture, I think changing the statement so it is perceived in a similar way may be part of translation.

    Anyway, those are just my thoughts, but I would also be interested to hear Gengo's official opinion!

    janalisaにより編集されました
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    Aquablue TR

    Hi, Janalisa. I sometimes come across similar issues, and one example was a questionnaire for foreign tourists visiting Japan, which asked for respondents' gender with only two options: male or female. As a Japanese native, I fully understand that the question was never intended to be offensive and was just for a statistical purpose, but I thought this might be appear in a different way to respondents who would answer in English. What I actually did was to accurately translate the texts and to leave a comment explaining the concerns and possible alternatives. I just feel that comments are necessary in whatever way I would translate such statements. I would appreciate Gengo's official opinion too to find out to what extent we should do. 

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    tashioh

    Hiya, from a Japanese business owner's point of view, I believe it would be nice to find some suggestions from a translator whose culture is the culture of their target clientele (or at least similar one).  I would appreciate it if I were the business owner.  And of course, Japanese people are not famous for being feminists!!!I But people are soooo nice back in Japan, that is, of course, if I don't listen to all the ojisans...  I sometimes make minor changes (maybe a tiny bit more aggressive than "softening" like Andrew平常心 mentioned) and leave a note explaining why I did that because I probably know more about Japanese mindset than most of the customers whose native languages are not Japanese.  So in your case, I agree with what you're inclined to do.

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    kvstegemann

    I think that you are well within your rights as a translator when you modify wording that might be considered offensive, without actually changing the underlying meaning. At least if you are sure that the text is not actually intended to offend :)

    But I also think that a positive statement ("popular with women") can hardly be considered offensive, I would keep it. On the other hand, a statement like "easy even for women to drink" has a degrading undertone and is somewhat embarrassing, and it would be correct to rephrase it (and to inform the client about cultural differences and recommendations). You could turn it to a positive statement like "easy to drink and popular with women", thereby keeping the meaning in a culturally acceptable way.

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    janalisa

    Thanks for your replies, everyone! I may have phrased my original post poorly, but I do agree that simply saying something is "popular with women" is not so offensive. I think "recommended for women" could possibly be mildly offensive depending on the context. (i.e, "This mild drink is recommended for women" may seem to imply that women can only handle mild drinks.) "Easy even for women to drink" is definitely problematic. I recently translated a text that included such statements for 3 separate drinks, and I did actually end up modifying them (I simply left out the "even for women" part in my translation) and explaining to the customer that I did this because of cultural differences. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who feels this was an appropriate thing to do.

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    Lara Fernandez

    Hi all!

    Thanks for this discussion - it's great to see you guys sharing your ideas and helping each other! :)

    We generally agree with @janalisa: translation is about getting the idea of the source across to the target. Since the idea in the original is not "sexist", it's a "we want to sell this product", the audience in the target language shouldn't read the text and think "sexist". Some of our big customers in JA>EN already ask for information like 女子会おすすめ to be removed completely, since they know it doesn't translate well.

    For smaller customers, we believe that translators should explain to the customer that a literal translation would offend people, and offer a different translation, one where the offending piece of information can even be removed. If the customer wants to proceed knowing that, it is their choice, but as a translator, it's our job to make sure the customer understands what they're getting.

    Hope this helps, and keep these kinds of posts coming! 

    Lara

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    janalisa

    Thanks Lara! I'm happy to be reassured by your comment and the other comments here that I've handled this situation reasonably.

    Of course it is ultimately the customer's choice if they want the proposed changes made or not, but since customers don't always respond to comments quickly or even at all, what I usually do in situations where I'm unsure about something is to go ahead and do the translation however I think is best and submit it with a comment explaining what I did and telling the customer I would be happy to make changes afterwards if they want. This way I'm free to start working on other jobs, and I find customers almost always accept my suggestions.

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    kmorgan135

    In my main job, I work in a translation company. Our stance on something like this would be either:

    a) Translate it as it is and leave a comment to the customer recommending it be deleted

    b) Use some kind of 意訳 to soften the tone (in this case, like another commenter suggested, "popular with women"), and leave a comment for the customer to explain your choice of wording

    I would not recommend straight up omitting it, as some customers might insist that they want it, and then you have to go back and put it into the translation. So it's the least efficient option, especially if the phrase comes up a lot.

    Anyway, that's just my two cents!

    edit: Oops, I just noticed there was already an official Gengo response. I guess I'll leave this here for reference anyway since I can't seem to be able to delete my response.

    kmorgan135により編集されました
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