Perspectives: The games we play

Ali G’s ovaries were rotting, and she wanted the world to know. On episode one of ABC’s eighth season of The Bachelor, she walked right up to Travis, told him “[her] eggs [were] rotting” and that she was ready for “the reproduction phase of [her] life.” Needless to say, she didn’t get a rose.

For those of you who don’t watch the show — or who won’t admit to watching it — The Bachelor pits high-strung single females against one another for national media attention — ahem, I mean a man. It’s misogyny at its finest. ABC’s producers load them up with alcohol, shove them into romantic settings, and expect a love match to be made in ten episodes or less. Each week, some of them “get a rose,” meaning they can stay, while some must “leave the mansion,” meaning they go home.

I love it. I will proudly admit in print that The Bachelor is one of my favorite shows. I don’t watch it because I’m a romantic, though, or because I truly want to see these poor, blinded people fall in love. I watch it because it’s the most entertaining sociological experiment out there. It’s a study in human behavior — how people react to each other, what draws them closer, what pushes them away. These are the games we play and once or twice a year, ABC plays them out on Monday nights for all of America to see. Usually it’s more entertaining than not. Take poor Ali G, for example. After getting booted off — as if rejection on national television wasn’t mortifying enough — she accosted the bachelor. “Am I too short?” she asked. “Are my breasts too small? Why didn’t you choose me?” 

Personally, I think “Because you discussed your ovaries on national television” would be the obvious answer. The less-than-obvious answer is that Ali G’s sales pitch was too strong. I say less-than-obvious because it’s a mistake we all make. An expression for “showing your cards too soon” only exists because more than one person has done it. Granted, I would argue that it’s always too early for a girl to pull the rotting eggs card with a man she’s seeing, but how often have language service providers (LSPs) killed their chances of a sale because they revealed too much too soon? Let’s admit it. Just as in dating, sometimes you don’t know when it’s safe to take that next move.

Now let’s move from The Bachelor to something a bit more industry-specific: conferences that attract both localization buyers and sellers. As our industry’s bachelor mansion, these hybrid events are interesting to begin with. You have a few bachelors — er, translation buyers — who do the choosing and a whole lot of ladies — translation sellers — hoping to get a rose. Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea of everyone involved in localization coming together to truly advance the industry. If real changes are going to occur with what we do, if innovation is truly to take place, it will require us all to be working together. That is the goal of these events, and it’s wonderful when people honestly and truly get that. The sad part is that not everyone gets it. Just like love, our industry has a few Ali Gs. What’s even sadder is that we have a few of the other contestants as well.

Again, if you’ve seen the show, you know what I’m talking about. These “other contestants” are the women who at some point stop caring about the bachelor and start caring more about the element of competition itself. Competition is like blood, and they’re vampires, constantly at each other’s throats with grumblings and arguments. At first these fights are kept to the competitors only; they start in and stay in the mansion. But halfway through every season, they inevitably move out of the mansion and into the dates. Tune in around episode four or so and you’ll see it: the first insecure contestant to gripe to the bachelor that the other contestants aren’t being nice to her, that the contestant she fears he likes more than her is not who she seems. This happens in reverse, as well, on The Bachelorette, where season-six contestant Jonathan — a.k.a. “The Weatherman” — once spent an entire date trashing his competition to Bachelorette Ali F.

This, too, is a game we play. When I was a child, my mother told me there were two ways to have the tallest tower in town: you could knock down towers that belonged to other people or you could build yours higher. She told me to be the kind of girl who built hers higher.

Tower-knockers are the most common type of Bachelor contestant, and they’re also the type most common in the language industry. Now, again, don’t get me wrong. I think that by and large we’re a friendly industry, one where companies tend to collaborate more than they compete. But there are some real competitors out there, people.

This is not reality television. We are real people running real companies. Our clients have real problems, and LSPs have real solutions. Working with a full-service provider can help our clients improve content management, streamline their billing, and grow their international and domestic revenues. But, as Ali G’s erstwhile efforts have proven, we cannot shove ourselves upon them. When clients are new to translation, there’s a lot they need to learn in order to get the most for their money. But there’s also a balance between how much a person should know and how much a person can take. And when the project is ready to be assigned, the client may most likely give only one LSP a rose.

We all want that rose. Let’s admit it. Whether our hearts are competitive or not, we each want to be the LSP that doesn’t have to leave the mansion, the one that gets the job. But maybe it’s time to admit it and move on, thinking beyond ourselves. On season 14, contestant Ali F (no clue why The Bachelor has so many Alis) dropped out voluntarily because her work and other factors indicated she and the bachelor weren’t a good match. She wound up winning in the end, though, as ABC asked her to come back later to host her own season, where she met a man who was a better match — not “The Weatherman.”

Sometimes losing a project means both you and the client win.

That’s because the games we play as people aren’t limited to romance. Our approach to romance, or to any kind of relationship, really, is just a microcosm of who we are. Do we respect other people? Are we too vulnerable to put ourselves out there, holding back our business’ finer qualities because we don’t want to be braggarts? Or do we come on too strong, pushing each and every accomplishment on mailing list recipients like it’s hot, hot news? The language services industry is replete with different sales and relational styles. Underneath all those company names and job titles, we’re still people. The question is, though, is your company self-actualized enough to stop playing games? Are you the contestant who cares more about winning or the one who cares more about love? When it comes to your business, is your highest concern the client’s best interest, or are you simply trying to win a game?