Bootstrapping: Challenges of translating Camino book from English to German

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“It’s an idiomatic phrase that we don’t really have in German,” explained Thomas with a frown. I couldn’t really SEE his frown, but I could HEAR it. I was sitting in my car in Flagstaff, Arizona, talking on WhatsApp to the linguistic expert who is translating my first Camino book from English to German. The young Deutscher just moved to Brisbane, Australia, last month so it is somewhat difficult to set an appointment where our time zones don’t collide. It was 5 pm my time and 10 am his time. I’d just completed my last meeting of the day and could give my full attention to the international call.

“You say in your book that you ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.’ We don’t really say that in German,” Thomas continued. Bootstrapping may just be a purely American thing. “We do say that we pull ourselves up by our hair,” he added.

“That would work,” I replied, and thought, “This guy is GOOD! I am so blessed to have met him in Paris.” Thomas and I had accidentally, or perhaps with divine intervention, met in Paris, France, when we walked a pilgrimage from the cathedral of Notre Dame to the Chartres Cathedral 100 km away. The Christian Paris to Chartres pilgrimage that takes place every year during Pentecost has roots in the Middle Ages. The pilgrimage is called Notre-Dame de Chrétienté in French.

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Even though I was older than Thomas’ mother, we had walked together joking and laughing much of the way. (When we weren’t lamenting blisters, sleep deprivation or exhaustion.) In three days filled with challenges and joy, Thomas and I got to know each other well. When I learned that he was a professional translator, I asked the twenty-eight-year-old about interpreting my first book, Spiritual and Walking Guide: Leon to Santiago. Since publication, many Germans have recommended that I translate the text into their language.

“I could work on it in September, after I move to Australia,” he smiled. “I’ll have time then.” Since Pentecost was in mid-May, I had plenty of time to prepare my manuscript and raise funds to pay for his services.

But last night Thomas wasn’t laughing or joking too much. This translation was serious business for the young scholar and he approached me with the respect due a valued client. “Maybe I am being too German here, but I want to discuss each of these changes with you. You have laid your heart out in this book. And you’ve been very true to the Bible scriptures that you quote. I don’t want to change the words [imagery] without your approval,” he said sternly.

The impossible task of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps is analogous to the achievement of getting out of difficult situations through your own efforts. The German version uses “Schopf,” an archaic word for “hair” or “head of hair” and is used in this context because it is from an old proverb. Today’s use of “schopf” means “swamp.”

The excerpt from my Camino devotional that uses the bootstrapping idiomatic phrase:

Seven years ago, during a self-imposed weekend retreat, I heard the Lord whisper, “Walk El Camino de Santiago.” El Camino hadn’t crossed my mind for over a decade; and, in fact, I really didn’t know much about the ancient pilgrimage route. Yet I felt the Lord’s call to take a spiritual journey. The obedient act of walking would teach me to shift my emphasis from trust in a busy calendar to trust in God’s provision. I had to let go of the belief that if only I had enough sales appointments, won enough sales contests, (fill in the blank with your own if only,) then I would be perfectly happy. I thought of myself as self-made, and relished the image of me – a working woman – pulling myself up by my own bootstraps, or in my case, by my own Bandolino Italian leather pumps.

The German translation of that excerpt:

Vor sieben Jahren dann, während eines Einkehrwochenendes, hörte ich den Herrn zu mir sagen: „Begib dich auf den Jakobsweg.“ Der Jakobsweg war mir damals schon über ein Jahrzehnt nicht mehr in den Sinn gekommen und ich wusste auch nicht allzu viel über diese historische Route. Allerdings fühlte ich einen starken Ruf, mich auf eine spirituelle Reise zu begeben. Laufen hat etwas von Demut und ich hoffte, dass mir eine Pilgerreise dabei helfen würde, mein Vertrauen in Gottes Plan anstatt in einen vollen Terminplaner zu setzen. Ich musste loskommen von dem Gedanken, dass ich eigentlich nur genug Verträge brauchte; eigentlich nur genügend Wettbewerbe gewinnen müsste, um endlich glücklich zu sein. Jeder hat irgendwo ein „eigentlich nur“, eine Bedingung für das Glück. Mein Selbstbild war das einer eigenständigen, erfolgreichen Frau, die sich in schwierigen Situation am eigenen Schopf aus dem Sumpf zieht. In meinem Fall an einem aufwändig frisierten Schopf.

Order the English version by clicking here: Amazon.com

German version now available at https://www.amazon.de

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