A Mistranslation Thanksgiving: From Waltham to Plymouth

by Translation Guy on December 10, 2010

The last of the turkey was sandwiched weeks ago, the pumpkin pie long gone moldy in the back of the fridge, but I just can’t get out of the Thanksgiving spirit.

That’s what happens when you write long and late like I do. . .

But now that the dust has settled on the ruins of war-torn Berlin and the American Translators Association conference in Denver, discussed in my last two posts, it’s time to talk turkey about Thanksgiving, late in the day as it is.

When Squanto came for dinner on that first Thanksgiving, regardless of whatever was going on under the table, and there was a lot of that, the central point of that feast was to put food on the table. In this age of abundance, sustenance is underrated because it remains the core activity for most of us, whether entranced by the screen and keyboard, slamming the horn behind the wheel of a taxi, or walking a beat, our very lives joyfully or grudgingly offered up for our families and our dreams. For me, there is no higher calling.

Thomas Merton said, “You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”

As I made the rounds this year before Turkey zero-hour, I was struck by the number of people I met whose holidays had been trashed by ridiculous Black Friday retail hours. Greg Richards, president of P.C. Richard & Son, a local retailer, was quoted, “There are certain things that are more important than money and one of them is family values. Retailers who choose to open show no respect for their employees and families, and are in total disrespect of family values. You wonder if the executives of those large companies are working on Thanksgiving. More likely they’re sitting home enjoying time with their families while their employees are working.”

Absolutely correct. But sustenance is a pretty important family value too. And that takes customers, paying on time, for which we must give thanks. I mean, much as you love your families, when was the last time you got a check in the mail from one of them? (I’m speaking from personal experience here; your own may be different.)  Yet every day, our mailbox is stuffed full of checks from people we barely know who place a high value on the work we do. For which we must give thanks.

And in turn, we write our own checks and send them around the world to all those who earn their sustenance in partnership with us. Commerce has a bad name in our age, but I’m Lockean enough to consider it a cornucopia rather than a curse. Profiting by it is no disgrace; but for all but a fortunate few, it is our highest calling. So for the companions in our company who put their shoulders to the wheel on our behalf, who keep the caissons rolling along, well, for that we must give thanks too.

It would be sacred if I wasn’t so profane. Look, those who know me know I try to drive a hard bargain, and I struggle for every penny on every word, same as the rest, and put as much in my own pocket as I can, but I am profoundly grateful not to be in the position of those of my competitors who must push their vendors and employees to outrage and enmity. Perhaps I do, but just don’t get the press. I don’t know. Most everyone tries to do their best by others, we witness it every day, and for that we must give thanks for the trustful bonds that tie us together in commerce.

Years ago, I used to teach English to these employees of an ancient kimono shop in the ancient city of Nara, Japan. After each weekly lesson, I would join them for their weekly dinner in the owner’s house (ancient of course). There is this kind of hum of infinite compassion about people from Nara, I guess on account of Tōdai-ji Temple, that I always found very moving, and thirty years later, I can still remember the kind affection shared across my boss’s oversized table like it were yesterday.

So here’s my belated Thanksgiving gift to you. Next time you pitch a client, remember your gratitude for all he or she has done for you. Next time you are having a “teachable moment” with a colleague, lower your voice and remember the sacred/profane mission of sustenance you share. And let your vendor take you out and give thanks when he grabs the check.

I want all my days to be Thanksgiving Day, and hope that all your days will be too.



  1. Well, I think it also depends on the nature of the work. For instanc, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots worked on Thanksgiving. The Patriots played the Lions. Knowing a bit about Tom Brady, I’m aware that he is keenly grateful for the gifts he possesses and for his chance to earn a spectacular living by playing a game. So he worked Thursday and was thrilled for the opportunity to do so.

  2. Keith Adams says:

    Thanksgiving should be every day, and the family gathering once a year! Wherever you are thank God, and catch up with your family after work. Having a job these days is a blessing.
    And if you are healthy with a job and family to miss you be gratfull. I will not be working but my congrats if you are. I will miss my son in law because he will be working, but we have plans to make up for it. God bless.

  3. Janet Orion says:

    Shame on you for neglecting the pumpkin pie, it’s the best part of Thanksgiving!

    • Ken says:

      Janet, I’m so ashamed I’m going to go eat a slice right now. With whipped cream.

  4. Shag Dawg says:

    You think cooking a turkey for a house of 22 isn’t work, think again? The guys working black Friday had a more relaxed day then most of us!

    • Ken says:

      Shag, I’m sure I speak for all us turkey eaters when I express our deep gratitude to all you turkey cookers for your wonderful Thanksgiving dinners. Thank you. We really, really appreciate it. Now, can you make us a sandwich?

  5. Egghead says:

    You’re right Ken and I’m not sure what to say to those who have worked over Thanksgiving. I’m not sure whether to say, “Congratulations on your work ethic!” or “My condolences on your plight.”

    The hard truth is that, whether any of us is working on Thanksgiving or not, business is tight these days and the pressures to get work done with fewer resources continue to mount.

  6. Condolences would apply to me, I guess ( a laugh of irony ). I guess, thanksgiving is all about gratitude and in these tough times when many are losing their jobs, there’s no excuse for me to get bitter about work.

  7. Carol Young says:

    I say be proud. The fact that you have to work means that you have something of value to contribute. Don’t dismiss that as a cliché. It is a fact. Instead of feeling put upon, feel, if only for a moment, glad to be who you are and glad to be able to serve, in whatever ways you do. Don’t be so cynical as to dismiss that as sentimental rationalizing for not the fact that you’re not the boss relaxing at home. As Samuel Johnson once defined a sophisticate, “don’t be so refined as never to be pleased…”

  8. I’m worked on Thanksgiving, ten hours of it to be exact, but as I told all my family and friends I’m grateful and thankful for you all but also for my JOB. Some people don’t have one. I can eat turkey at 11:59 PM if I want to.

  9. Mark Cooper says:

    Thank for this post. For many of us much of what’s missing from daily life is our ability to find gratitude and peace from within regardless of the circumstances. My Dad (who worked for many years on Thanksgiving Day and sometimes Christmas because of his skilled trade) always tells me: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” He is probably one of the most peaceful people that I’ve ever known and much of it has to do with the level of gratitude that he has for the ability to provide and care for his family. He put on his work boots and walked out the door in the middle of a blistery Michigan night, so that my mom and I wouldn’t want for anything and we honestly never did. Following my father’s lead, I usually spend this time of year thinking about why I’m grateful and what small things I can do to help someone else, especially someone who is in less fortunate circumstances. (BTW: Less fortunate doesn’t begin and end with one’s financial situation, there are a lot of people in emotional pain, especially this time of year) Everyday, I put one reason why I’m grateful in my Facebook status to share with my friends and family. It may seem trivial, but it really makes a huge difference in my overall perspective on the world and it reminds of the small (and usually not so small) blessings that I have received and continue to receive. Happy LATE Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays!

    • Ken says:

      Thanks for the story, Mark. Perspective is all, and gratitude is a great lens with which to watch the world and encourage those we love. Must be at least part of the reason why Yosemitebear Mountain Giant Double Rainbow 1-8-10 has been watched 21 million times on YouTube.

LiveZilla Live Chat Software