Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Abu Dhabi here I come

It looks like I might be moving to Abu Dhabi...

I don't know that city at all, but I am looking forward to the change.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Apparently white out has the power to erase our memory too... who knew?!

We are editing the latest edition of the magazine right now - always a fun time in our tension-fraught office.

First there’s the first round of editing, which is always (not) fun given the writing skills of most of the contributors. BFB – the self titled “Editor in Chief” – is one of the worst offenders here because she persists in attempting to plagiarise.

The cover story she ‘wrote’ for this issue was basically a compilation of pasted bits of plagiarised text from other articles and copied portions from other companies’ press releases. I guess, technically, its not illegal to use the text from the press releases since that’s why they put them out, but to brazenly write ‘… BFB reports’ at the top of the article is another thing. What exactly did she actually write herself ? The answer is. … next to nothing. All she had to do was go online, look up her topic, slap together pieces of text cut from here or there, and voila! In a few minutes she had what she called an article.

Now in the past, I used to take such articles – if I could – and rewrite them, which would involve a lot of work on my part – reading, researching, thinking how to say and organise the information in an different way and what to add to it so that it could be called an original piece of writing. She was more than happy to let me do this and take credit for the end result. But at the same time she would have the nerve to submit largely plagiarised pieces to me and then go complain to DH that I am the one who is behind deadline (because what was supposed to be a short proof-reading/editing job of an hour or two turned into a total rewrite of an entire day or two).

It was simply a great arrangement for her. She got to take credit for a finished piece that was hardly her work, while passing off any blame for anything – such as being behind deadline – on me.also

This time I decided not to do the work for her. So I highlighted every single plagiarised paragraph with a comment and wrote “please write in your own words.” I left the copied bits from press releases alone, simply because I thought it was asking too much of her to tell her to exert her brains cells to even write them in her own words as well.

What she returned to me was hardly better than the first. Her idea of writing in her own words is something like this.

Original bit of text: “The town was overrun by mice, and the residents were distraught.”

Her rewrite: “The town was overrun by mice, and the inhabitants were very upset.”

Which still qualifies as plagiarism… *sigh*. So I still had a lot of work cut out for me.

Now we are doing the final edit – proofreading the draft copy by hand. I noticed she had told the designer to make an incorrect correction to some punctuation – she circled it in green and wrote out the instructions on the side of the copy. So I told him to change it back, and wrote a note to her explaining why. It was no big deal, just a small thing. I wouldn’t have thought a second time about it except that the copy returned with a scrawled note saying “I didn’t tell him to make those changes, if you check the copy, I only asked him to check the spacing.”

Well, lo and behold, BFB had taken her white out and covered up her incorrect instructions! At this point both the designer and I had a good laugh. We had both seen what she had written before, and we could see the blob of white-out as well. I really don’t know what goes through her mind. Does she really underestimate the intelligence of others so much? We just let it drop, it certainly wasn"t worth making a big deal about it, but it just reaffirmed to me that she has some serious issues.

Of course DH is similar. I am only responsible for the English text in the things we produce. Arabic is his responsibility in the end. What he usually does it send out what I write in English to a translator to produce the Arabic copy. Of course, a translator is only a translator, and it is DH’s job to check and make sure that his translation is accurate.

Recently there was an error in some Arabic text in something we printed and had distributed to several people. An email was sent to DH telling him this. He forwarded it to me with just “FYI” written on the message.

I was really quite puzzled as to why he had sent it to me since the Arabic is not my responsibility and there was no error in the English text. Then it dawned on me that he thought he could blame me for this by claiming that what I wrote in English was wrong. So I went to him and asked him why he sent it to me.

He said “because it’s your fault because you wrote the wrong thing in English.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes you did.”

“No I didn’t. I would never write that, and I just checked to make sure, and the English text is correct.”

He refused to acknowledge that this error was his responsibility alone until I brought the printed English text and showed him. Afterwards he couldn’t even look at me. His cheeks turned pink, and he stared straight ahead and said “cool” in clipped tone that barely contained his resentment. He sat in his office after that and stewed. After all, for DH who is so careful to cover up any mistakes he might make, the knowledge that he alerted me to a mistake he made was an unbearable shame for him. About fifteen minutes later, he came charging out of his office and straight up to my desk with some little stupid thing to nitpick about – he had this weird triumphant half crazed look on his face as if to say “I’ll show you who is the fuck up around here.”

He continued that behaviour for the rest of the day. Even my coworker noticed it and commented. I complained about this to the local guy over him, and I guess it got back to DH. A few weeks later, he called for another meeting to berate me and tear me down, and he brought it up claiming that he had never attempted to blame me for the mistake and had only forwarded it to me for my information. “See I only wrote FYI on the email,” he said, with this smug look on his face which all too clearly said “You can’t prove what I did to you.”

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Grammar is just so passé?

One of the most annoying things about working with DH and BFB is that they can't accept the fact that they make mistakes and don't know everything. So, every time one of them f***s up, they have to pass blame or try to cover it up.

The flip side of this coin is that they LOVE finding fault with others. They will look and look for the tiniest things to nitpick about. Given that my job is editing - which is not an error free discipline - they can always find some minuscule thing to make a stink about. Never mind that I take articles that are badly written bullshit, full of spelling, grammatical and word-use errors and turn them into something that someone can actually read and understand and - at the very least - won't laugh at and think a 5th grader (or younger) wrote it. Nooooo, there is never any appreciation whatsoever for that; instead they will scan a whole magazine looking for the tiniest thing to pick about - like a set of mismatched quotation marks in some teeny tiny subtext the size of ant poop. But, when BFB's friend edited the text when I was on leave and left it chock full of errors of every kind (style, punctuation, grammar, spelling, blocks of text accidentally repeated, etc), they were so happy with the result and didn't notice a single error.

In fact, shortly after I got back, DH dragged me into a meeting with the new (at that time) Marketing Director (who has already been fired) to discuss how lacking I was compared to this new and supposedly 'professional' editor they used while I was on leave. I anticipated what he was up to, so I got a copy and quickly marked, on the first several pages of my copy of the magazine, all of the errors I could spot at a quick glance - which were many (Lord knows how many I would have found if I had gone through it with a fine-toothed comb like they do when looking for fault with everything I do.) So as soon as DH opened his mouth to discuss how much of an improvement there was in the magazine in the issue I didn't edit, I was ready. And it was amazing how he, suddenly, found all sorts of excuses for and reasons why someone might not notice a tiny error - these weren't even tiny errors, but never mind that. Luckily the Marketing Director was not convinced by DH and took my side. He told him he thought that I am quite a competent writer, and that maybe, if they think this new lady adds so much, they should retain her services (freelance) to help edit the magazine as no professional magazine has only one person writing or rewriting everything and editing it and proofreading it.

So the new arrangement was that this so-called professional was retained to help improve the magazine. Of course, this ended up making more of a headache for me. Miss KIA as I will call her, adds as many errors as she finds - maybe more. She is supposedly British but seemed confused about the spelling of the word 'centred' - and kept changing it to the American spelling 'centered' - to the point where she got me confused, since - after all, I am not British - and I had to look it up just to make sure I wasn't going out of my mind. The fact is that instead of finding real straggling typos and such to fix, she often doesn't notice those and leaves them intact, and only makes unnecessary changes to the text just to say she did something. After all, she doesn't want anyone realizing that her services are unnecessary. Usually, when she makes these changes, she introduces new errors to text that was actually error free before. When I catch these errors and try to fix them, BFB takes a fit and says "well, since she is the professional here, I think we should leave it the way she had it" - she puts a special snotty emphasis on the word professional. Of course anyone who has lived here knows that expert and professional are very loosely used terms in this part of the world. Just about anyone can claim to be an expert here - especially people from certain Western nationalities.

When I persist, BFB emails me the snottiest and bitchiest messages you can imagine. She is a typical passive aggressive, so she doesn't do most of her shit to my face. For example thanks to the wonderful editing skills of KIA, there was a sentence with no subject. By the time I saw it, it was already set in the magazine template, which meant I had to mark it by pen on the first printed draft. After I made my proofreading, BFB got her hands on the manuscript and took here big fat green pen and unmarked most of my changes and wrote "ignore" next to them. Then it came back to our section, and DH told me to look at it and "clear it up". I told him, "well she doesn't know what she is talking about, so there is no need to clear it up with her since editing is my job." But since DH doesn't respect me, he told me I should settle it with her. He told me this at 4:00 PM on a Thursday (end of the work week). So I had to take the manuscript home, and spend my weekend redoing all the work BFB had undone and then writing lengthy emails to BFB explaining the grammatical reason for the corrections.

Well, BFB couldn't understand many of the grammatical terms, I am sure, so she replied to only the one she thought she understood - the one about the sentence with no subject. Her email read something like this:

"Dear Desert

First of all language has moved on to the 21st century, not everything that our teacher taught us in grammar school in high school is considered as Bible. Nowadays, some words or styles are used for certain types of writing and are considered acceptable.

Starting a sentence with the preposition 'With' is not wrong.

Secondly, other writers use different styles in the way they write, that doesn't mean they are wrong. Following the old school of writing that you have to have noun, verb and prepositions arranged just so is passé.

I am not saying that we can be loose with grammar and their uses but sometimes a more modern style can be used. The write up about .... is not a serious piece of literature that every little sentence should follow the A,B,C, D rules of grammar.

Regards,

BFB"
Nowhere in my email to her had I told her that all sentences have to start with a noun. All I had told her is that a sentence must have a subject. I like the way she told me that grammar is passé. I guess that is what she tells herself to explain away the fact that she doesn't understand it.

I am well aware that a more informal writing style prevails these days, but nowhere (in any language that I have ever studied) is having a subject in your sentence considered passé.

My response was:


Dear BFB

I didn't say you have to start the sentence with a noun, and I didn't say that you can't start it with the word with. I said the sentence needs to have A SUBJECT, and this is not passe, and this does not change, no matter what "style" you use. I am not going to argue this further, because I am right. I don't appreciate the mocking tone of your message with the use of words like "passe". Once again, this is very aggressive and unprofessional. I am trying to do my job here. I sent you the explanation for the changes because DH requested that I explain any changes to you that I thought necessary.

I have wasted enough of my weekend re-correcting things you uncorrected. This is an unnecessary waste of my time, and I don't appreciate the tone you are taking with me when I am simply doing my job. I am sorry if you don't understand my corrections, as I gave the best explanation I could using proper grammatical terms. If you still don't get it, then I really don't know what to say.

Here are some examples of how you can CORRECTLY start a sentence with 'with'.

"With a smile, she turned around and walked away.

"With 25 years of experience under his belt, he is certainly the man for the job."

FYI, both of the options I gave (in my previous email) did not start with a noun, so quite frankly I think you are arguing for the sake of arguing. I, however, am simply trying to do my job, which apparently is a waste of time. I am not perfect, and I may not catch every little mistake, but I will correct the ones I do see.

Best regards,

Desert

I copied the local guy who is over DH on my reply - I had already complained to him about DH and BFB earlier - so that he would be aware of the crap I am dealing with.

I also went to her office to discuss this with BFB. Being passive aggressive and all, she couldn't even look me in the eye. She had read my email by that point and knew she had no grammatical leg to stand on, so all she could resort to saying was "Well I don't understand why after you have checked the articles ALL these errors still remain in the first place."


That really pissed me off, so I said: "First of all, these errors weren't there the last time I saw the articles. YOUR friend introduced them with her unnecessary changes. Secondly, why do you expect me to catch every typo error in one go when your 'professional' friend cannot?"

She had nothing to say. I also told her that I do not appreciate her interfering with my job.

That sure felt good.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Work update

One thing that has been keeping me away from writing is the fact that I have been going through a lot of shit at work. Yes, I said a ‘bad’ word. Deal with it, because that’s the best way to accurately describe what has been going on. It’s a long story, and too many things have taken place to mention them all in detail here, but basically, it can all be credited to two people – my supervisor – whom I will call DH and a colleague in another section whom I will call BFB. Those initials do not stand for their names, but rather what I call them in my mind…

Now DH is a male, about 29 years old, from an Arabic-speaking (not Gulf) country. BFB is an Asian female who is in her early to mid 40s. They are part of a gang of expats – the wolf pack – here who consider themselves better than everyone else. One of their favourite pastimes, as far as I could tell from the few times I have been in the presence of two or more of them is talking shit about everyone else. According to them, everyone else is incompetent and useless. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The truth is that, for the large part, they are insecure and/or under-qualified and clinging to whatever little shreds of power they have been granted because they know that anywhere else – in a more professional environment – they would not be up to muster.

DH – for example – has been in charge of the section since 2007 – so basically that means he was about 25 when he became section manager. Where else on earth would a 25-year-old non-Emirati informatics engineer be made ‘Creative Section’ manager in a fairly large government organisation in the UAE? He has somehow managed – by hook or by crook (or both) – managed to hit pay dirt and he is scared as hell to lose his cruise down easy street. As neither a trained graphic artist/designer nor a particularly creative person, he basically does not have what is required to manage or guide the work of those placed under him. All of his employees have qualifications and skills he neither possesses nor understands – and this makes him insecure and MEAN.

To combat his insecurity, he has formed a close ‘friendship’ with the so-called senior graphic designer, a 29-year-old male from northern Europe, who is his best friend, roommate and illegal business partner. The fact that this guy is the senior graphic designer is really quite laughable – everything he ‘designs’ is lifted from somewhere else – nothing is original or attractive – his ‘designs’ remind me of a prison or a hospital room. Rigid lines, washed out colours, overuse of the corporate ‘palate’ – for crying out loud just because the logo is blue doesn’t mean every god damned thing we put out has to be drowning in the colour blue!

They have enslaved in their section a very nice, quiet Lebanese guy ‘NG’ who has more qualifications, skills and natural talent than both of them combined and multiplied by 100. Poor guy has been with them more than 3 years now. I hate the way they treat him. Like me, he’s an artistic quiet sort, who would prefer to just do his job and stay out of the petty-politics and crap that this place seems to revolve around. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible when one or more of the wolf pack is out to get you.

I guess they had it in for me from almost the first day I joined the “creative” section, when the Marketing Director scrapped DH’s design for the corporate diaries and told him to come up with a new theme that made sense and wasn’t boring. DH came up with nothing, but I did have an idea – which the Marketing Director liked. So we implemented mine… and I did most of the work. In the end, everyone was happy and impressed with the diaries – said it was the best they’d had yet – of course DH was happy to take the credit. But I guess that whole ordeal put me – and the Marketing Director – on his hit list

At the same time, BFB had it out for me, because as PR & Media officer, she should be able to write well in at least one of the two languages we issue our PR material in – English and Arabic – but she her Arabic skills are zero (0), nil, nada, niente, and her English writing is shabby. Until she came here she’d been getting by with bad grammar and by plagiarizing. Part of my job here as ‘Editor’ is to check and fix everything written by her in English, and this make her feel so terribly insecure.

You might wonder why they would hire a non-native speaker to write and then hire a second person – a native speaker to check what she writes – good question. I remember the CEO complaining about her writing shortly after she started, when I used to work in his office. And I – defending her – said “but she has other abilities, and you knew she wasn’t a native English speaker when you hired her.” To which he replied “yeah but ‘R’ (a Czech national) evaluated her and said her English was quite good.”

“So you had one non-native speaker evaluate another one?”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean anything – the person with the highest score on TOEFL isn’t a native speaker”

“Native speakers don’t take TOEFL in the first place...”

So basically, since that time both DH and BFB having been working – mostly behind my back to undermine me in every way possible – lying about me, spreading gossip, complaining about me to HR and, generally, making my life a living hell… to the point where I started crying myself to sleep at night – or suffering from insomnia from worry and frustration.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Back at home this weekend, my family will be attending a screening of a documentary made about a very important environmental law that my grandfather passed while he was governor. I wish I could be with them; I wish even more that he could be with them.

I have been away from my blog for a long time, and a lot has happened in that time. One of the most notable – and definitely the saddest – is that Grandpa finally passed away a few months ago at 94 and ½ years old. I wasn’t able to go home for the funeral or memorial service – so it has been a long grieving process for me. It is easier to pretend someone hasn’t died when you aren’t used to seeing him regularly – but that makes accepting and dealing with his death a more drawn out process. I can forget – most of the time – that he is dead and imagine him back in his home, but then when I think about going home and realize that he won’t be there, it hits me and I cry and cry.

I know I should have been prepared for this; after all, no one lives forever. He was in his mid 90s – several years past the life expectancy for an American Male, but he just kept hanging on and in fairly good health, so I managed to delude myself that he’d be around for a few more years.

He didn’t suffer for months or lie around like a vegetable deteriorating for a long time – and I am happy for him in this. That is not how he would have liked to spend the last months/years of his life. He was pretty lucid up to the end. When I was there this past October, he was fit enough that he even managed to attend a political rally. So his death came about relatively quickly, a week or two before he passed on he suffered a series of small strokes and he weakened quickly.

I guess the one thing that bothers me the most is that I didn’t speak to him before he died. I never cashed the cheque he sent me for Christmas either – I am kind of glad I didn’t – I like to look at his scrawled signature – the last thing he sent me before he died.

After his death, they ran many articles about him the local papers – and even in the New York Times. Some of those articles told stories about him that I hadn’t ever heard before.

He was well respected, and for a good reason. There are not many people who would give up lucrative careers to stand up for what they believe to be right, but that’s what he did. He chose the honourable path, not the most profitable one – and I’m immensely proud to be his grand daughter and feel blessed to have known him… and I miss him so very much.

I love you Grandpa.

Living without internet

I know I haven't blogged in a really long time - half a year to be exact - and before that I had been largely MIA as well, but that's because I had so much going on - and a lot of it I wasn't sure if I could or should discuss in a public forum.

Now I am hindered by the fact that lovely Etisalat - ever the caring and efficient service provider - came to our house a few weeks back to "upgrade" the line to some kind of Elife thing - don't ask me what that is supposed to be. All I know is that I didn't ask for it; they just did it, and now, thanks to E-life I am E-dead... no internet at all, and I have given up trying to make Etisalat take responsibility and come back to my house and figure out what the hell is wrong - after several angry phone calls and one 2 minute visit by a technician - I have just given up.

The technician told me "your modem is broken". I said "so does that mean the technician you sent out to do the upgrade broke it?"
He said "I don't get you"
I said "The modem it was working up until the very second you guys came and now it's not"
He said "Must be a coincidence madam" (I hate being called Madam by the way).
I said: "So you're telling me that my kids were using the internet when you guys knocked on our door to do this 'upgrade' which is supposed to improve our services - and somehow - it just coincidentally broke down while it was off while your guys were working on the line?"
He said: "Yes Madam"
I said: "and you don't think a more plausible answer is that either one of your guys accidentally dropped it OR whatever you did here isn't actually working?"
At which point he just mumbled something and said "I don't know you call 101 and tell them"
Of course the 101 people are just call center staff and really are not capable of doing anything to help you. They just put them there I guess so people like me have someone to scream at when we get no help or answers.

Of course none of this should surprise me really, when I moved to this house I asked to transfer my land line - that was almost two years ago and I still don't have a land line. So now I am basically about as connected as an Amish person... and can only access the internet from the office, a friend's house or the mall - I haven't tried that option yet, but supposedly the mall has free wireless throughout.

In other news... I am waiting to see if I will be arrested or not. These stories in the papers here - like the one about the British doctor who was accused (he says falsely) of giving the finger to a local who was tailgating him have me freaked out. I am not going argue about whether giving someone the finger is an offence worthy of imprisonment, what bothers me is the lack of solid evidence. How can someone be arrested just because some said he did something?!

I was driving home from the gym last night on the main road going into the town - it is a fast moving road with 2-3 lanes in places. I approached the one signal on the road and it was backed up quite far due to a red light. But as I approached the light turned green and traffic started moving - fast - except for the car in front of me. This big shiny black SUV just sat there in the middle lane not moving. I waited ... it didn't start. So, I honked - guessing that maybe the driver was sending an sms or using his/her Blackberry or iPhone and hadn't realized the signal had changed.

The car still didn't move. So I pulled into another lane and passed it.

Apparently this was some sort of unforgivable offence. Once I passed it the car roared into action and started following me flashing its high-beams. I ignored it and kept going so it shot into the lane next to me and pulled up alongside me. There was a very mean and angry looking local woman behind the wheel shouting something at me - Lord only knows what it was because I had my windows rolled up. I just shook my head at her and drove on... but then I got scared - she seemed quite unreasonable - nothing I did was illegal or even rude - yet she reacted as if I had driven over her or something - so now I am worrying that I will find myself hauled in for questioning in a day or two - once they track me down.