Letter to Client: On being ‘happy’ versus ‘satisfied’

Dear Client,Happy Fleuriste Paris

The words “happy” and “satisfied” have led to some disagreement, so I’d like to clarify the different notions of happiness.

  • Yes, Happy Birthday (or as you say, Happy Birz-day) is Joyeux Anniversaire.
  • Yes, there are flower shops called “Happy” and beauty salons called “Happy Cosmétologie” that employ smiling, good-spirited staff.
  • Yes, Happy, one of the seven dwarfs, is called Joyeux in French.

Hence, when I translate “satisfait” intoHappy Cosmétologie Paris “happy” instead of “satisfied” in a text about customer service, you become unhappy/unsatisfied.

Happy is too joyful, too gay, according to you.

Coincidentally I just received a short email from Moo.com, the company that will set you straight on what it means to be happy. I had bought cards from Moo for the first time.

Moo wrote:

I hope you’ve received – and are happy with – your first purchase with us.

They requested customer feedback and continued:

We like to think our customers are happy with the things they’ve made at MOO.

Moo did not use “satisfied” in either sentence, because English-speaking customers expect to be made “happy” (but not in cheery, upbeat way).

Client, ever since the day you raised doubts about the word “happy” and whether or not being happy requires smiling, I’ve been seeing “happy” everywhere. To my surprise, “Happy Hour” has strangely become plural in most Parisian bars.

Bruno, like his fellow restaurant and bar owners, highlights his three-hour deal and good grammar to attract passers-by:

Chez Bruno - Happy Hours with an s
Bruno may have deformed the expression "Happy Hour" but at least he knows that plural nouns take an s.


9 thoughts on “Letter to Client: On being ‘happy’ versus ‘satisfied’”

  1. Your client may in fact be right in this case. I translate a lot of marketing research surveys and most surveys do in fact use the word “satisfied” rather than “happy.” The words may be synonymous in most cases, but when it comes to surveys always lean towards “satisfied” to keep your client satisfied.

  2. What is a translator’s favorite word? Context.

    Customer service takes many forms, too. While I can be very ‘happy’ about the products I receive from Moo (I am a happy and recurring client!), ‘happy’ at how Uniglo in NY replaced my slacks after they hemmed them too short, I’d rather be ‘satisfied’ with the work my CPA does for me, with how my bank manages my accounts, or with how my web designer masters code.All the more so perhaps in a corporate B to B context: would a large industrial client be ‘happy’ or ‘satisfied’ that their energy services provider fulfilled a contract to reduce consumption by 20%?

  3. As the cheaper drinks are available for 3 hours, the use of Happy Hours is technically correct !

    If 5€50 is the cheap price, what does a beer cost the rest of the time ? Our village bar charges 4€30 !

  4. We have the same situation in Swedish and have to translate “happy” in many different ways. Usually we have to “tone it down” to “satisfied”, especially in surveys. I feel that the English words “happy” and “love” have many more meanings than the equivalent word in other languages, such as Swedish. We say “I love you” or “I love this” much more in English than we would ever do in Swedish.

  5. I agree with Catherine in the context of consumer-oriented documents, though indeed in surveys, “satisfied” may make more sense.
    And yes, pints of beer are awfully expensive in France 😉 ! A half-pint is 3.50-4.00 €, so 5.50 € for a pint is great…

  6. @Jill Unless I’m missing something, Catherine specified that the translation was a text on customer service, not a survey, therefore “happy” could work very well in this context.

    @Catherine I like your translation of “happy” for “satisfait”. IMHO,the French use of “satisfait” can extend further into the territory of happiness than its English counterpart “satisfied”. Paying attention to such nuances brings translations to life.

  7. Hi Catherine. I like the tone of your post and I agree, in a lot of cases, happy is much better than satisfied, but not always, as others have pointed out. I translate the other way round and I can’t help but giggle at the thought of translating happy by “heureux” in any other context than a description of a state of joyfulness! What about the use of “happy” when referring to the service provider? Your client would probably have pulled his hair out at the thought of being describe as “happy” to answer questions, take back faulty goods, etc. When does happiness ever come into it with French customer service, I wonder? (Yes, I’ve had a few unhappy experiences!). Not a dissimilar translation issue to that of translating the notion of”looking forward to” in a business context (sadly so often translated by “se réjouir à la perspective de”). It may well be that we French simply don’t equate work with rejoicing or happiness 🙂

  8. Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments. This was actually an internal document for sales personnel saying something like, “These are our sales goals for this quarter. In order to meet them, we must make sure customers are happy/satisfied with our newly launched ABC service.”

    As a few people have pointed out, the scope of being happy is very large. Like the scope of loving something, as Tess said. We throw around “happy” and “love this” and “look forward to” very loosely in English. English-speaking bloggers even say “share the love” as a way to encourage people to tweet. In French we could never talk about love that way.

    The word “hi” is another example of a word that means different things depending on the context. Saying “hi” can mean both “salut” and “bonjour” whereas many French people think it only means “salut”.

    Back to the text. I chose “happy” over “satisfied” because I believe that’s what an English-speaking writer would have written. I have no idea what my client chose in the end, though. I just voiced my opinion, clearly and concisely, and then let it go.

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