Based in Birmingham, Alabama, forgotten regrets is a blog by suzanne, a nutrition scientist with a passion for food across the world. this blog chronicles her experience in bordeaux france with an exciting opportunity from the fulbright commission.

Even the keyboards are different

Probably the biggest single challenge each day is typing on a French keyboard.  For starters, they use AZERTY instead of QWERTY (see picture below).  In addition to the keys A, Z, Q, W, & M being in different places, all of the symbols on the number line are different too.  Some of them are French letters instead of symbols.  And there are 3 different things on each number key.  I had to learn how to access that third symbol/letter/number.  In fact, I have to type shift plus the number I want to use to insert a number rather than just tying the number.  Notice how the numbers are on top of the symbols and letters.  All of the symbols on the numbers are associated with different numbers and notice there isn't even a dollar sign (I know makes sense that they don't need a $ but sometimes I do).  My passwords with crazy numbers and characters have become that much more difficult to type.  I already had a horrible time remembering them and now I can’t even type the ones I remember.


Writing on the computer for me is pure muscle memory.  My fingers just know where to go without my brain conscientiously thinking about it.  I haven’t had to look at a keyboard to find letters since high school when I learned to type and almost got my first and would have been only B of high school.  I thought that class was pointless but boy was I wrong.  Now, I type for a living.  Some of you may not realize this but it is true.  I write grants, papers, and tons of emails and spend 2/3 of my day writing.  Luckily for me, I both enjoy writing and can type quickly.  So having my keyboard changed around provides me with daily frustration.  I am forever putting q’s where I want to put a’s.  And don’t get me started on the period.  In the States, we don’t have to hit shift to use the period.  So every time I end a sentence with my French keyboard, I have to hit shift and then find that little dot. 

On a normal day with my laptop from the States, my thoughts flow through my fingers and on to the screen nearly as fast as I am thinking them.  The keyboard in my office in France forces me to slow down, make countless mistakes (because I forget I am typing on a French keyboard) and look at the keyboard.  I lose my train of thought or forget what I am trying to say all together.  But that said, I really like to be in the office so that I can use French with my colleagues.  So I go into to office and muddle through with the French keyboard rather than working from a coffee shop with my beloved laptop from the States.  I know you are probably thinking maybe I should figure out how to connect to the wifi....hmmmmm.  It's honestly not that simple because the data I need lies behind that wonderful French keyboard.

One plus of the AZERTY keyboard is that written French communication is much easier.   Many of the French vowels have accents.  When using my American keyboard, I have to hunt through the symbols to find the one I want.  This week thought, I did find out from one of my co-workers that my genius Mac actually has a shortcut for French letters.  All I have to do is hold down the letter and it gives me options for alternative versions of that letter.  For example for the letter e, if I hold it down, I can pick è, é, ê, ë, or ė. I don’t know how I never knew it would do that but I do love my laptop even more now.  For those of you with a Mac, give it a try.  Vowel hunting on my Mac from the States is very entertaining now. 

Slowing down is not such a bad thing.  You might think I am going to say that slowing down helps me to gather my thoughts so that my writing has become more eloquent.  Nope, that has not been a side benefit for me.  Slowing down doesn’t help me clarify my thoughts at all (in fact it constantly makes me lose them) but I can tell that I am doing mental olympics every time I write.  I can actually feel my brain creating new muscle memory which for some reason makes it feel stronger.  In the last 3 weeks, I have gotten better and better at finding the a and the m on the keyboard without looking or thinking.  The period still alludes me but hopefully a little more practice and I will have muscle proficiency in the French and American keyboards.  Now if I could only say the same for my French language proficiency…….


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