The Infernal French Keyboard

Arenít we all familiar with the AZERTY layout?

Of course the worst problems are caused by the letters most commonly used in English: A (now Q (!)), M (now a comma – or question mark, depending on case), and W (now Z). However, punctuation is also pretty bad: a period is now a colon, and apostrophes and question marks turn into symbols that donít appear on our keyboards.

The top row provides its own set of pitfalls. The most insidious isn't immediately obvious – numbers are now upper case, while more familiar symbols are lower case! Not only aren't open and close parentheses upper case 9 and 0, they're lower case 5 and *! The case difference isnít necessarily something your brain would immediately detect; or at least mine didnít. And this difference turned out to be of more than academic interest when HotMail kept rejecting my password – which includes some numbers. Of course the password mask helpfully shows an asterisk whenever any character is typed, so it took quite a while to realize that I was actually inserting some really strange characters.

Speaking of the top row, whatís the deal with three characters on each key? That also was of more than academic interest, since thatís where the @ appears and I suddenly thought of some people who werenít already on my mailing list. It turns out that the third character is selected by simultaneously pressing the "Alt Gr" key just to the right of the spacebar, which also provided a way to add the new Euro symbol to the E key.

By now the Cyber Café attendant was getting to know me pretty well. At least the delays werenít very costly: 15 francs (about $2) for 30 minutes or 25 francs for an hour.

It has been a couple of years since weíve been into a Cyber Café and the emphasis has changed quite a bit; or perhaps itís also because they were in other countries. In Vienna the computers were additions to a long-established café; next to us a couple of boys were enthusiastically checking the prices of baseball cards on an Internet site. In Frankfurt the computers were an integral part of a glitzy café atop a new downtown building. In Aix-en-Provence they comprised cavernous rooms with dozens of computers and no café ambiance. In fact their business cards feature "Salle de Jeux en Reseau," (room of network games) with "Access à líInternet" as a sort of afterthought. But then Aix is a university town with a large student population.

© Copyright 2000 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved