I recently had the dubious honour of attempting to use a French keyboard. And by “recently” I mean today. I am now, in fact. And by “attempting” I mean “failing miserably”. And by “dubious” I mean that it was neither a genuine honour nor of my own volition.
You see, my cherished laptop is about four years old, and in this micro-lifecycle era that's ancient. Deciding its time was up, it threw in the electronic towel the other day, thus forcing me to buy a new one. I would happily have continued using it for many more years, but it suddenly refused to start one day, which rather settles the matter in the manufacturers’ favour.
Living in France, as I do, I can’t buy a laptop with the QWERTY keyboard I am used to. And when you spend many years of your life typing on a UK-standard keyboard, your fingers get used to certain letters being in very specific places. So my recent acquisition is currently more of a hindrance than a help because rather than being able to transcribe my mental diarrhoea quickly and unthinkingly, I am required to look down at my fingers constantly lest I type complete gibberish.
It’s not just the arrangement of the letters that is problematic on an AZERTY keyboard. It’s the entire shebang. For a start, the comma is where the M should be. Weirder still, whereas you can enter a comma easily (i.e. whenever you actually want to type an M), you have to hold down the Shift key to type a full stop. If not, you get a semicolon.
Who was the sick bastard who decided that? The full stop is on the key right next to the co,,a – I mean comma. So why the hell should it be different to obtain? After all, the French aren’t averse to ending sentences, continuing ad infinitum page after page with only the occasional comma or semicolon to help the reader make sense of the author’s train of thought. That’s the Germans.
There is therefore no reason whatsoever why the employment of a full stop should necessitate the use of two fingers, while a comma can be generated with just one.
It gets better: you can’t type numbers unidigitally either. That’s because the line below the F keys is devoted first and foremost to non-sentence-pausing or -ending punctuation and accented French letters like é, ç and à. Here too, you need to hold down the Shift key to write a good, old fashioned number.
This is, I bet, the result of lobbying by the Académie Français, the near-omnipotent cultural dictators who decide on all matters linguistic in this country. I’m willing to bet that an indefinitely tenured civil servant called Jean-Michel de Something Pompous decided that it was inherently un-Gallic to write numbers as ... well ... numbers, and that the French nation and anyone else unfortunate enough to consume their localised electronics should be forced to write out the entire figure or face the ignominy of using two fingers at once.
It is totally beyond me why the ampersand, underscore and bracket symbols should be used more frequently or granted higher esteem than the numbers 1, 5 and 8. Maybe Jean-Michel isn’t a numbers guy. Maybe, like Alfred Nobel, his wife had an affair with a mathematician (the reason, incidentally, why Mathematics is the only science in which the Nobel Foundation doesn’t award a prize). Maybe JM prefers writing out figures like 438,617.68 longhand.
Whatever the reason, I say he’s a prize git because it just took me about five minutes to type it the way I prefer it. Mainly because many of these attempts simply resulted in a series of seemingly random punctuation marks. So allow me to take this opportunity to give a traditional British two-fingered salute to Jean-Michel and his confreres at the Académie. Especially since I don’t need to type it.
Another baffling oddity about the AZERTY keyboard concerns the available currency symbols. Given that France was one of the founding nations of the European Union and a proud member of the euro zone, you’d think that their keyboard would feature the euro symbol. Prominently, even. Right next to the French flag that replaces the Windows symbol (fear not, Microsoft: I’m joking). It does not – or if it does, it’s so well hidden that I’ve yet to discover it. Instead, I’m proud though a little baffled to note given the well nurtured and centuries-old Anglo-French animosity, it contains the pound symbol. Sure, this too requires the use of the Shift key, but at least it’s there. So take that, Brussels.
Stranger still, the default currency on the key on which the plucky British pound appears to have hitched a ride is the dollar; the iconic representation of the imperialist Americans so reviled by the French. The third symbol on this overcrowded key is completely incomprehensible: a circle with four lines coming out at right angles to one another, much like a compass that got drunk and rolled on its side. What it might be is a complete mystery to me. As is why it and the fucking µ symbol should be considered more important than the country’s currency.
But then again, I’m not an unsackable bureaucrat in an outdated, pointless, budget-sapping government institution that can decide to make my work infinitely harder.