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ATPM 8.06
June 2002



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The Candy Apple

by Ellyn Ritterskamp,

Perspective is the Key(board)

Last month, I went to France for a week and a half. I stayed away from computers, with two exceptions. I couldn’t resist looking around an Apple retailer on the Seine in Paris, and I also couldn’t resist visiting a cyber café a few times to catch up on e-mail. Each experience broadened my perspective a little bit, which is my main reason for traveling.

If you ever go to Paris, be sure to save a day for wandering around a neighborhood or two, and make sure that one of those neighborhoods is the Left Bank of the Seine, across from Notre Dame. This is the strip where you can browse old books, postcards, and other treasures in little booths on the river. Across the street are stores like Shakespeare and Co., and yes, an Apple computer store. It’s not like the big American stores, of course, but I was delighted to see it nonetheless. Felt good to see familiar images and computer models in the store window.

That experience was about staying connected to home. My other experiences were about making myself step into someone else’s shoes for a few minutes. That’s sometimes tough but nearly always rewarding. This time, it was just a matter of learning to use a foreign keyboard—but what a learning curve!

I was aware on some level that keyboards vary, but I’d never used anything but the old QWERTY set-up. Imagine my surprise, when I sat down at the cyber café, to see this in front of me:


Okay, so a few of the letters are in different places. I can handle that. I fire up Internet Explorer and start typing in the URL of my traveling e-mail account at But wait, the dot in the isn’t where it ought to be. Where the heck is it?


Turns out I could have turned on the number lock and used the “.” on the numeric keypad, but I didn’t figure that out until much later. For the first session (maybe 20 minutes), I used Shift-semicolon to end each sentence. It felt very awkward for me, but I know that stuff like this is just a matter of what you get used to. I went to Nebraska for a week several years ago and was miserable because there weren’t many trees. I grew up in a city with tons and tons of trees, so that felt weird. Folks that move here from the midwest, though, sometimes feel a little crowded by all the trees. It’s just what you get used to.

So the trick for me in Paris was to relax with the new keyboard and try to figure out what advantages it might have. Since I only made two stops at the cyber café (remarkable restraint for a nine-day trip!), I didn’t have to agonize over it for very long. I was able to access my real home e-mail account using a special client my cable company has made available, so that was fun. I only had to pay 2 Euros for 20 minutes of computer time (about $1.90), so I didn’t mind trashing 75 pieces of junk mail each time.

My other challenge, besides the keyboard, was figuring out the regional train schedule from the French Web site. We needed to know when the trains left Paris for Normandy, and of course the information was delivered in French. Mon français n’est pas bon. (My French is not good.) I finally hit on the notion of googling and then using the Google translation device to translate the page.

So here are my observations on travel, with a few suggestions for those of you who will be adventuring soon: Be willing to blend in, rather than trying to impose your own ideas on others. Be polite to other people and mostly they’ll be polite to you. If you’re not taking your own equipment with you, be prepared to deal with another language and hardware that’s not what you’re accustomed to.

So there’s a Z in the top left corner of the keyboard instead of a Q. Big deal. You’re in Paris! The French use it that way all the time; there must be some good reason! Try to figure out what that reason is, rather than griping about it.

Besides, you should have better things to do on vacation than monkey around in a cyber café, anyway!


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Reader Comments (1)

anonymous · June 3, 2002 - 14:06 EST #1
Note that the numbers (except on the numeric key-pad) are typed with SHIFT key!

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