Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ill-tempered Clavier

Add to Google Reader or HomepageNote to self: laptop computers do not like red wine – not even if it is good red wine!

On Christmas Eve, some wine spilled on my laptop. I chose to use the Mexican “no fault” approach of explaining the accident thus without assigning guilt. I could have written the sentence with “I” or “he” or “she” as the subject, but what fun is that?

We worked to remove as much liquid as we could. On Monday morning, I stuffed my not-too-soggy laptop in my backpack and headed for the computer shop. Vaison la Romaine has three computer shops. One is always closed on Mondays and one does not do repairs on-site so I headed to “door # 3”, hoping the shop would be open.

The owner was there but he was not very encouraging as he turned on the laptop. The French rarely take a positive approach to anything. Rather than say that something is good, they will usually say that “it is not bad” but I wasn’t optimistic either. The machine groaned and beeped but slowly came back to life and, after about 10 minutes, the sign-in screen appeared.

At this point, the computer guy stepped away and asked me to type my password (mot de passe) and we discovered that not all of the keys were working. Some seemed to still be drunk and responding slowly. Others were completely passed out and no amount of encouragement could make them work. Computer guy plugged in a new keyboard and asked me to try again.

“Login failed” came up several times as I tried to follow the lettering on the French keyboard. He saw the problem and told me to type as if the keyboard was an American keyboard. Voila! It worked! I was not only able to see my desktop, everything seemed (seems) to be still working. I purchased the French “clavier” and said “Now I have another Christmas present! I get to learn how to type on a French keyboard! He smiled and said: “It could have been worse.”

The computer shop is a small, one-room place – maybe 12’ X 12’. There was a small desk and chair, shelves on three walls, a full-size copier, a small table (under which was a dog bed and his little dog). While I was there, three other clients came and went. One man just needed copies but joined the others in shaking his head and saying “dommage” (too bad!) as he learned from the others about my plight. We were all trying to stand out of the way as the computer guy pulled cables, opened CPUs, made copies, and moved about his tiny space. One person carrying an old CPU said how happy he was that the shop was open. Computer guy said that he had not planned to open. He had just come to the shop to get something and people started arriving.

The French “clavier” and the American keyboard are different. Ellen had read that they distinguish the two by the first line of letters (starting at the top left). The American keyboard layout is called “QWERTY” and the French layout for the clavier is “AZERTY.” Even if you didn’t have Miss Gilliland for typing class in high school, you can probably see that typing the letter “A” is going to be a problem (having switched places with the “Q”). And that is only the beginning.

Typing an “M” is no longer next to the “N” but has replaced the semi-colon. Typing a period requires using the Shift key. I guess the French want the writer/typist to think twice before ending a sentence. Then there are all of the keys for French accents…

The good news is that I still have a computer processor that works and I have a new keyboard/clavier! The bad news is that there is some truth to the expression “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and this old dog’s fingers are not adapting to this new keyboqrd very fqst.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Back in France

Add to Google Reader or HomepageReturning to France makes me smile. I smile at the changes I know are going to be part of our lives for the next six months.

The topography always strikes me first. Flying to Marseilles over the Mediterranean and seeing the small uninhabitable islands jutting out of the water. Then there is Marseilles and the backdrop of steep limestone hills. Along this section of the Mediterranean, the hills start at the water and climb as cliffs up to plateaus. You leave the airport and get on the autoroute heading north. The autoroute mostly follows the Rhone valley and minutes after leaving the congestion of Marseilles, one is surrounded by vineyards and farms and more vineyards. Olive trees, with their silver-green leaves, break up the scenery.

Blue sky, green pastures, blue/gray clay under the vines (the leaves are gone), limestone cliffs and the meandering Rhone river make a stunning tableau. Gorgeous. Conversely, I was struck by the amount of smoke pollution I noticed this time. Maybe living with little heavy industry in Lansing masks the amount of smoke pollution we make or see, but here, one sees smoke rising from all sorts of buildings both near and far.

People are enchanting to watch anytime and anywhere, but on the European side of the Atlantic, I am struck by how differently people look. You know you are “not in Kansas anymore.” Clothing, shoes, sacks/purses, hair styles, jewelry, even glasses frames are very different from the way we are used to seeing people in the US. If you see someone wearing “sweats,” s/he is likely an American. I don’t wear sweats, but the French seem to know that I am American. Is it something tattooed to my forehead like a Harry Potter scar that says "this one is not one of us"? Europeans not only look different, they speak differently (and look different when speaking.) I noted in a previous blog that the French seem to start words by forming their lips as if they were going to kiss. Americans form words from a smile. Germans and northern Europeans start their words with a frown.

Then there are the cars. Smaller, diesel, much more efficient and the diesel doesn’t stink! On the autoroute, if you are passed by a car going 150 km/h, it is likely going to be German-made. I guess that if you buy a Mercedes or a BMW, you are obliged to drive as if every road was the Autobahn.  I also smiled as we passed a sign announcing that there is a speed trap ahead where a camera will get a picture of your license plate if you are exceeding the speed limit. (How is it that they still catch speeders and issue tickets? – What part of “speed camera ahead” don’t people understand?)

I even had to smile on my first return to the grocery store where the shopping carts have four wheels that rotate (rather than only the two front wheels on shopping carts in the US). When you are in the grocery store and want to turn left, you can’t push on the handle and expect the fulcrum of the frame to assist, you must conscientiously turn ALL FOUR WHEELS so that you make the turn without running into the end-of-counter displays. On the other hand, you can easily move the cart left or right to get closer to the products or to get out of the way of another cart.

And the food! How I love the food! Two years ago, my sister-in-law and her husband were here and he wanted to have “fat-free half & half.” I told him that the French didn’t understand that concept. You can get skim milk, but when it comes to cream, the French LOVE their fat-filled creams and “crème fraiche” and cheeses… and, as we learned just last evening about cheese, it is not only where the cheese is produced, it is from which breed of cow…! (DeGaulle was right when he asked how anyone could govern a country that had more than 200 kinds of cheese.)

After the first level of slaps-upside-the-head reminding me that I am no longer in the US,  I begin to settle into the life of the village where people say “hello” as you walk by or as you enter their shops. And they stop their cars when you stand at the crosswalk… all the while thinking to themselves: “Who is this American and why is he smiling so much?”