Monday, October 10, 2011

Symbolic Adjustment

Among the countless unanticipated, small but inescapable, adjustments we’ve encountered since moving from California to Ireland and then to Austria are the variations in computer keyboards. Language, alphabet, currency and business protocols vary from country to country, so some frequently used symbols hide on different keys, depending on the region.

On U.S. keyboards, @ is on the 2 key; on English/Irish keyboards, it is just right of the right-hand little finger, where in the U.S. the double quotes reside. German keyboards, with Umlauts and Scharfes S—the ß representing a double S, also called an Eszett—are even more dissimilar from U.S. keyboards. Especially bambooyling, the positions of the Y and Z keys are switched, so one maz find oneself hitting the correct kezs but tzping biyarre words.

Add to this my deliberate adaption of British spellings and editing conventions in place of American ones, on the principle that our move to Ireland was a permanent move that requires respect of local customs, and the problems multiplied.

Through these transitions I’ve used, mainly, a desktop computer brought from the U.S., with its American-configured keyboard and U.S.-centric software. After some frustrating experiments, I was able to change Microsoft’s spell check to U.K. spelling. It took longer to persuade Office Outlook that it had, indeed, crossed the Atlantic forever. Only very recently did I discover how to change the whole system to these latitudes; now my desktop calendar reads 09.10.2011 rather than 10/9/2011.

So I’ve been writing these four years constantly adjusting to the conventions of two, even three, worlds, mentally switching between them as needed. It got more complicated, though, when I acquired a used laptop built for the German-speaking market. I changed its settings to an English keyboard, getting around the Y to Z confusion. But because it lacks the number keypad to the right of the keyboard, I couldn’t manage ASCII codes I use to write Umlauts and Scharfes S.

At last, though, we’ve discovered how to set up both computers so I can toggle between keyboards simply. Now, just by clicking an icon, I can switch between English-U.S., English-U.K. and Deutsch-Austria keyboards and spellings.

If only all adjustments to life in another country were so straightforward.

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