There is a little thing in France that every French person knows and accepts but which blows the mind of every foreigner here, should they stay long enough to discover it. It is something which has perplexed me unfailingly since the first time I sat down at a French computer.
As I started to type I noticed that the words were coming out rather unspellingly. I marvelled briefly at the possibility that French keyboards translated automatically as you typed. But alas no, the words were neither French nor English. It must be, I realised, that through sheer disdain for the Anglophone world, French computers did not accept English words, and so changed them very slightly to annoy anyone trying to communicate in its supremely international language. But no. Again, I was wrong.
Finally, after looking down at the keyboard, I realised that the letters were arranged slightly differently to those on an English one. How quaint. France had their very own keyboard! I had been used to QWERTY and now I was faced with AZERTY. Hello there AZERTY, nice to meet you! You had me confused there for a minute.
So it turned out to be no big deal. And although it was different, I found it was perfectly possible to type English words and sentences with a French keyboard. In fact, I’m using one right now and you wouldn’t have even noticed. Amazing, eh?
But something infinitely more sinister was around the corner. I continued to type my sentence in the way I prefer, placing one word after another and flecking with punctuation, happily oblivious to the horror that awaited me.
As I came to the end of my sentence I decided, as I often do, to finish with a full stop. I like the nice, rounded-off feel it gives to your words. It allows you a moment to breathe, to reflect, to consider the balance of the cosmos. But that’s when it started to get weird. Nowhere could I find the elusive dot.
Then, in a completely unprecedented turn of events, I made the gruesome discovery. The poor little blighter was being held hostage by none other than… the semi-colon! I couldn’t get a grip on reality. The room started spinning and everything went black. When I came to, I found my cursor blinking, shocked as I was, after the following sentence: Nfoeziqrfreip rtyfrehf !ù*$ù!ùreqiltcglc ir ovpc$*ùqzef ù ezmoc !* egrgj qeic!;;¶. Maybe I was speaking in tongues. Maybe this sentence contained some kind of truth. Maybe I had just stumbled upon the most dumfounding thing France had ever revealed to me and my fingers had lost control.
I checked and double checked. But all I got was the rude confirmation that there is simply no other way to make a full stop, a decimal point or a dot without holding down shift. The French give priority to the semi-colon. The semi-colon?! Really? Personally, I’ve always liked the semi-colon, but most people wouldn’t touch it if you put a gun to their head.
So now I was suspicious. What on earth did he think he was playing at? Evil semi-colon! You got angry with a world that didn’t understand you. You took umbrage at the only punctuation mark that everyone knows how to use. You craved the distinguished company of the comma and his clan.
Even the exclamation mark was there a few buttons down, smug in his predominance, taking preference over the §. What on earth is the § anyway? And how was it given the same importance as the mighty, multi-use mother of all punctuation? How did the faithful full stop get relegated to secondary status?
I was in a state of panic. My vision of the world had been completely put into question. I wondered what other countries had weird keyboard quirks. Perhaps in New Zealand you had to lick the full stop key to make it appear. Perhaps in Germany you just had to think about one for it to come forth. Perhaps in the United States you had to shout “I. Am. American!” before a dot was duly delivered. Who knew. Nothing was as I thought. I cried for about a week.
I tried to come up with a reason. Perhaps French people never finished sentences. Perhaps they didn’t have the Internet yet. Perhaps they only used whole numbers. All of the above had very real potential as explanations. But I knew in my heart of hearts that if § was on a par with Grandmaster Dot, something was very, very wrong. The colon, the bracket, even the dollar sign, have priority places on my keyboard. And there, suspended nervously above his evil guardian, the poor full stop is doomed to remain. There’s simply no justice in this world.
In the end I stopped looking for a reason. I was exhausted from all the crying and blacking out. I decided to join the millions of Frenchies who don’t seem to let it upset them. And now, I guess, I’ve accepted it. There are just some things we will never understand. But there’s no escaping the truth. Pressing shift for my favouite little dot? Stupid. Full stop.