Swiss typing school from A to Z, or maybe Y

May 26, 2010, 10 Comments

I’m not a touch-typist; when I’m writing, I usually have to look at the keys rather than the screen. But after years as a writer at Holiday Which? magazine, I’m a relatively fast five-finger typist and know instinctively where the keys are. Or at least I did until I came to Switzerland. Of all the adjustments and minor culture shocks I was anticipating, using a computer wasn’t one of them. After all, it’s not as if the Swiss use a Cyrillic alphabet or kanji script. It’s just ABC, isn’t it?

At first, there was no problem, as I’d brought my British laptop with me. Of course, I struggled when it came to writing in German with all those the vowels with umlauts, eg ä, ö, ü. They’re hidden away on a British keyboard because we rarely use them in English (it’s CTRL+SHIFT+: and then the vowel in question). The big shock came when I started work and was confronted with a Swiss keyboard. It might look almost the same, but there are some crucial differences, which left me writing something like ‘lovelz piyya+’. On a Swiss keyboard, the Y and Z are swapped over, so that it’s a Qwertz layout not a Qwerty one. It’s all because Z is far more common in both French and German (and not just when they’re trying to pronounce ‘th’).

Two swapped letters wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for nearly all the punctuation keys being different. And it’s that umlaut’s fault. Because those two little dots pop up in almost every sentence, they need their own keys on the board, so that you don’t have to do finger yoga to find them. So where I’d expect ‘ or ; to be I’d find ö and ä, which made for some interesting sentences to begin with. And as this is multilingual Switzerland, the French accented vowels need to get a look in too, so that those umlaut keys also have é and à on them. It makes the keyboard look rather crowded – and very Swiss.

So to make room for the likes of ü and è, all the other punctuation gets shifted around. A question mark is hidden away on the top row, needing a SHIFT+’ to find it. Clearly the Swiss don’t ask many questions. Perhaps the most annoying is the @ sign, which we probably all use every day. On a Swiss keyboard it’s ALT GR + 2, something that took me ages to get used to. The best thing is that none of the function keys is translated. Delete, Ctrl and Home are all written in English so that all of Switzerland can understand them. Using a German keyboard’s Entf, Strg and Pos 1 wouldn’t be too popular in Romandie or Ticino. If you really want to see the differences, here are examples of a Swiss keyboard and the standard British one.

Now the only problem I have is when I am back in Britain and use a computer there. I’m so used to a Swiss keyboard (having written a book on one) that on an English one I’m searching for the ! or ending all my adverbs with z. All of that just goes to show that it’s the little things that make life as an expat all the more interesting and memorable. Wouldn’t you say? Or even wouldn-t zou saz_ if I had written that on a British keyboard thinking it was Swiss.

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10 Comments on "Swiss typing school from A to Z, or maybe Y"

  1. Gabriela Thursday May 27th, 2010 at 08:41 PM · Reply

    Guess how I am struggling over here in Britain at the moment, trying to get used to this keyboard…:o)

  2. swisswatching Friday May 28th, 2010 at 06:14 AM · Reply

    But you managed that sentence without any mistakes 🙂 Just as well there were no umlauts for you to find.

  3. eg Tuesday June 1st, 2010 at 07:12 PM · Reply

    And what about shortcuts?
    I am originally from the German part of Switzerland and have been living abroad for the past 15 years.
    What really get’s me when I use a Swiss keyboard is the shortcuts that are different: every time i want to print and press ctrl & p something weird happens on the screen, because on Swiss keyboard it’s ctrl & d for drucken, and more such examples.
    Luckily to save is speichern, which also starts with an s and so ctrl & s does what you expect it to do.

    • swisswatching Tuesday June 1st, 2010 at 08:35 PM · Reply

      That’s so true. I gave up on shortcuts very quickly, once I realised that Ctrl+B did not make things Bold. I’m much more proficient with the mouse now that I am reduced just to cutting and pasting with shortcuts.

    • pfirpfel Tuesday June 1st, 2010 at 09:46 PM · Reply

      The different short cuts have nothing to do with the keyboard layout. I guess both of your and Diccon’s example refer to a MS Office product. There, the language is the deciding factor if for example either ctrl+p or ctrl+d does print the document.
      For myself I had quite a confusion while working for a international company in Switzerland. The software was English, but the keyboards Swiss-German. At home I had always to guess, how the command would be in German, because there I used the German version of the same software.

      • swisswatching Wednesday June 2nd, 2010 at 05:50 AM · Reply

        You’re right Michael. At home I have a Swiss keyboard but English Office; at work it’s a Swiss keyboard and German MS Office. So I have to remember which shortcuts work with which version. Usually I give up and use a mouse.

  4. eg Wednesday June 2nd, 2010 at 08:09 PM · Reply

    True, the problem or situation I described is caused by the software and not the keyboard layout.
    However, it is another example of computer interfaces and language barriers.

  5. Martin Tuesday December 20th, 2011 at 08:48 PM · Reply

    Gentlemen, on modern OSs (Operating Systems), such as Windows and OS X, it is very easy to change the keyboard settings to the language you are used to, independent of what OS language is actually installed! Of course, the characters on the keyboard itself do not change, but both OSs provide virtual keyboards (you can see on the screen), so you can see where to find what character!

    • swisswatching Tuesday December 20th, 2011 at 09:10 PM · Reply

      Gentlemen, do not go down that route! I did and it’s even more annoying to have a keyboard that doesn’t match the letters that are typed. Just switch to a keyboard that matches where you live and get used to it.

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