Continental Keyboards

Using computer systems in the Netherlands means I am subjected to using a continental keyboard. As with cars, many Americans will see the similarities and feel fairly at home. There is no £ sign for example, which is eminently annoying. A UK keyboard includes $ and € symbols, but obviously everyone else doesn’t think they should bother with the reverse. I could live with an Alt Gr version, like the €, but to get a £ sign means pressing Ctrl + Shift + Alt + 4 (I only just found that out). The @ symbol is above the number 2 and the # symbol above the 3. In the UK these are placed near the right-hand Shift and Enter keys. The Enter key itself is a single height bar, like the Shift key, whereas it is a reversed ‘L’ shape normally. The \ and | keys have also moved. I actually like having the @ sign where it is, it involves less straining with my right hand to hit both the Shift and ' keys to produce it.

Moving the keys causes problems in my typing because I have my own method, sort of relational touch typing. Over the years I have built up something like muscle memory or spatial awareness, which means that I know where a key is with relation to any other key. Thankfully, most of the changes are with ancillary keys that I rarely use in normal typing.

There is one difference that does prove problematic, a difference even Americans would notice. As many European words have letters with diacritical marks (little accent marks above or below them) which change the inflection, meaning or pronunciation, every time you try and type a “ or ‘ it waits for the next letter to see if it needs to change it. Now, if it’s a letter that that doesn’t alter, for whatever reason, you’ll get the ‘ then the letter and you can carry on. If, however, you type a letter that does change, an a for example, you get รก instead. The only way to guarantee this doesn’t happen is to press Space after the quote, which gives you an unmolested quote symbol, but no space, and carry on. It can be very frustrating.

1 Comment

  1. Phil Wilson

    The US-UK keyboard difference is something most IT workers in the UK has to get used to at some point - the real problems come when an US/UK person has to use a French or German keyboard where just a couple of the letters are switched around like (IIRC) the German keyboard has the 'Y' and 'Z' keys switched. French is even worse where about 2/3 of the keys are the same, but the rest are all swapped around (see http://www.goucher.edu/library/decker/helpfiles/frkeyboardmap.htm)

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