Computer Keyboards Abroad

Businessman using laptop in home office
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QWERTZ versus QWERTY Isn't the Only Problem!

The topic is computer keyboards and cyber cafes overseas-especially in Austria, Germany, or Switzerland.

I recently returned from several weeks in Austria and Germany. For the first time, I had an opportunity to use computers there-not my own laptop, but computers both in Internet or cyber cafes and at the home of friends.

I have long known that foreign keyboards are different from the North American variety, but this trip I also learned that knowing and using are two different things.

I used both Macs and PCs in the United Kingdom, Austria and Germany. It was a rather confusing experience at times. Familiar keys were nowhere to be found or located in an entirely new place on the keyboard. Even in the U.K. I discovered the truth of the George Bernard Shaw adage that "England and America are two countries separated by the same language." Once-familiar letters and symbols were now strangers. New keys appeared where they should not be. But that was just in Great Britain. Let's concentrate on the German-language keyboard (or actually its two varieties).

A German keyboard has a QWERTZ layout, i.e., the Y and Z keys are reversed in comparison with the U.S.-English QWERTY layout. In addition to the normal letters of the English alphabet, German keyboards add the three umlauted vowels and the "sharp-s" characters of the German alphabet. The "ess-tsett" (ß) key is to the right of the "0" (zero) key.

(But this letter is missing on a Swiss-German keyboard, since the "ß" is not used in the Swiss variation of German.) The u-umlaut (ü) key is located just to the right of the "P" key. The o-umlaut (ö) and a-umlaut (ä) keys are on the right of the "L" key. This means, of course, that the symbols or letters that an American is used to finding where the umlauted letters are now, turn up somewhere else.

A touch-typist is starting to go nuts now, and even a hunt-and-peck person is getting a headache.

And just where the heck is that "@" key? Email happens to depend on it rather heavily, but on the German keyboard, not only is it NOT at the top of the "2" key, it seems to have vanished entirely!-Which is pretty odd considering that the "at" sign even has a name in German: der Klammeraffe(lit., "clip/bracket monkey"). My German friends patiently showed me how to type "@"-and it wasn't pretty. You have to press the "Alt Gr" key plus "Q" to make @ appear in your document or email address. On most European-language keyboards, the right "Alt" key, which is just to the right of the space bar and different from the regular "Alt" key on the left side, acts as a "Compose" key, making it possible to enter many non-ASCII characters.

That was on a PC. For the Macs at the Cafe Stein in Vienna (Währingerstr. 6-8, Tel. + 43 1 319 7241), they had printed out the rather complex formula for typing "@" and stuck it in front of each computer.

All this slows you down for a while, but it soon becomes "normal" and life goes on. Of course, for Europeans using a North American keyboard, the problems are reversed, and they must get used to the weird U.S. English configuration.

Now for some of those computer terms in German-terms that you will seldom find in most German-English dictionaries. Although computer terminology in German is often international (der Computer, der Monitor, die Diskette), other words such as Akku (rechargeable battery), Festplatte(hard drive), speichern (save), or Tastatur (keyboard) are less easy to decipher. 

Foreign Keyboards Internet Cafe Links

Cyber Cafes - Worldwide

Euro Cyber Cafes
An online guide to Internet cafes in Europe. Choose a country!

Café Einstein
An Internet cafe in Vienna.

Computer Info Links

Also see the computer-related links under "Subjects" on the left of this and other pages.

A computer magazine in German.

c't magazin für computer-technik
A computer magazine in German.

ZDNet Deutschland
News, info in the computer world (in German).