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LIVING IN FRANCE

6 things to know about France’s ‘illogical’ AZERTY keyboard

Few can forget their first encounter with a French AZERTY keyboard, which can be pretty mind-blowing for people used to typing on the QWERTY keyboard.

6 things to know about France's 'illogical' AZERTY keyboard

The keyboard, which is only used in France and Belgium, is named after the order of the first six keys (as is the more common QWERTY keyboard).

Some of its differences to the QWERTY keyboard are completely logical, such as prioritising the é, ç and è keys which are used all the time when writing in French.

But some of the differences seem completely illogical and designed to designed to make typists tear their hair out especially if – like many new arrivals to France – you have to change your typing style having grown up using the QWERTY keyboard.

The placement of the letters

The differences are few when it comes to the actual letters of the alphabet: The A and Q are switched, as are the Z and W, and the M is transferred to the end of the middle row, rather than at the end of the bottom.

But that’s still enough to make for some frustrating weeks when you transfer from a Qwerty to an Azerty – or if you’re trying to use a French’s friend computer to send a quick email. 

If you’re not careful, “a quick pizza” can turn into “q auick piwwq”, for example. 

The French AZERTY keyboard. Photo: WikiCommons
 
The QWERTY keyboard. Photo: WikiCommons
 

The reason the letters are in a different order remains unknown, as is much of the reasoning behind the buttons on French keyboard, which took off in the early 20th century according to French historian Delphine Gardey.

French speakers in other countries like Canada actually prefer the QWERTY keyboard. 

It is worth noting, however, that the letter Z is much more common in French than it is in English, and the Q occurs slightly more frequently too.

Numbers are not prioritised

Writing the numbers on a French keyboard requires using the shift key each time.

The top line of the AZERTY keyboard features the special characters needed to do accents such as é è ç and à, as well as common punctuation such as as brackets and dashes.

It also features numbers, but the numbers are all on the shift key.

The French language has a much, much higher usage of accented letters compared to English. In fact, most English writers don’t even bother adding things like an accented e to words like café or fiancée anymore. 

In French, however, the é is more frequently used that a whopping ten letters in the alphabet. It makes sense to give it a key to itself, especially compared to y, w, z, and x. 

However this does mean that every time you need to type a number you are using the shift key – and certain UK or US based websites won’t allow you to enter characters in say – the box for your credit card details – if you are holding down the shift key, making shopping and admin on non-French websites particularly annoying.

@ and €

Two of the biggest gripes with the Azerty keyboard are the lack of a  dedicated @ key and the lack of a € key.

The @ symbol might have started out as a relatively obscure symbol, but in the days of email and Twitter it’s needed all the time, while one could argue that France’s official currency would be a pretty useful symbol to have.

Both the @ and the € require an ‘alt gr’ to find, but on newer keyboards they are at least clearly marked on the keyboard so they’re easy to find – @ is found at Alt gr + 0 and € is found at Alt gr + e.

On the other hand ù – a letter used by the French just 0.058 percent of the time – gets its own key, just to the right of the ‘m’, while the dollar symbol also has its own key, presumably a hangover from the Qwerty keyboard as used in the US. 

Underscores and dashes

The underscore symbol (this one _ ) is another one that has seen its popularity vastly increase with the widespread use of websites, email, Twitter and Instagram where it’s a frequent feature of user names and domain names.

And in good news, it does have its own key – it’s right underneath the number 8.

In fact in French the dash and the underscore (- and _) are  sometimes called “tiret du 6” and a “tiret du 8” respectively, meaning a “six dash” and an “eight dash” because that’s where you can find them on a keyboard, although their formal names are just tiret and tiret bas.

Pressing shift to end a sentence 

But surely the mostly baffling and irritating thing about the Azerty keyboard is having to use the shift key to end every sentence.

The much lesser-used semi-colon gets its own key, while if you want to end a sentence with a full stop or period – by far the most common way to finish – you need to employ the shift key. Likewise if you need the period point for an ellipse (…), a decimal point (although the French use a comma in place of a point) or any and all website addresses and email addresses. 

Likewise the French are apparently fonder of jokes than they are of questions, since the exclamation point keys its own key while the question mark requires a shift. 

The § symbol gets equal prominence with the . since both are accessible through a shift key.

We had to Google § to see what it even is, it’s apparently a section sign used for numbering legal documents, so we can only assume that a lawyer (who also hated full stops) designed the Azerty keyboard.  

French vocab

Obviously punctuation points have their own names in France, here are some of the most common

Full stop/period . point. Most commonly heard for French websites or email addresses which end in .fr (pronounced pwan eff eyre)

Comma , virgule. In France a decimal point is indicated with a comma so two and a half would be 2,5 (deux virgule cinq)

Exclamation mark ! point d’exclamation – when you are writing in French you always leave a space between the final letter of the word and the exclamation mark – comme ça !

Question mark ? point d’interrogation – likewise, leave a space between the final character and a question mark 

At symbol @ Arobase – so for example the email address [email protected] would be jean point dupont arobas hotmail point fr. 

Ampersand/and symbol & esperluette

Dashtiret

Underscore _ tiret bas 

Forward slash / barre oblique

Brackets/parentheses ( ) parenthèse

Quotation marks « » guillemets 

Member comments

  1. I learned to type on an Azerty keyboard. The shock for me was encountering a Qwerty keyboard for the first time. Pretty easy to adapt to either.

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For members

FRENCH BUREAUCRACY

Everything you need to know about your vital French ‘dossier’

It's a crucial part of life and an incomplete one can bring about a whole world of pain - here's what you need to know about your French dossier.

Everything you need to know about your vital French 'dossier'

The French word un dossier simply means a file – either in the physical sense of a plastic or cardboard item that holds documents together or the sense of a collection of documents. You might also hear civil servants use dossier to refer to the responsibilities they hold, as in English we might say their ‘brief’. 

But by far the most important use of dossier, particularly to foreigners in France, is its use to indicate the collection of documents that you must put together in order to complete vital administrative tasks, from registering in the health system to finding somewhere to live.

When you begin a new administrative process, you will need to put together a collection of documents in order to make your application. Exactly what you need varies depending on the process, but almost all dossiers will include;

  • Proof of ID – passport, birth certificate or residency card. If a birth certificate is required check carefully exactly what type of certificate is being asked for (and don’t freak out if they’re asking for a birth certificate no more than three months old, it doesn’t mean you have to be born again).

Birth certificate: Why you need it in France and how to request one

  • Proof of address – utility bills are usually the best, if you’re on paperless billing you can log into your online account with your power supplier and download an Attetstation de contrat which has your name and address on it and also acts as proof of address
  • Proof of financial means – depending on the process you might have to show proof of your income/financial means. This can include things like your last three months payslips or your most recent tax return. If you’re house-hunting you might be asked for your last three quittances de loyer – these are rent receipts and prove that you have been paying your rent on time. Landlords are legally obliged to provide these if you ask, but if you can’t find them or it’s a problem you can also ask your landlord to provide an attestatation de bon paiment – a certificate stating that you pay what you owe on time.

Paper v online

The traditional dossier is a bulging file full of papers, but increasingly administrative processes are moving online, so you may be able to simply upload the required documents instead of printing them all out. 

If you have to send physical copies of documents by mail, make sure you send them by lettre recommandée (registered mail), not only does it keep your precious documents safe, but some offices will only accept documents that arrive this way. 

If you’re able to send your dossier online, pay careful attention to the format specified for documents – usually documents like rental contracts or work contracts will be in Pdf format while for documents like a passport or residency card a jpeg (such as a photo taken on your phone) will suffice. If you’re sending photos of ID cards, residency cards or similar make sure you upload photos of both sides of the card.

If you need scanned documents there is no need to buy an expensive scanner – there are now numerous free phone apps that will do the job and allow you to photograph the documents with your phone’s camera and convert them to Pdf files.

Some French government sites are a little clunky and won’t accept large files – if you get an error message telling you that the file you are uploading is too big, you can resize it using a free online photo resizing tool. 

Payment

If the process requires payment (eg changing address on certain types of residency card or applying for citizenship) you may be asked for a timbre fiscale – find out how they work here

House-hunting

If you are looking for a property to rent you will need to compile a dossier and if you’re in one of the big cities – especially Paris – landlords or agencies usually won’t even grant you a viewing without seeing your dossier first, so it’s always best to compile this before you start scanning property adverts.

The government has put together a tool called Dossier Facile which allows you to upload all your house-hunting documents to a single site, have them checked and verified and then gives you a link to give to landlords and agencies, which makes the process a little simpler.

Find a full explanation of how it works here.

Attestations

For foreigners, especially new arrivals, it’s often a problem getting together all the documents required. It’s worth knowing that if you don’t have everything you need, you can sometimes substitute documents for an attestation sur l’honneur, which is a sworn statement. 

How to write a French attestation sur l’honneur

This is a legally valid document, with penalties for submitting a false one, and needs to be in French and written in a certain format – the French government website provides a template for the attestation.

Vocab

Déposer un dossier – submit your file

Pièce d’identitie – proof of ID eg passport, residency card

Acte de naissance – birth certificate. 

Copie intégral – a copy of the document such as a photocopy or scan

Extrait – a new version of the document, reissued by the issuing authority

Sans/ avec filiation – for birth certificates it might be specified that you need one avec filiation, which means it includes your parents’ details. Some countries issue as standard short-form birth certificates that don’t include this, so you will need to request a longer version of the certificate

Justificatif de domicile – proof of address eg recent utility bills. If you don’t have any bills in your name you can ask the person who either owns the property or pays the rent to write an attestation de domicile stating that you live there

Justificatif de situation professionnelle – proof of your work status eg a work contract – either a CDI (permenant contract) or CDD (short-term contract)

Justificatif de ressources – proof of financial means, such as your last three months payslips (employers are legally obliged to provide these), other proof of income or proof of pension payments or evidence of savings.

Avis d’imposition – tax return. Some processes ask for this separately, for others it can be used as proof of resources – this is not a copy of the declaration that you make, but the receipt you get back from the tax office laying out your income and any payments that are required. If you declare your taxes online in France, you can download a copy of this document from the tax website. 

Quittance de loyer – rent receipts

Attestation de bon paiment – a document from your landlord stating that you pay your rent on time

Un garant – for some processes, particularly house-hunting, you might need a financial guarantor. This can be tricky for foreigners since it has to be someone you know reasonably well, but that person must also be living (and sometimes working) in France, and they will also need to provide all the above documents. If you’re struggling to find an acceptable guarantor, there are online services that will provide a guarantor (for a fee).

En cours de traitement – this means that your dossier has been received and is in the process of being evaluated. Depending on the process this stage can take anywhere between hours, months or even years (in the case of citizenship applications).

RDV – the shortened version of rendez-vous, this is an appointment. Certain processes require you to first submit your dossier and then attend an in-person appointment.

Votre dossier est incomplet – bad news, you are missing one or more crucial documents and your application will not proceed any further until you have remedied this.

Votre dossier est validé – your dossier has been approved. Time to pop the Champagne!

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