By SUSIE FORBATH
I had a great semester abroad in Paris, France last spring: I had the chance to improve my language skills and immerse myself in French culture. Before coming to Paris, I expected to experience some differences between North America and France, as well as some difficulties adjusting to a new city. But as someone who considers herself technologically proficient, I didn’t realize that I would encounter so many bumps in the road vis-à-vis my technology use. Facing these hurdles made me cognizant of the technologies of which I take advantage in North America. Here are the top five:
1. QWERTY keyboards. I grew up in French Canada where people use QWERTY keyboards with differently shaped “return” buttons and a few accent keys, but nothing too earth-shattering. I was expecting to find the same keyboard in Paris, but quickly learned that the French use an AZERTY keyboard so zords zould qppeqr like thqt. I didn’t know that a few switched letters could lead to such embarrassment until I went to my first French class in a computer lab. When the professor of a history and IT class asked every student to type his or her email address, I panicked as I couldn’t figure out how to make the “@” sign on the AZERTY keyboard! The professor gave me a quizzical look as I asked her — in front of the entire class — what buttons to press. For the record, it involves pressing the “AltGr” and “0” keys at the same time. I was too mortified to go back.
2. Netflix. In essence, French TV is like American TV. Les Anges de la téléréalité is pretty much Big Brother with ex-French reality stars. It features Nabilla Benattia, who looks more like Kim Kardashian than her sister Khloé (we’ve all heard the adoption rumors). There’s a French version of Top Chef, and even a dubbed Jersey Shore. But listening to Snooki and JWOWW discussing the source of the house’s “odeur” isn’t the same as being able to stream whatever I want whenever I want on Netflix. Accessing the Netflix site from France displays a message explaining that the service isn’t available in the country. Instead, I had to settle for dubbed reruns of Newport Beach (a.k.a. The O.C.) and Les experts: Manhattan (a.k.a. CSI: NY).
3. Unlimited plays of the same song on Spotify. I was initially ecstatic when I discovered that the free version of Spotify works in France, especially since the music streaming service isn’t accessible at all in my native Canada. As soon as I changed my current country to France in the application’s settings, it was as if all of my saved playlists and starred songs from the U.S. had a second coming. I was thrilled until I realized that after playing a song five times, it reverts back to its unplayable state. Plus, the commercials between songs were more frequent (but the catchy jingle is the same).
4. Toll-free numbers. I know this technology is old school, but I never realized how much I took advantage of toll-free numbers until I could no longer dial 1-800. In France, the caller has to pay several “centimes,” or Euro cents, per minute when dialing many large companies’ numbers. Needless to say, paying to be put on hold was even more aggravating than the cheesy music played in the background!
5. Pencils. This technology is even more old school than toll-free numbers, but technically, pencils are a technology, and sadly, they’re seldom used in France. When writing an in-class essay in the States, I usually scribble illegibly in pencil under the time constraint. But in France, penmanship is sacred and neatness is glorified. I was warned that French professors take off significant points for messiness and that pencils are forbidden. Instead, French students write with blue fountain pens and use a double-tipped ink eraser and overwriter pen to correct their errors. The night before my first French midterm, I realized that I only had a ballpoint pen, so I asked my 16-year-old host brother to borrow these school supplies that I had never seen in my 16-year academic career. When I told him that American students usually use pencils and ballpoint pens, he gave me a look akin to that of the professor who showed me how to type the “@” sign.
I miss my Parisian life but I also appreciate painlessly typing an email address and listening to songs on Spotify more than five times. For those going abroad this semester, try to have a hard copy of your favorite music and bring a lot of DVDs — just make sure they’re compatible with your abroad country’s region code.