October 2007


Vielleicht Normal

Even though I am acutely aware of the fact that my life experiences are unique, I still have these moments where I believe that everybody around me has a similar basic skills and common sense.

And then reality comes crashing down and I am a bit flummoxed.

Certainly I have assumed that it is common sense, for example, to automatically put on a seatbelt immediately upon getting in a car. There were sporadic exceptions to this in America—and whenever I was driving, the lack of a seatbelt wad noticed and the passenger put on his seat belt. The counter-example to this was arriving in Armenia and that trip when I rode in a sedan from Yerevan to Vanadzor. At one point, when I was sitting in the front seat, I started putting on my seatbelt—the driver was insulted and made motions to stop me.

I also assume that wearing your seatbelt whilst in-flight is common sense. Even if the seatbelt sign is off, I wear it. Clear Air Turbulence is not unheard of and I would rather be safe than sorry—besides, the seatbelt need not be death grip tight, it just needs to make sure that I don’t fly out of my seat and hit my head on the overhead compartments should the plane suddenly drop a few meters. The counter-example to my common sense is that whenever I fly on a plane with Germans: as soon as the seatbelt sign turns off, many take off their seatbelts and don’t put them on again—until prodded by the flight attendants. Seriously, how hard can it be just to keep it on loosely?

However, my assumptions of common life experiences and sense extend into more mundane areas, like touch typing.

My Mother made me learn how to type—something I am now grateful for, especially when I meet people who do not know how to type. I can still remember learning how to type on my Mom’s manual typewriter. Typing the z, q, or 1 with my left pinky was challenging because the manual typewriter took a lot of pressure in order to work—thus explaining why I was hard on computer keyboards the first five years I used computers.

Since I first learned how to type, the greatest challenge for me has been learning the German keyboard—letter-wise it wasn’t that difficult switching the Z and the Y—my fingers learned it quickly. As time has gone by I’ve memorized where everything else is located: the ‘ is two keys to the right of my right pinky, the @ is a combination of the right hand “ALT” key with the letter Q. The biggest problem for me, as my chat friends will attest is the question mark. It is one key to the right of the 0, but with a shift key. If I don’t get it exactly right, and I often don’t, I either put an ß in its place. I also mis-aim and end up with the ` hanging around and not over anything except a blank space: it is one key to the right of the question mark.

But my mistakes on the German keyboard do not slow me down too much, especially in comparison to the large number of people I’ve been meeting, of late, who do not know how to touch type at all.

Recently in a German Bureaucratic Office the woman I was speaking with needed to type up some information. She had to hunt for each individual letter—something I could have typed in two seconds took her two minutes. Of course it actually took her longer because she couldn’t spell.

I’ll admit, I misspell German words all the time, but it is not my native language, so I am combating my native spelling sensibilities whenever I am trying to spell in German. Another agent was helping my agent and she spent a minute trying to spell a relatively simple German word phonetically, before giving up and reaching over my agent’s shoulders and correcting it for her.

This isn’t the only time, of late, that I’ve been acutely aware of my abilities to type. I was typing up a blog entry on the road when a friend saw me typing and noticed that I was typing quickly and without looking at my fingers.

Now I know that I’m not Sir Speedy when it comes to my typing speed. I’m probably about average, if not slightly slower; but compared to people who do not know how to type at all, I’m like a Porsche on the autobahn.

It’s strange to realize what I thought was a common skill isn’t, and each time I am reminded that others don’t know how to touch type, I thank my mother. Perhaps I should actually thank her in reality, not just in random asides to myself.

Thanks Mom for making me learn how to type—it’s been an incredibly useful life skill.

7 comments to Vielleicht Normal

  • I too have noticed this situation and have since learned that the German educational system doesn’t seem to value touch typing very highly, thus they rarely teach it.

    For me it was compulsory in my high school. While I really didn’t enjoy it, I could certainly see how it would benefit me. I learned on an electronic typewriter, but I remember my Mother’s old Underwood well and knew enough to be happy to have key assist.

    The office in which I work is filled with people who must look at their keyboards constantly whereas as I can talk on the phone, speak with them, stare at copy or whatever with fingers flying over the keys, not even caring where my fingers are. They all think this is slightly miraculous, whereas I berate myself because I feel that my mistake level is too high.

    As for the German keyboard… I’m a holdout for my QWERTY!! All of my computers have QWERTY keyboards with the ability to switch to German keyboard for the special characters. Who ever heard of a QWERTZ?

  • Ed

    I took typing class in high school but I wonder if they give it much thought today? I’m sure they don’t have typewriters any more. I take it for granted but when I go over to my parents house and watch my mom hunt and peck I am so glad I can type using all my fingers.

  • I noticed this too. I had to take typing in high school – it was required. Most Germans seem to have never learned to type. It’s too bad they then have to waste so much time hunting and pecking!

  • IUMike

    I took typing in high school, and it was probably the most valuable thing I learned there.

  • @snooker: I had to switch since I have a german laptop. Now when I use American keyboards, I have a tremendous error rate for the first hour or so–plus I have no idea where to find things like quote marks any more.

    @ed: I hope they teach typing in elementary school now. I learned the summer after 6th or 7th grade.

    @CN: I know that secretaries in Germany know how to type, but I think it is part of their training.

    @IUMike: Surely there had to be a couple other good things about high school!

  • Reko

    Did you hear about the secretary who didn’t know touch typing? At the office, she was just a hunt-‘n-pecker.