Thursday, October 17, 2013

Adjusting to French standards

     Years ago when we were living in Texas, hubby told me that in certain aspects/standards Malaysians are closer to USA compared to France. I thought he was kidding, there was no way an Asian country is closer to USA than an occidental (Caucasian) country. Now, I think he could be right.

 1. Note pad
     Several days ago I started a new note pad, and I was surprised to find the tiny square layout (left hand side on the photo above). I didn't know how to write on it, should I write within the squares, or one alphabet could be written on three line of squares... I hesitated for a while so I started looking at how people write on this type of paper. There is simply no standard, everyone writes the way they want.

     In Malaysia, after high school,  people pretty much writing on line format (like shown in the right hand side of the photo above), just like in the USA. Years ago my MIL gave me a note pad like the one on the middle of the photo, where it has a big square with three horizontal lines inside. I couldn't get used to it. I found it hard to read writings in these square formats. Wouldn't it save ton of money if note pad producers simply print papers with lines?

2. Comma vs Full stop

     In France, a comma is used as a decimal mark compared to full stop in most part of Asia and English speaking countries. So 12.34€ (twelve Euro thirty four Cents) are written as 12,34€. In my job I deal with numbers everyday, I struggled at the beginning but now it just comes by naturally. However, I have to deal with this difference frequently as it produces many mistakes.

a) When working with Excel. I have data coming from different systems, some of them are using Comma standard, the others are using Full stop. We have to use a Macro to turn all these data into the same standard. Sometimes data extraction coming from the same source changed from Comma standard to Dot standard, or someone sends me an updated file which changes all my Comma to Dot resulted in formula mistakes all over the sheet.

b) When using group reporting tools. Our group reporting tools are using the Dot standard. So we have to enter data accordingly. I have many painful experiences being trapped in situations where data entries didn't match the awaiting results just to realize that my 12,34€ has become 1234€ in the reporting system. In one tool, we have an automatic function to feed an Excel file to the system. It has a bug : all the numbers after the decimal marks disappear after loading. The support team told us that it would be too complicate to load these fraction numbers, but we can enter the numbers manually. Hah? How about entering hundred of lines of data manually?

     The map above from Wikipedia shows countries who use Comma vs countries who use Dot or Full stop. I'm surprised to learn that more countries (67) are using Comma than Dot (42). But in terms of coverage Comma standard covers 24% of the of world population, much lower than 60% coverage for the Dot standard.

     France uses AZERTY computer keyboard compare to QWERTY layout in Malaysia and in USA. I get use to the AZERTY keyboard now that I have problem switching to QWERTY layout back in Malaysia. It is easier to type those French accents : é, è, à, ç, ù (only use in one word “où” = where in French)

     Anyway, I’m surprised though to learn that only France and Belgium use this type of layout. The only issue I encounter is when I type in Mandarin using PinYin. For some reason when I switch to Mandarin (provided by Windows 7), the keyboard also switches to QWERTY mode. It is very painful to locate Q, Z, M, A, and W as what I see on the keyboard is not what is shown. I have not yet found a solution to fix it.

     I'm not complaining here, I just want to point out that as an expat I have to constantly adapt to standards practicing in my host country. It is not a problem switching to one standard, it is just painful when we have to juggle between different standards practicing in different countries.


  1. I went through these cultural differences as a French moving to Canada. I had never realized France had standards that were so.. unique! Getting used to a qwerty keyboard was so annoying at first, but I love it now.

    1. Is it painful to type French accents using qwerty keyboard?

  2. As a software engineer, decimal format is one of the first things we have to deal with (and if your tooling team cannot get it right then they are just lazy :p ).
    I can admit that dot is considered the international standard, because it makes sense, but I am much more concerned about US date/time standard which does not make any sense (month/day/year H:m:s AM/PM) and is still considered the default standard for most computer systems and programming languages (I mean, seriously ? Day starts at 12:00 AM and goes up to 11:59 AM and then 12:00 PM followed by 01:00 PM ????).

    About notepads, the middle one is the standard in french schools, so be prepared to see a lot of it in the 20 upcoming years :) .
    The small-squares one is only used for scientific classes with lots of graphs since each square has a 0.5cm side.
    Line-only paper is basically unknown in our country.
    I never put much thought into it since it is the standard we have always known but I guess one of the advantages of the "big square" (grands carreaux) is that you can still use it to draw graphs or tables on it. Each square is 1,2cm wide so 4 squares=5cm.
    When using it, the lighter lines help to keep the letter straight : small letters should be one line tall and tall letters should be two lines tall. Letters going below baseline should go one line below:

    1. The support team told me that fixing this problem will create more problems as they have to deal with "," and "." in different configuration. Anyway they did not recommend to put this feature as a new "evolution".

      As for the notepad, the company provides this format to everyone, and most of us are only using this to write notes.

  3. Bee Ean,
    The notepad in the middle and the left remind me of 小方格 and 中方格 exercise books that are commonly used for Chinese lessons homework! Apart from that, would be for mathematics (graphs).. and nothing else, right?

    Hubby said the square ones are used when one first starts to write at primary school.

    I definitely love line format!