05 August 2006

English — the time has come?

This morning I stopped in the jewelry store in Saint-Aignan because I needed a new battery in my watch. The watch I wear these days is a Swiss Army model that was part of my five-year gift award at Apple back in 1997. Five years is a long stretch to put in at a Silicon Valley company, or was back then.

When I arrived at the jeweler's shop, a French couple was there buying a big digital clock that showed the time, the temperature, and the day of the week on its display. The woman behind the counter was explaining to the man and woman, who must have been in their late 60s or early 70s, how the clock worked.

The abbreviation for the day of the week was displayed in English. The woman buying the clock said she guessed they could get used to seeing SAT, SUN, MON, etc. on the clock display and learn what those abbreviations meant. "I don't know why we resist learning English, but we do," she said to the saleswoman. "I know," the saleswoman answered, "we are really behind the times." All this conversation took place in French, of course; I'm translating.

The saleswoman then pulled the user's manual for the clock out of the box. "Oh, it's in French," she said, surprised. "Sometimes the instructions are only in English. Then you are in a fix," she said with a smile.

I felt like saying to the saleswoman and the customers that they should put up some resistance. Don't buy products that are not localized — that do not display information in the language of the country where they are sold, in other words. Why couldn't the manufacturer of the clock put out a model that displayed the days as SAM, DIM, LUN, etc., in French?

Oh well. At least the manual had been translated. I didn't notice whether the temperature was displayed in ºC or ºF. Probably ºC.

A long discussion of the upside of knowing some English ensued. All the participants, including a couple of other customers, looked a little sheepish when admitting that their English was only rudimentary. Several people glanced at me, but I don't know if they realized I was American. I didn't say anything.

The older couple bought the clock and said they would try it out. The saleswoman encouraged them to bring it back after they'd tried it for a few days, if they weren't completely satisfied.

When my turn came, the jeweler told me he couldn't change the battery in my watch because he didn't have the tool he needed to take the back off of it. I thought that was bizarre, and said so, because I was convinced they had changed the battery in that watch last year or the year before. Maybe I was mistaken. I hope they didn't think I was rude.

Now I have to go back and have a battery put in a different watch, because I need a watch. Since I quit work and moved here, often I don't really know what day of the week it is. Having the bread lady come to the house on LUN, MAR, JEU, VEN, and SAM helps me keep my bearings. But I still feel the need to wear a watch most days.

I'll have to apologize to the jewelry store staff and tell them I must have been mistaken about getting a new battery from them for the Swiss Army watch.


  1. Well, maybe they HAD changed your watch battery in the past, and this particular employee was new since then. Don't second-guess yourself!

    Bonne Nuit!

  2. I can't imagine that that watch had been running on the same battery for more than three years, and I know I haven't taken it to anybody else to have the battery changed. So maybe you are right. Thanks.

  3. I loved reading this story- sort of a bilingual fly on the wall one...

    It's odd that the jeweler didn't have the tools of his trade, methinks he just didn't want to go to the trouble of helping you.

    DH has all those tools which also work for taking computers apart and working with their inards. We have a freestanding Pakistani (I think, or Indian) jewelry stand in our mall. It is quick and easy to get batteries changed there.

  4. If it's any comfort to you, we often get the runaround here when we need a watch battery changed, except we aren't treated to a discussion of the virtues of knowing English first (and you could have a discussion like that here, as you probably know). We have the best luck on getting the batteries we need, and someone to change them, at Radio Shack, but that probably doesn't help you much.
    Chris P

  5. Chris, no Radio Shacks around here. I might have to wait until we go to the U.S. to get the battery changed in my Apple/Swiss Army watch.

    Evelyn, the jeweler was very polite. When I insisted that I had had the battery replaced in that watch at his very store last year or the year before, he said he would go try to get the back off of it with the tools he had. He came back saying no dice. That was when I asked him how he had done it the last time I brought the watch in and told him "c'est bizarre." The store was crowded, I was in a hurry to catch up with Walt at the market, and I just said merci and left the store fairly abruptly. I didn't want to spend a lot of time talking about it...

  6. If it's any consolation, Ken, at Apple the localization process is taken very seriously. Many of our decisions about the documentation are made considering localization. I've never worked anywhere with this level of awareness... even at Claris.

    And the French hate Apple anyway!

  7. I thought France was one of Apple's most faithful markets. The French supposedly love the elegant design of the Macintosh and the iPod. But the authorities are adamant about protecting the rights and royalties of artists...

  8. I'm sure can have the battery replaced in France. I had the battery replaced in my Swiss Army watch a few months ago in Caen. I was in and out of the store in 3 minutes.


  9. Hi Phil, I might have to send you the watch... I went back to the jewelry store in St-Aignan and talked to the owner. He said he didn't know anybody who had the tools to open that watch. His advice: faites toutes les bijouteries de la région... go to all the jewelry stores you can find until you find the right one.


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