The MySQL manual states By default, MySQL uses the latin1 (cp1252 West European) character set and the latin1_swedish_ci collation that sorts according to Swedish/Finnish rules. These defaults are suitable for the United States and most of Western Europe. That's certainly true but only half the story. If you have ever developed PHP or Perl applications, sooner or later you are bound to notice inexplicable hieroglyphics in your website output. Closer inspection of these characters and you'll probably realise it is an apostrophe or an accented letter being rendered incorrectly.
The trick to avoiding this is to ensure you are consistent throughout your development stack with your choice of character sets. To aid this I change the MySQL defaults to UTF-8 General which fits all circumstances I tend to need, and will match the PHP defaults.
The MySQL my.cnf configuration file is where you'll need to look. I use openSUSE and the config file hangs out in /etc. Lets check to be sure.
# whereis my.cnf /etc/my.cnf
[client] socket = /var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock port = 3306 default-character-set = utf8
[mysqld] default-character-set = utf8 default-collation = utf8_general_ci character-set-server = utf8 collation-server = utf8_general_ci init_connect = 'SET NAMES utf8'
# /etc/init.d/mysql restart
# tail /var/lib/mysql/mysqld.log