Time differences

How time is told in different parts of the world

No, this article isn’t about time zones this time. This subject came up during a Facebook discussion on the misunderstandings between different forms of the English language.

What time is it?

I am British. If I said to you that I would meet you somewhere at “half six”, what time would you expect me to be there? I’ll translate to the worldwide 24 hour clock to minimise confusion – there will be plenty of that to come! “Half six” in British terms is 0630 hrs or 1830 hrs.

However, if a German says “halb sechs” for which the literal translation is “half six” you will end up meeting them an hour late as the time they will be referring to is 0530 hrs or 1730 hrs.

This can be tricky.

And in some languages it can get even trickier!

Claire: In Czech, “11.15” would be a quarter to twelve and “11.45” would be three quarters to twelve. And also “11.25” is… “in 5 minutes it will be half towards 6”!

Belinda: You tell the time in exactly the same way in Austria – for 11.20, you could also say “10 minutes before half towards 12”! I can cope most of the time, but still get confused if someone says “quarter 12” and always check that they do indeed mean 11.15.

I told you it would get confusing! Personally, I would stick to on-the-hour o’clock appointments. I hate being late.

Mind you…

Louisa: “Half six” in Bermuda means looking at your watch and knowing you should be there at 6:30pm, but actually showing up at 7:30pm! We speak English here!

Carol: Not that we Brits even have a common language! What time would you go to a friend’s house if invited for “dinner”?

I’d demand a specific time because I’m aware of the differences between families and names for these meals! Dinner can be in the evening or in the middle of the day, also known as lunchtime.

Fancy a date?

Date layouts can also be confusing.

It’s my birthday soon. No, I’m not putting down my year of birth! But on what day and month is my birthday?

4/3/13 or 3/4/13? One of those dates is written in the US format while the other is in British format, but there’s no way of telling which is which.

So, when is my birthday? The odds are pretty good at getting it right!

And do you know how the Japanese write their dates? Totally ‘back to front’! So my birthday in 2013 would be written 13/4/3. Which is OK once you get used to it – seeing the year is key!

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  1. I never thought it was so complicated! On the contrary, I’m used to American formats, and I think I could screw up in Britain when it comes to timing.
    Thank you for the informative article. I like to learn something new.

  2. Yup I have this – I am pretty used to translating from and into or the English time so that I know that half six means half past six instead of half to 6 which is my standard setting. I can still cause inadvertent confusion amongst friends and my in laws by making appointments for ten past half past. My husband just sighs and says I am turning Dutch again.

  3. I have learnt to double-check the times in Dutch which uses ‘half zes’ for 5.30 (morning or evening), but also ‘tien voor half zes’ = 5.20, ‘vijf voor half zes’ = 5.25, ‘vijf over half zes’ = 5.35 and ‘tien over half zes’ = 5.40. Even after 25 years, I still make mistakes, so I’ll state the time in the form “you mean five twenty?” to double-check. If I don’t, and I make an appointment by phone for ‘half zes’, I’ll write down 1/2 6 in my diary and translate it after the call. Gives my brain a chance to catch up!

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