Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How US Date Formats Still Make My Head Implode, By A British Expat

Whoever coined the phrase "old habits die hard" was almost certainly a British expatriate living in the United States. You see, we poor Brits—riddled as we are with our own adorable set of language rules and cultural idiosyncrasies—must unlearn countless social and linguistic habits the very day we set foot onto the gigantic stretch of soil known as the United States.

Some things are easier to let go of than others. For some reason—and I imagine it's because I devoured American films growing up—substituting the word rubbish for trash came naturally to me. So, too, did other everyday word variations, such as apartment in place of flat, restroom instead of loo, and trunk as an alternative to boot. But, even having resided in the US now for more than six years, there is still one habit I have yet to fully relinquish: writing the date in a British format.

Now don't misunderstand—I am perfectly aware of how US date formats work. You simply switch the day and the month around to get 01/27/2015, as opposed to the British method, which reads 27/01/2015.

However, the fact that I have applied this rule to memory does not mean I will always competently put it into practice. On the contrary, whenever I am asked to provide my date of birth, I almost always get my brain into a muddle, as 18/11/81—and not 11/18/1981tries desperately to emerge from my cerebral cortex. You'll notice, by the way, that 18/11/81 is a numeric palindrome (same backwards as forwards)—a piece of personal trivia from which I had once derived enormous satisfaction. Alas, the American method entirely robs me of this perfectly good ice breaker.

And whenever I have—even in recent years—inadvertently placed the day before the month, untold confusion has usually lined the faces of my American counterparts. Apparently, they cannot reconcile the simple notion that I was born on the eighteenth month of the year. Hardly my fault.

Joking aside, however, there is perhaps one very simple reason for my repeated failure to habitually conform to this other way of writing the date: the U.S. method is not entirely logical. Whereas the British format is laid out chronologically from shortest unit of time to the longest, the American version begins with the second longest unit—the month—before working its way down and then up the hierarchy.

Perhaps there will one day come a time when I don't have to stop and think about the numeric order in question. However, by the time this happens, the concluding section of the date—the year—might well be 2035 rather than 2015. After all, old habits die hard.
This article was written by Laurence Brown. Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and has written for Anglotopia. He is Editor-in-chief of Lost in the Pond and loves nothing more than to share these articles with anglophiles, expats, and other interested parties on social media. Follow Lost in the Pond on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

5 comments:

Rebekah said...

The American system is patently absurd. Many Americans, including scientists and others, routinely prefer the logical format. I suggest we all continue to flaunt the clearly best system and leave the others to explain their choice. After all, we value diversity.

Christie Michal said...

as an american expat, i've had to adjust to the other way. both are fine and logical. if it helps, you can remember that americans always say your birthday is "november 18th" and never "the 18th of november" so writing it that way does make a tiny bit of sense. there's hope for the nation yet...

Douglas Cooper said...

American here. When I was in the military (US Air Force) we used day/month/year, such as 15/9/2015 or 15 Sept 2015. Made it easier to organize documents and find which one was most current and relevant.

Jonathan Brown said...

I was in New York with my girlfriend a month or so after her 21st birthday. She was refused service in a bar because her British I.D was read as November 3rd instead of 11th of March (11/03/xxxx).

Luckily an Irish girl who worked there came over to sort out the confusion.

Anonymous said...

I am an American, yet I prefer to write the date as Day Month Year. The reasoning behind that is that is how I was taught since my father was in the military and I went to on post military schools. We were taught 25 January 2017, and then later learned January 25 2017. I want to say your tips are invaluable as I am going to be visiting the UK soon, and a friend of mine in the UK is visiting the US afterwards. Thank you for providing this valuable information.

Mike B.

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