So, what date is this?

 Fri, 10 May 2024 13:44 UTC

So, what date is this?
Image: CC BY 4.0 by cybrkyd

Working on an international team who are based in various locations around the world, one argument comes up every once in a while. Whilst we can agree to disagree on many cultural nuances, the one thing we cannot resolve is how to format the date. Americans, I’m looking right at you with large eyes and raised eyebrows over the top of my fogged-up spectacles!

We can all say “January 12th, 2024” or “12th of January, 2024” in conversation and understand perfectly unambiguously when that was but when it comes to the written form, things take a nasty turn. Colleagues threaten to quit, some running around in tantrums like drag queens who have lost their makeup! I exaggerate somewhat but this topic has been known to make enemies of even the chummiest chums.

Let’s take the control group, made up of say, Europeans, Japanese and Americans. All three have their own distinct format of writing out the date in numerical form:

Europeans: 12/01/2024

Japanese: 2024/01/12

Americans: 01/12/2024

This is the exact same date expressed differently, each according to their own cultural norms and likely, the way they were taught at school. Except, as a European reading the above American format, this very much looks like 01-December-2024 to me; a date in the future.

Why are you listing this next to your “document last updated on”? It hasn’t happened yet! And don’t get me started on those poxy little Excel cells with dates! To be fair to my Stars-and-Stripes buddies, when I write 12/01/2024, I totally understand that Americans would read this as 01-December-2024.

Should we not therefore try a compromise? Can we all please write this out in such a way that removes all ambiguity? Diversity and inclusion and all that good stuff. How about this:

Me: 12 January 2024

Also me: January 12, 2024

Again, me: 12-Jan-2024

At this point, the screaming starts. Office bins are tipped over, desk contents are swiped away onto the floor…you get the picture. The push-back comes from all quarters: The American’s threaten sanctions; the Europeans threaten to start yet another world war and the ever-polite Japanese drop subtle hints that I’m no longer needed.

I’ll try to ask again, nicely this time! Let’s just be friends. Please! Let’s try writing the date in plain English, using words for the month (we can still use numerals for the day and year). That way, everyone will know exactly which date we mean.