You’d think something as common and important as writing dates would be standardized by now. And in fact it is, ISO 8601 sets the international standard for writing dates as YYYY-MM-DD.
However, as the map above shows, that format is not commonly used outside of East Asia. Instead you have all sorts of different formats being used. The most common is the exact opposite of ISO 8601 and goes Day-Month-Year. This makes a certain amount of logical sense, as you’re going from the shortest to longest unit of time.
The United States of course has to be different and instead uses Month-Day-Year when writing dates. While from a logical point of view it makes no sense to write the date this way, it’s how most North Americans would say the date out loud. E.g. You’re much more likely to say January 31st, 2015 than you are the 31st of January, 2015.
But at least the US is generally consistent in its formatting. South Africa and Kenya both commonly use Year-Month-Day and Day-Month-Year, which while not ideal is unlikely to cause much confusion.
Saudi Arabia and the Philippines, on the other hand, use Day-Month-Year and Month-Day-Year, which could easily lead to confusion. For example is the following date: 05-06-2015, June 5th, 2015 or May 6th, 2015? Without knowing which system the other person is using, it’s impossible to tell just by looking.
Finally, Canada, due perhaps to its English-French divide, is a total mess using not 1, not 2 but 3 separate systems. Ironic, since Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming is the father of standard time zones. So if you’re visiting Canada best to get the date written down using words rather than numbers, just to be safe.
You can learn more about time and dates from the following books:
- The Dance of Time: The Origins of the Calendar
- How Do You Measure Time? (Measure It!)
- Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time
Have you ever been confused by a different dating format when traveling abroad? Let us know what happened in the comment section below: