In Focus:  As Time Goes By

Here’s a story I still vividly remember, even though it happened many years ago: a recent immigrant to the country, I had been asked to provide identification at a store when paying with a personal check. Since I did not yet hold a U.S. issued driver’s license, the common form of ID in the States, I presented my European passport. Looking for the expiration date, the clerk behind the counter seemed confused.  Finally, she looked at me, smiled apologetically, and asked  “Which month is the twentieth?”

The date shown in the passport was “20.11.2000”.

I sympathized with the clerk’s confusion. After all, hers is a common problem in the era of globalization, especially for those who don’t get to travel much. Confusion over dates and calendars, such as the date format in my passport, which conflicted with U.S. conventions, is prone to cause irritation and misunder- standings. Let’s look at a few pieces of information that might help you stay out of trouble:

Date Formats
The United States and the Philippines are among the handful of countries where month/day/year is the preferred format.  Most of Europe and Latin America, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and many countries in South Asia and Africa, put the day first, as in “20/11/00” or “20.11.2000”.  A third option, representing the official international standard, is common across East Asia, in a few European countries, and in South Africa. It starts with the year, followed by month and date, such as in “2000-11-20”.

Date formats can doubtlessly be confusing. If you need to be sure about a given country, a good place to look up specifics is Note that in some countries, different formats may coexist. Curiously, only in Canada are all three concepts commonly used.

Calendar Years
What year is this?  2007, you say?  Well, maybe.  Some people might disagree.  For instance, Jews may argue that this is 5767, while Muslims might insist on 1428.  India’s national calendar shows it as 1929, Korea’s as 4340, Iran’s as 1385; a Japanese business partner may tell you that it’s Heisei 19 and someone from Taiwan may call it the year 96.  It goes without saying that all of them are right within the framework of their religious or cultural heritage. Should you ever stumble into this kind of disagreement, it would be best to show interest in your coun- terpart’s concept rather than argue your own perspective. Fortunately, there isn’t a country in the world where the Gregorian calendar, the one telling us that this is the year 2007, is not at least understood and correctly interpreted.

Celebrating the New Year
When television stations all over the world show fireworks and New Year’s celebrations in the early hours of January 1st, how many of us care?  The answer is probably “not as many as you think”. For starters, more than a quarter of this planet’s popula- tion, living in China, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and elsewhere, consider Chinese New Year a much more important milestone.  This year, it falls on the 18th of February, when many employees in the People’s Republic will get a full week off to celebrate.  Korea and Vietnam follow the Chinese practice.

Jews have Rosh Hashanah to look forward to, which this year will be celebrated on September 12th.  Muslims will celebrate the upcoming New Year on January 20th. The Islamic calendar shifts versus the Gregorian one, which will make 2008 interesting as the world’s Muslim population will be celebrating two new years in that (Gregorian) calendar year. In India, things are even more complicated: depending on the region they live in and the religion they belong to, people may celebrate the start of the next year on March 14, April 13, November 9, or on another day. Other countries and cultural groups celebrate yet other dates, leaving little more than half of the world’s population focused on the first of January as the “big day”.

Are any of these dates important to know?  You bet they are.  Try getting anything done in China in late February, and you’ll know what I mean.  If nothing else, knowing about local customs will earn you the respect of your foreign counterparts and help when trying to build important relationships.  Therefore, be careful when habitually wishing others a Happy New Year on January 1st. Most people will appreciate it, but some might think it a bit inconside- rate.

In any case, and regardless of when your “personal” New Year starts: I hope it will be a good one!

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Book Of The Month
Business Across Cultures


Master international business challenges by recognizing, respecting, and reconciling cross-cultural dilemmas.

(click title for full book review)


Web Site Of The Month


A world calendar, listing every- thing from country holidays to religious, cultural, business, and sports events.

(click title to visit this web site)


Quote Of The Month

We must not allow
the clock and the calendar
to blind us to the fact
that each moment of life
is a miracle and mystery

H.G. Wells


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Global Business Practices:
Ten Tips For Doing Business in Canada

  • Most Canadians view their country as culturally different from the U.S. They dislike being stereotyped as Americans.
  • Business tends to move quickly around Toronto and Ottawa, less so in Atlantic Canada and in the West.
  • Decisions are usually made by individuals. It can be vital to get direct access to the decision maker.
  • While Canadians can become quite relaxed, business meetings are often a bit more formal than in the U.S.
  • Communication is generally direct. Canadians find too much diplomacy confusing.
  • Expect French Canadians to be quite different from their Anglophone counterparts. For example, they often show emotions much more openly than other Canadians do.
  • With French Canadians, share your ideas freely, but give compelling reasons for why they will work and be prepared to defend your arguments.
  • Being loud is generally regarded as poor manners. In business settings, including meals, Canadians tend to be quieter than their southern neighbors.
  • Physical contact is best avoided unless a strong personal relationship exists.
  • Eye contact should be frequent as it conveys sincerity. While you should remain friendly overall, you may find that Canadians smile less than Americans do.

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