Sunday, March 29, 2009

Guest Blogger 1.01

Earlier this year Jimmy asked me to write a Guest Blogger piece by completing the following: “If I had my own country…” It just so happened that I had several things bouncing around in my mind that fit that particular task and wrote my response that can be read here.

Now I want to approach this in a different way. There are several rules or conventions that vary between the US and Continental Europe. For the most part, I do not strongly feel one way or another about these things… except for one of them!

If I had my own country I would happily have my country use all of the European conventions if it meant that my country would use the US number writing convention. That is, the (non-English speaking) European convention for writing numbers drives me crazy. In most of continental Europe when you write numbers you use a comma to designate the decimal place and you use a period to break between the thousands, millions, billions, etc. For example, the number 6,935.08 is written as 6.935,08 and it drives me nuts.

If I had my own country I would adopt the following:

The metric system. The metric system is far superior and simpler to use. Plus, it just makes logical sense.

Centigrade scale of temperature. Again, this scale is simpler and makes more logical sense. A little know fact is that, when (in 1741) Anders Celsius introduced the scale, 0 was the boiling point and 100 was freezing. They waited until he died and then switched the scale to its current (and even more logical) convention.

The day before the month in writing dates. If you haven’t caught on yet, for me it is a logic thing. The day before the month before the year (dd/mm/yy) is simply more logical then putting the month first (mm/dd/yy). A little trick for our European friends: if you are in the US with your European passport, many of you can get away with having two birthdays. That is, if your birthday is on a day before or including the 12th day of any month, then you can show your passport on your real birthday and on the day of the “switched” month and day. For example, my real birthday is written as 8/4/67 by European conventions. So, when in the US, I could celebrate my birthday on 8 April (my real birthday) and on 4 August. This can be particularly nice if you have a local bar that gives free drinks or other places that give out freebies.

Finally, I will even give Europe their use of the 24-hour clock (military time). It takes some getting used to, but in the end, using the 24-hour clock in written correspondences (e.g., schedules, agendas, etc.) really does make things more clear. However, this one still messes me up sometimes because having been raised in the 12-hour (AM/PM) system, I often read 14:00 but remember 4:00PM. But, in general, I give it to them.

But, I do not and will not ever understand or like the convention of using the comma as the decimal marker!! It does not make logical sense. Grammatically, the comma is used as a “soft break” and the period is a “hard break.” The comma is used to indicate a break WITHIN a sentence and the period is used to denote when you have moved from one sentence to another. The numerical parallel is that a comma denotes a soft break WITHIN the whole numbers and the period is used to indicate when you have move from one type of numbers to another type (e.g., from the whole numbers into the decimals). If you do not think this is a big deal then you have never tried to use a spreadsheet software program in Europe!

So, if I had my own country or if I had any influence over such things in real-life, I would propose a swap. The USofA switches to the European practices of using the metric system, the centigrade scale, writing the day before the month and (even) using the 24-hour clock. On the other hand, Europe really must change that crazy number writing convention! It is really annoying – but, when I think about it, maybe not as confusing as having freezing at 32 degrees.

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