European Date Format

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The European date format is something that creates a lot of confusion with visitors from the US. Being essentially ‘backwards’ by American standards, European date format can cause mix ups and problems with everything from arranging meeting times to running software.

Most Americans will be used to the date format that puts the month before the day. As such the third of December would be written as ‘12/03/2010’. In the European date format however the month and day are the other way around, e.g. ‘03/12/2010’. This then causes difficulty for those arranging to meet on that day, as an American visiting from overseas might write it in their diary under the 12th March and thus be very early for their appointment. Meanwhile this can cause certain software to crash if it is reliant on reading the date to perform. Developers should prevent this problem by allowing the user to select either European date format or US. Famously, though the Terrorist attacks are referred to world-wide as ‘9/11’, in the European date format used by most territories this would actually denote the ninth of November, which interestingly is the date that the Berlin Wall came down.

European date format can only cause this misunderstanding when the date is before the 13th of that month. The reason for this is that there are only 12 months, thus if one of the numbers is above 13 you can deduce whether the writer is using US or European date format. For example ‘03/20/2010’ has to be written using US date format as there is no 20th month.

While this European date format is unusual for visitors, it is actually the US date format which is different with the majority of the countries in the world using European date format over the American counterpart. The only countries that do not share the European date format in fact are the US, Philippines, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Canada and Belize.

Interestingly the European date format is not used by the European Union itself, and for international affairs many countries opt instead to use ‘ISO 8601’ standard date format. Here the organisation is closer to the US dating but with the year placed at the start, for example ‘2010/12/20’. This provides a standard that allows important dates to be discussed and means that numerical sorting of dates allows them to be ordered chronologically and applied to various algorithms and automated systems unlike European date format.