Friday, January 23, 2009

Twelve after half eleven

It's twelve after half eleven, and I'm bloggin. Wait, when?

Dutch timekeeping is a real head-scratcher. We English-speakers are used to referring to the time as something before or after the hour. Nederlanders also refer to the half-hour!

This means that 10:42 = twaalf over half elf.

Learn by example:
  • 5:00 = vijf uur, or five hours -- thankfully there's no "o'clock" nonsense.
  • 6:25 = vijf voor half zeven, literally five before half of seven.
  • 2:15 = kwart over twee, of course, quarter after two.
  • 16:59 = één voor vijf, or one before five; and yes, military time is how we roll -- when written, at least -- nobody would ever speak "één voor zeventien."
  • 8:30 = half negen, literally, half of nine.

Or, in case a diagram helps, this one is from my Dutch language textbook:

Okay, fine; I can learn a new system. Referring to the half-hour half the time is no big deal -- it just takes me twice as long to tell someone what time it is! To paraphrase TMBG, "it's later than you think it is and now it's even later. And now it's even later..."

But really, the "half" bit is confusing, because when I hear "half negen," I think "half past nine," but I'm wrong: it's "half-way 'til nine!" Extrapolating, when a Dutch colleague says "half oktober," they mean mid-September? Uh, nope! Half October means halfway through October, just like our English-speaking intuition would tell us. So much for the new system. I've asked several Dutch colleagues about the seemingly glaring flaw in their sense of date and time, and it's funny -- they don't seem to notice!

Now I'm not sure what time it is, but I know it's time to get to bed.


ljc said...

Freaky! I really must be Dutch! I used to say things like "five past quarter til five" all the time to annoy Aaron.

MJM said...

Hmmm, maybe the Dutch are all out to annoy Aaron. Is he Belgian?

Esther said...

My joke used to be:" I must be English". The English system of telling time makes much more sense to me that the Dutch. As a litlle girl I had the same problem as you have now.

Loes said...

Hi Mike, we have noticed this flaw in our system since we go to London a lot to Loes' brother. It gets confusing, you are right. I can imagine it is a pain to learn our time telling system.


glorioustime91 said...

Nice post! As a foreigner myself in NL, the time is also a bit confusing.

Since I am Indonesian, now I know why we speak "setengah sembilan" or half nine is for 8.30 in Indonesian, but means 9.30 (if literally) in English!

We spoke the time just like the Dutch and I just notice that by reading your post! hahaha (actually, never thought about it, really)