Sunday, June 24, 2007

What time is it?

I read an article recently about how Americans and Russians confuse each other in how they divide up the day into time periods. I remember being very surprised the first time I noticed these differences. I’ll write my own observations here.

Americans determine the time of day by the hour. At midnight a new day begins, and therefore 1:00 is already “morning.” Afternoon or daytime is precisely that, after 12:00. Evening starts around 5 (6?) p.m. Nighttime is sometime after 9 or 10 p.m., but not necessarily when you go to sleep.

American English:

Midnight-Noon= morning
Noon-5:00 p.m.= afternoon
5:00-9:00 p.m.= evening
9:00-midnight= night

Okay, now the Russian system. Night is when you sleep, about midnight-6 a.m. Morning is when you wake up. Daytime is when you’re at work. According to one of my friends, you should say “Good day” even if it’s before noon. Because morning is when you’re still at home, having just woken up. Evening begins around 6 p.m., and lasts until whenever you go to sleep. Someone I asked said that night is after 10 p.m., but you still wouldn’t say “Good night” yet if you weren’t getting ready to go to bed. My previous habit had been to say “Have a good night” anytime in the evening, if I was seeing a person for the last time.

Russian:

You in your bed sleeping=night
Around 6:00 or whenever you wake up=morning
Whenever you get to work until evening=afternoon (day)
From around 6:00 p.m.until you go to bed=evening

I’m using a.m./p.m. for convenience, but they don’t exist in Russian because a.m. and p.m. revolve around noon as a measuring point, and aren’t relevant in the Russian system.

Russians do use army time more often than Americans, but I won’t get into that.

So to Russians, it’s “6:00 in the morning”, “3:00 in the afternoon,” “9:00 in the evening,” and “2:00 at night.” That last one sounds weird to my ears!

Also notice that night comes first in the line-up, whereas it’s last in the American 24-hr period. I was looking at a weather report that listed in the following order “night of the 21st, morning of the 21st, daytime on the 21st, evening of the 21st.” I’m not sure if that’s standard or not.

I wonder how you factor in all-night shifts?

Now, another confusing aspect is how you refer to certain blocks of time. “This morning” or “last night” in Russian is often stated as “Tonight,” because that’s the first time block of the new day starting with midnight. So if you were talking about a dream you had, you would say “Tonight,” not “last night.” If you want to talk about plans for the upcoming evening, you can say “this evening.”

Okay, I think I’ve confused myself enough for now. Please leave your comments and observations, as I might be in error!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that's confusing! The whole tonight versus this evening thing would have me spinning! I love your observations!

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