Sunday, April 24, 2011

Best-Before Dates

Do you know what drives me crazy? Best-before dates. Wait a minute: let me explain. There are twelve months in a year and thirty-ish days in a month. Most of the world, and among English-speaking countries this includes the UK, write dates from the smallest unit to the largest. So they say, say, 'the ninth of October, 2011' and write this '9 October 2011'. When restricting themselves to mere numbers, they write it as '09/10/11'. Fair enough. The USA, which tends to stubbornly insist on marching to the beat of its own drum, does not. Instead, it writes dates as 'October 9, 2011', which requires a comma but is no big deal. Different, perhaps less logical, but fair enough provided it's done consistently. And it is. Americans are so proud of the consistency with which they write dates that they celebrate it every Fourth of July... er... well, let's call that one an exception. Anyway, if an American writes '09/10/11', they mean September the 10th. So if an American asks a Brit to meet him at the airport on '09/10/11', there might be a sitcom-worthy one month spent listlessly buying cheap scotch at Heathrow. But domestically neither Brits nor Yanks have a problem. What about us? Well, we in Canada who measure our height in feet but our distances in kilometres, buy liquids in litres but solids in pounds, measure the temperatue outside in Celsius but the temperature of our bodies in Fahrenheit... unsurprisingly, we don't have any idea what we're doing. It's true: if a Canadian writes '09/10/11', you have no chance in hell of knowing what he means unless you ask him. Hell, he could mean October 11, 2009. To that end, a lot of places choose to spell the month out, in whole or in short. So you'll see '9 OCT 11' or 'NOV 10 11' or some such. Or even better, they'll use only two letters, in a bizarre system that attempts to bridge the languages, where most of the months are almost exactly the same and all of them ae at least vaguely similar. It creates the rather horrid "MA", which leaves me wondering every time whether it's March/Mart or May/Mai (it's the latter). Which is a small price to pay for consistency. Except this is not consistent. Not everyone does this. And hey - why did I title this 'best before dates'? Because this problem is most annoying when trying to figure out the runic/hierogylphic logic underpinning the best-before dates on many products. If you can (a) find and (b) decipher the best before date, you might think you're off and running. But there's a good chance it will say something like '09/10/11', with no explanation of how to interpret those numbers. And hey... it's just a minor inconvenience, right? It's not like the end result is potentially getting life-threatening food poisoning from off-code food, right?

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