It's time for calendar makers to bring themselves up to date

Monday is the first day of the week; language, Christianity and the ISO can't all be wrong

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 January, 2014, 3:13am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 January, 2014, 3:13am

I have just finished doing something politically correct, albeit not very environmentally friendly. What is worse, I find myself doing the same thing every year at this time.

I throw away all the calendars I receive that purport to show the week starting on a Sunday. I retain only the one that - correctly - shows each week begins on a Monday.

There, I've said it out loud.

How can I be sure that this meticulous approach is justified? Simple, there are three impeccable authorities on the subject that I know of, and possibly many more.

The first is the Chinese language. Monday, translated roughly, is "first day of the week". Tuesday is "second day of the week", and so on. No ifs or buts, no caveats; Chinese tells it like it is. Since we live in a mainly Chinese community, many would say that was enough. But there is more.

The Bible - and many Hongkongers consider themselves Christian whether or not they attend church regularly - is absolutely clear on the subject. God created the world and all the things in it during the first six days "and on the seventh day, He rested".

God did not start the week by resting, then grudgingly get up to create the world during the following days, which is what so many discarded calendars portray. He did the work first, and then put his feet up to enjoy a well-earned rest. Since Sunday is the day Christians set aside as the rest day for observance, it must be the seventh day.

And finally there is an important body based in Geneva called, in French, l'Organisation Internationale de Normalisation, which we know in English as the International Organisation for Standardisation (hence the term ISO), that ruled on the issue many years ago.

The first day of the week is Monday. ISO 8601 defines the first week as containing the first Thursday. That is a colloquial abbreviation. Formally, the first week of a year is the period beginning on Monday and ending on Sunday with four or more days from the new year.

What relevance does this have to Hong Kong? Many years ago, a young administrative officer in the government became annoyed by diaries that started the week on Sunday. He researched the subject, found the ISO reference and sought approval for the government to adopt the international standard. Since that time, all government diaries show the week correctly, as do diaries produced by private companies. But the message has not yet got through to the majority of calendar makers.

"Monday, Monday," the Mamas and the Papas used to sing, "Can't trust that day". You can trust the day; it is the calendar people who are unreliable. Get with the programme, chaps.

Mike Rowse is managing director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at Chinese University. mike@rowse.com.hk