If you have a meeting in Ethiopia, you better double check the time

AA4Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Things always get lost in translation. Sometimes, words or phrases just cannot be converted word-for-word from one language to the next. But in most places, the date and the time works pretty much the same all over the world.

Not in Ethiopia. There, it’s currently the end of the fifth month of 2007. It isn’t so strange for countries to have different calendars — Israel officially works according to the Jewish calendar and Saudi Arabia has an Islamic calendar. But, what about having your own time? That’s the case in Ethiopia.

In the back of a cab in Addis Ababa, a colleague and I ask our driver for the time. The time on my phone, which is set to the correct time zone, reads 8:30 p.m. But that’s not what the cabbie tells us. “It’s two o’clock, 30 minutes,” he replies. He chuckles and adds, “In Ethiopia.”

That’s because in Ethiopia, there are two ways to tell the time.

Because Ethiopia is close to the Equator, daylight is pretty consistent throughout the year. So many Ethiopians use a 12-hour clock, with one cycle of 1 to 12 — from dawn to dusk — and the other cycle from dusk to dawn.

Most countries start the day at midnight. So 7:00 a.m. in East Africa Time, Ethiopia’s time zone, is 1:00 in daylight hours in local Ethiopian time. At 7:00 p.m., East Africa Time, Ethiopians start over again, so it’s 1:00 on their 12-hour clock.

If you think this is confusing to read about, imagine trying to do business in In Ethiopia.