Telling time

Today, in my German class, we worked on telling time.  (Actually, we worked on reporting the time and understanding it when someone else tells us — the ability to actually tell time was assumed.)

There are a variety of conventions used, most of which I found to be fairly complicated — some are used by all German speakers, but a few were specific to Austria.  What I found particularly interesting is that after (and including) quarter past the hour, they orient everything to the hour that is coming, rather than the hour that has passed.  For example, you’d say it’s “half eleven” when it’s 10:30.  You’d say it’s “three quarters six” at 5:45 (i.e., three quarters of the hour towards 6:00).  At 8:15, you could either say a quarter after 8:00 or “quarter nine” (a quarter of an hour towards 9:00).

As our teacher said, after a quarter past the hour, that hour is history — old news.  They look ahead to what’s coming, not what’s already happened.  They also ask the time (literally) as “How late is it?”  When I consider that the Austrians are the most punctual people I’ve ever been around, this all seems to make a lot of sense.  They aren’t stuck on where they’re coming from, they’re looking to where they’re going.

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