Nov 232014

After encountering several important differences in the basic aspects of American life—think inches and gallons—I found it reassuring that the hour here has sixty minutes, the day twenty-four hours, and the week seven days. Then I found the American week starts on Sunday.

Being the first day after the weekend, my week has always started on Monday. There’s a reason for Saturday and Sunday being called the weekend; as the week’s final day, Sunday is reserved for rest before another work week. In my Slovak mind, the sequence of Monday-Friday of work followed by Saturday-Sunday of rest manifests the proverb, “First work, then fun.” This is the order of time, of life itself.

For over ten years now, a week starting on a Sunday has been throwing everything into confusion. In the monthly-view calendar I know every week occupies a single line: first come work days, then the weekend. The two form neat blocks: work days a squarish one to the left, weekend days a tall rectangle running down the side. The view reinforces the work-fun sequence, and its tidiness appeals to my sense of order.

In contrast, the American calendar shows the work week flanked by Sunday on the left and Saturday on the right. Weekends are thus broken up into separate lines and opposite ends of the page. (On digital devices I can set the week to begin on Monday but Sunday is default.) This forces me to spend way more time deciphering the calendar than it should. Weekends should be less work, not more.

In this persistent culture shock, I am caught in the battle between rationality and religion. Whereas the ISO 8601 international standard says the first day of the week is Monday, the Christian and Judaic (as well as Islamic) traditions begin the week on Sunday. The Sunday-first calendar manifests the religious roots of American culture. Like the U.S. customary units, it also perpetuates the Americans’ self-proclaimed exceptionalism.

I’m with the Boomtown Rats in that I don’t like Mondays. But when it comes to the calendar, Monday remains my champion starter.

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