Only 24 Hours in a Day – French Time Posted by John Bauer on Sep 23, 2015 in Culture
Before moving to France I had never said seventeen o’clock. In France, that’s the normal way to say five o’clock PM.
France uses a 24 hour clock rather than an AM/PM system. This extends into the spoken language, and while you can say huit heures du soir (eight o’clock in the evening) or huit heures du matin (eight o’clock in the morning), it’s common to just say vingt heures (twenty o’clock) or huit heures (eight o’clock).
It’s not too hard to get used to the system, but it can lead to strange mixups. Aujourd’hui (today) I still occasionally get mixed up with the time and show up at the wrong time because mon cerveau (my brain) tried too hard to convert the 24 hour time.
One time I showed up to a meeting deux heures en avance (two hours early). I had checked l’horloge (the clock) about cinquante fois (fifty times) before leaving the house and I was just as surprised as the person I was meeting.
Ce n’est pas la bonne heure ?
On a dit 17 heures et il est 15 heures !
It’s not the right time?
We said 5 PM and it’s 3 PM!
I started to rougir (turn red) once I realized my mistake. I told myself that dix-sept heures is 5 o’clock so many times that once I saw a 5 sur l’horloge (on the clock) mon cerveau jumped ahead!
Once I was used to le nouveau système (the new system), I quite enjoyed the clarity that comes from never wondering if it’s 12 AM or PM, even if I still show up deux heures en avance sometimes.