December 30, 2011

Amending the calendar

Residents of Samoa will go to bed tonight and irrevocably lose an entire day, and it won't be due to collective debauchery or general drunkenness.


No, Samoa is sensibly aligning their days and times with us and our first cousins, all the better to do business.

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It will be December 29 when they go to bed and Saturday December 31 when they awaken - meaning they'll skip Friday forever.


This neat bit of time travel is the result of a very contemporary concern: trade and economic relations with Pacific neighbours Australia and New Zealand, who are nearly a day ahead on the clock.


Now, with the disappearance of Friday, Samoa will shift west of the international dateline and share the same date and time as its two key partners.


Explained Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, "In doing business (now) with New Zealand and Australia we're losing out on two working days a week," The (London) Times reported.


"While it's Friday here, it's Saturday in New Zealand and when we're at church Sunday, they're already conducting business in Sydney and Brisbane."


Actually, this won't be the first time switch for Samoa, a nation of 180,000 about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii and once the home of Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Kidnapped and Treasure Island.


Samoa and neighboring American Samoa lay west of the dateline until 1892, when an American trader lobbied to switch to the east on the grounds it would be more convenient for trading ships. The result was two July 4s that year.


Now Samoa -- but not American Samoa -- will switch back, raising the slightly unsettling opportunity of celebrating one's birthday on the same date but on separate days after a plane flight of less than an hour.


As for business owners, Friday will be very much a lost day -- they are required to pay workers for a day that doesn't exist. However, hotel guests won't have to pay for an extra night.

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