Global Perspectives

Think Globally

By Jim Wilson, AgGateway Standards Director

Several years ago the AgGateway (North America) Board of Directors directed Rod Conner and me to establish AgGateway Global Network for the purpose of promoting the consistent application of standards globally while supporting region-specific requirements. We learned a lot in the years since. One thing we learned was that our assumptions about complete regional autonomy were not valid. Consequently, in the interest of more effectively using AgGateway resources and leveraging a strong brand globally, AgGateway and AgGateway Global Network will consolidate effective 1 January 2020 as simply “AgGateway”.

As a single global organization, it becomes important for participants in each region to raise their awareness of region-specific thinking, speaking and writing. In my experience, U.S. citizens are especially prone to a region-specific mindset—that region being, of course, the United States. In many circumstances context is sufficient to avoid misunderstanding, but even so, region-specific speaking and writing belies the claim that AgGateway is a global organization. On the other hand, U.S. citizens can signal their appreciation of a global audience in simple ways.

For U.S. citizens, internalize the following tips. For non-U.S. citizens, gently nudge your U.S. collaborators toward thinking, speaking and writing globally.

  • Phone numbers: Always use country codes. Presuming “+1” for United States phone numbers is bad form – so just include it in the number.
  • Date formats: Use a format like one of the following: 2019-10-09; 9 October 2019. Using 10/9/19 can be interpreted as 9 October or 10 September, depending on the region. A little off-topic bonus tip: Using a YYYY-MM-DD format in filenames conveniently supports sorting by date in a file browser.
  • Time Zones: Use city designations for time zones rather than time-zone abbreviations. This is important for two reasons: 1) People use ambiguous abbreviations. 2) People are not careful in their use of standard time vs. daylight saving time. Examples: “New York” vs. “EST”; “New York” vs. “EDT”; “Paris” vs. “CET”. When in doubt, check In particular, “Time Zones” | “International Meeting Planner” is handy.
  • Daylight Saving Time: Related to the previous point, keep in mind that not all regions begin and end Daylight Saving Time (called “Summer Time” in other regions) on the same day. Some regions don’t observe Daylight Saving Time. For example, as I write this on 28 October, Europe has ended “Summer Time”, but the United States has not ended “Daylight Saving Time”. So, what is normally a six-hour time difference between Paris and New York is only five hours this week. Also, keep in mind that there can be a longer-term difference between regions. For example, São Paulo is one hour ahead of New York in July, but two hours ahead in January.
  • Seasons: Be careful about use of seasons (e.g., “Fall Conference”). Winter in The Netherlands is summer in South Africa.
  • Country names/codes: Except for globally very well-known cities (e.g., Tokyo, Paris, São Paulo, New York), specify the country in addresses and location reference. Don’t presume that everyone will know that your location is in the United States. There is no clear line, but the cities I have mentioned in the time-related points above are probably just fine without a country reference. However, with two November AgGateway meetings, specifying the country is probably important: New Orleans, Louisiana, US; Basel, Switzerland.
  • Paper formats: I get that resource limitations may not permit multiple formats, but keep in mind that while US-Letter (ANSI-A) is commonly used in the United States, most of the rest of the world uses A4 format. Just a simple acknowledgement that a resource in US-Letter format may not be ideal for a non-U.S. audience can go a long way.
  • GoToMeeting: Be sure to include all available phone numbers in a meeting invitation that includes GoToMeeting details. For recurring meetings, check occasionally for newly supported countries. For example, GoToMeeting recently added support for a Brazilian phone number.
  • Currency codes: Always use currency codes. You should not assume that the audience would understand “$” to mean “USD”. It is okay to specify a currency for an entire worksheet or document page with no currency designator for the values.
  • Currency conversions: Consider your audience. In what currency do they primarily think? It may be helpful to provide both a base currency and an audience-friendly currency. If so, indicate the currency conversion rate, rate source, and conversion date. This matters especially for currencies that fluctuate significantly and/or are inflationary.
  • Units of measure: Keep in mind that most of the world uses the metric system (e.g., “acre” and “hectare”). Enough said.
  • U.S.-specific terms: Consider carefully the use of U.S.-specific words, such as “state” vs. “country region”; “zip code” vs. “postal code”.
  • Government agencies: Fully qualify the jurisdiction of government agencies. For example, consider the following progression:
    • NIST
    • The National Institute of Standards and Technology
    • The National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency of the Department of Commerce
    • The National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce
  • Figures of speech: While figures of speech should not be ruled out, consider your audience. Phrases like, “get the ball rolling” and “wrap this up” may translate as nonsense to non-native-English speakers.
  • Geographical awareness: Take a little time to raise your geographical awareness. Not all of Europe is in the EU. The United Kingdom, Great Britain, and England are different geopolitical concepts.
  • Contractions: Carefully consider your use of contractions. As a general rule, unless the expanded form of the contracted words comes across awkwardly, use the expanded form.
  • Region-specific meaning of terms: Be aware that certain terms have region-specific meaning. For example, in the United States, “reach out” is commonly used to indicate a communicative action in any context, including business. However, in New Zealand “reach out” is used mostly in a personal context (e.g., reach out to a friend whose mother is ill). Of course, one cannot know about all cases like this in advance, but a general awareness of the possibility can be helpful.
  • Regional distinctions: Think about where regional distinctions/qualifications should be made. Sometimes distinctions can be helpful and even critical. Other times they can be unnecessarily distracting and/or limiting.

We could undoubtedly add more tips to this list, but this should be a good start. Think globally!