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NDTO News Article

Consider it Culture: Cultural Calendars for International Business

Understanding and respecting different cultural calendars is crucial to successful global business operations. A cultural calendar encompasses a society’s unique system for measuring time, often influenced by historical, religious, or regional factors. As your company expands across borders, an awareness of these diverse calendars and holidays should become part of fostering positive relationships, avoiding cultural faux pas, and strategically planning international outreach.

In our series Consider it Culture, we’ve looked into several aspects of international business to help you find commonalities and think globally. Covering handshakes, business card etiquette, avoiding jargon, time, the real meaning behind “no” and more. With all these details, we hope you become more aware that research is quintessential to building bonds with international counterparts and also that effort often goes a long way to show your intentions.

Increasing awareness of the varying calendars your international business partners observe is one more step to add consideration when planning meetings, visits, and other events as you build upon the relationship.


Gregorian Calendar

This is the most common and familiar calendar used internationally for civic and governmental uses. However, many cultures will use the Gregorian calendar and then supplement it with another calendar for holidays and significant events. In the United States and much of the world, the Gregorian calendar is followed and has been in effect since 1582, as decreed by Pope Gregory XIII to replace the Julian calendar. This change did away with the “drift” that happens when following the moon cycles with slightly more than 12 per year. The Gregorian calendar added an extra day every 4 years, and 2024 is a Leap Year. The seasons remain within the same time frame year after year when this day is added. Without this, holidays would drift into entirely different seasons over time.

The Gregorian calendar marks the new year on January 1, for example. But did you know that there are 11 cultures that celebrate a different new year on dates other than January 1? Chinese New Year, Islamic New Year and Jewish New Year may be some of the ones known to you.

Islamic Calendar

In predominantly Muslim countries where the Islamic calendar is followed, businesses should be mindful of major religious events such as Ramadan (March 11-April 9, 2024), or Islamic New Year (July 7, 2024). During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, and business activities may slow down or follow altered schedules during this time. Understanding and accommodating these cultural practices not only shows respect for the local community but also contributes to the positive image of the business. Often this calendar is used in the Middle East, including Saudia Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and other Gulf Countries, but often in Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia, and some North African countries.

Chinese Calendar

While used in tandem with the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese calendar marks important holidays like  Chinese New Year and Lantern Festival, and will also be used to determine days that are most lucky for weddings, funerals, and even starting a business. International businesses operating in China or with Chinese partners need to plan for potential disruptions to production and logistics during these periods. Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia may also follow aspects of the Chinese calendar. Being aware of such cultural nuances allows businesses to adjust timelines and plan effectively.

Jewish or Hebrew Calendar

Also, following a lunar cycle, there is an issue of calendar drift with the Jewish or Hebrew calendar; the added month of Adar is repeated on a nineteen-year cycle to keep the seasonality of Passover in the spring. Countries with larger Jewish communities may find observers of the Jewish or Hebrew calendar impact business; countries may include Israel, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Argentina, to name a few.

Ethiopian Calendar

The Ethiopian calendar is based more closely on the Julian calendar and follows the sun. It observes 13 months all of which have 30 days except the last month of their year with 35 days. The new year begins on September 11, or  September 12 if it is a leap year, also happening every 4 years. This means that the Ethiopian calendar is somewhere between 7 and 8 years behind the Gregorian calendar based on the time of year. At the end of 2023, it was 2016 in Ethiopia.


Applying What You Know

With some added knowledge of calendars around the world, you can now implement them into your global business strategies as you further dive into your target markets. By understanding different holidays and observances, relationships can be formed, purchasing behavior can be tracked, timelines understood, and even adjusting campaigns for products to fit the calendars of different cultures. For example, increased spending in the US around the Christmas holidays is common, same can be seen for the Hindu festival of Diwali in India. International businesses looking to penetrate the Indian market can hone their marketing efforts to align with the festive spirit, offering special promotions or launching new products during this time.

When communicating with international counterparts, knowing their holidays or observances can alleviate ill-timed emails, phone calls, or even visits. Adapting your schedule to accommodate a cultural observance can enhance effectiveness and build relationships.

Neglecting the importance of cultural calendars can lead to unintended consequences, ranging from mild misunderstandings to more significant business disruptions. In this increasingly global world, being sensitive or even aware of differing calendars will offer valuable insights to provide connection and planning opportunities for your growing business relationships.