RE: Internationalization--Phone Number Writing Conventions

From: Hohberger, Clive P. (
Date: Mon May 31 1999 - 12:11:14 EDT

>Markus Kuhn wrote on 1999-05029 at 21:15 UTC:
>>"G. Adam Stanislav" wrote on 1999-05-29 19:19 UTC:
>> And what would be my company number in this notation? It is (715)
362-9586, but
>> that carries an assumption that the country code is 1. The are
acode within the
>> country code 1 is 715. How would I write it internationally?
> Your company would write
> +1 715 362-9586
> The purpose of the + is to remind you to enter at this point the
> escape sequence that lifts you onto the international level.

        Not quite. Modern American business usage also gets rid of the
dashes by using
        only spaces. Parentheses and dashes are only uses in the US national
        without the "1" prefix, (715) 362-9586.

        We are moving towards two international forms in US business usage:

        +1 715 362 9586 European
        +1.715.362.9586 pseudo-Internet

        The critical point is the "+". There are different escape sequences
used by different
        country's telephone systems. Yes, it would be nice if they were
standardized, but
        the "+" at least tells what follows is the true telephone number.

        The history of the use of "1" in the US is interesting. When dial
telephones became
        standard in the 1950's, along with area codes, there were a lot of
complaints about
        people accidentally dialing the wrong number, or children playing
with the dial, and
        connecting to phones far away. At the same time, the telephone
companies were
        planning for international direct dialing, and country codes were
being assigned.

        The "dial 1 for long distance" was an oh-so-clever marketing
campaign put on
        to let us know that dialing 1 was a safety device to prevent
accidental dialing
        on long distance numbers, since any other sequence longer than 7
digits which
        starting with a number other than "1" was invalid. And, it generally
worked OK!

        It wasn't until I started traveling to Europe around 1980 that I
realized that the
        "1" was really the North American (US, Canada, Mexico and
Carribean)country code.
        And when I dialed "1" as a prefix to a USphone number I was really
just specifiying
        North America in an international phone number with a default null
escape sequence.

        Apparent, somebody back in the 50's thought we beer-swilling,
        gun-toting 100% Americans weren't ready for the concept of direct
international direct
        dialing. The idea that your 4-year old might be ABLE to
accidentially dial Hong Kong
        would have produced a huge outcry. But selling "dial 1 for long
distance" as a SAFETY
        feature would be accepted, given an already perceived problem of
accidental long
        distance dialing.

        To this day most Americans do not know that "1" is the North
American country code
        (Most have never been out of North America). Only when Canada,
Mexico and the
        Carribean countries acquire THEIR OWN country codes will it finally
hit home here.
        That day is coming soon, as the use of cell phones and telephone
        proliferate. (My wife and I have 8 telephone numbers between work,
home and cars,
        and we aren't all that unusual..)

        On the flip side, most Americans find Europeans phone numbers
terribly confusing.
        First, variable numbers of digits. I remember well the day that
Switzerland added a
        digit to their phone numbers, and it took us 3 days to get FAX
        reestablished. Second, the famous "0" before the city code, but only
if you in the
        same country, but not on alternate Tuesdays when the moon is full...

        So: I train my people that the "0" is just an escape sequence for
national dialling within
        the country you are calling from.

        PLEASE, Europeans, don't write +49 056 1234 for your phone number.
That is embedding
        an escape sequence "0" within your real phone number +49 56 1234.
Even +49 (0)56 1234
        is better, at least it reminds people that there is something
special about the zero.

        Also: Keep in mind that "http://" is also an escape sequence. My web
address is
        not "" it is "" People in the US
are also finally
        beginning to realize that and starting to write their Web addresses

        Clive Hohberger
        Zebra Technologies


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