We are based in New Zealand writing a web application for NZ and Australian users initially, with prospects to expand in the future.

Our application examines the Accept-Language header of the user's request, and uses this to determine their default language/culture.

After logging on, the user can select an alternative language/culture and we store that against their profile.

It's been raised as an issue to me that many of our New Zealand-based testers are hitting the site with their browser primary language/culture set to "en-US" which causes our site to output all the dates in US format, which is very confusing for them.

The current workaround is getting them to switch their browser to the correct primary language/culture, or select the correct one in their website profile after logging on to the website. Not a great user experience.

I am told that most users do not know how to fix their browser language/culture setting, or even know they have one! In New Zealand a lot of browsers still seem to default en-US, even though the users' PCs are set to the correct regional settings.

My question is - what is the best practice for handling this as a website developer?

  • Is it futile to hope that, one day, users might generally manage to have their browser reflect the language/culture of the country they're in, either manually or though a better browser installation experience? Or do we just discard the Accept-Language header - implementing some sort of geo-location by IP address instead? Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 4:33
  • You shouldn't expect users to change any of the default settings in any app they use, either OS, browser or any other application. People stick with the default settings unless it's clearly incorrect for them (for instance if the default language was Mandarin and the user was French). People even adapt to using an incorrectly formatted keyboard rather than change the default "Yes, my keyboard is strange, the $ key actually types a # so you have to press the opposite key to get that symbol..."!
    – JonW
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 8:10
  • I'm inclined to agree with you. I'm just amazed that modern browsers can be installed on a device without obeying the regional settings of that device. I just tested iPhone4/iOS 7 and even though I've got the device set up for English-New Zealand, both Safari and Chrome appear to be requesting en-US with no option for me to change it. I guess general user behaviour is to adjust to dates being in the "wrong" format and pay it no further thought. Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 22:01
  • 1
    I think geo-location has its own drawbacks - I've seen a number of angry posts from English speakers travelling abroad (with their own devices) and finding that websites automatically start addressing them in languages they cannot understand. Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 22:04

1 Answer 1


In your particular case (where you know that the language suggested by Accept-Language is wrong), I would do the following:

  1. Use GeoIP data to set the defaults;
  2. When the GeoIP data doesn't match the Accept-Language, offer the user to preset locale to the value in Accept-Language (if it does match: great!).

Regarding offering the user to set alternative defaults: you can do that in a subtle manner. For example: Etsy does it nicely with their semi-transparent banner at the bottom of the viewport. Or check out how we solved that on our company website: www.dotblue.nl (if nl-NL is your locale, check www.dotblue.net).

Finally: make sure that your hypothesis about Accept-Language being off is actually true.

  • 2
    Always offer the user to say where he is, or where he wants you to think he is. There's nothing more annoying than Google offering me shitty French results just because I happen to be in France, and giving me no chance of customization.
    – yo'
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 20:19
  • Thanks for your answer Vincent. Can you clarify what you mean by "make sure that your hypothesis about Accept-Language being off is actually true." ? I just ran both Safari and Chrome on an iPhone4/iOS7 through Fiddler and they're both definitely requesting Accept-Language: en-US even though regional settings are for New Zealand. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 22:03
  • @tohecz: yup, that's what I mean by offering an alternative.
    – user12741
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 5:18
  • @Michael12345: Yes, but it depends on your audience of course. If the majority of your audience matches your set-up then it makes sense. My point is: you need to (quantitatively) know that your audience is actually having this problem. If you're changing this but it turns out less than 3% of your users are having this issue, it could be an annoyance to the rest.
    – user12741
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 5:20
  • Okay, thanks Vincent I understand. I'm not in the habit of wasting my time solving problems that our users don't have. When an application makes heavy use of dates, it's particularly disorienting for us non-US speakers of English when the month and day are switched. Our initial audience will be non-US so I think we're going to have to address this at some point. I like the idea of comparing Accept-Language to GeoIP. Commented Apr 21, 2014 at 20:52

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