Damnation, you've traveled through time and have no clue when you've ended up! How are you to ascertain what time period you're in, or where you are? Surely you can't just ask a random passer-by — they would think you mad!
Of course, that's what most people do. In Speculative Fiction
you would be surprised just how helpful random passers-by are. Asking them suddenly "What Year Is This!?" or "Where am I?", rather than scaring them and convincing them of your lunacy, elicits, "Why, sir, it's the year 30025; we are in the heart of the Great Space Empire. And did you notice that massive explosion the other day, and how strange everyone's been acting since?"
Perhaps surprisingly, in Real Life
, people will generally give a straightforward and honest answer if you ask this question. This is either because people are too polite to not
answer the question, or because some people forget the year frequently. (It could also have something
to do with the fact that as far as we know, time travel doesn't exist in real life.)
This is usually very useful for our time traveler
: he now knows not only where he is, but also what his random task for this week's episode is.
One variation on this trope is for the character to ask for "the date", then clarify, once given the day or the month and day, that the character needs the year
. Another is for an exchange to involve a confusion between the year and the time of day, which works for a certain set of years before 2400 (assuming 24-hour time).
More subtle travelers seek out a newspaper
, if such thing exists during the time he traveled to.
If the time traveller had a specific purpose in mind, this may be followed up with a line describing how they feel about their destination; examples include "That can't be right!" and of course "Then it's not too late!"
Note that time travel is not always necessary to invoke this trope. A long and agonizing prison sentence in the dungeons of the Evil Empire, the end of the world as we know it, or just plain old amnesia can do it.
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- A commercial aired during the 2012 Major League Baseball postseason for State Farm Insurance showed a member of the Cubs's field crew talking with a State Farm agent about a "discount double check." He says that he used to do an "ivy double check" after each game and reaches into the ivy outside Wrigley Field, pulling out "an old cell phone... a French horn... Andre Dawson?" "What year is it?" asks Dawson. After some brief info about State Farm, Dawson runs off with a baseball shouting "Caught it! Whoo!" (Dawson retired from Major League Baseball in 1992 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.)
- Blokey British TV channel Dave is currently (2012) running a self-advertisment in which a time traveller in full Flash Gordon-esque costume pops out of nowhere on a present day street, strides dramatically to the nearest passer-by and demands "What year is it? Quickly man!" He then goes on to explain that Dave is doing so well and introducing so many cool new programmes and features, that in the future they will rule the entire world.
Anime and Manga
- Haruhi Suzumiya example: While fixing the FUBAR Yuki created due to emotions, Kyon uses her Emergency Escape Program to get out. He lands in summer, feeling extremely warm in his sweater (it was winter then), and he realizes he has traveled through time. His first instinct is to find out where he is, followed by when is it. And since nobody would feel happy about being assaulted by an apparently delusional guy in a winter coat, he decides on Newspaper Dating instead.
- In Kabukimonogatari, Koyomi and Shinobu intended to go back just one day in time, but when Koyomi asks a local schoolgirl if it's a certain day, she tells him that it's actually about three months before that day. Then he asks her the year, and realizes that he's gone back eleven years.
- In a Marvel UK Transformers Generation 1 story, when Galvatron travels back in time to 1986, he asks this question of a passing human. The human answers before running off in terror.
- In The Mighty Thor #371, a time-travelling lawman appears out of thin air and asks a bystander "What's the date, citizen?" He has to ask a second time, less politely, before the bystander pulls himself together enough to reply.
- In the Firefly / Doctor Who crossover fanfic The Man With No Name, the Doctor spends much of the story confused about where/when he is and eventually simply asks. It does nothing to help get the Serenity crew to think he isn't completely bonkers.
- Happens a lot in those godawful Pirates of the Caribbean fanfics in which a random fan/21st century girl finds herself in the movie/back in time. It's one of the ways you can tell how bad the fic is; if the main character asks this question, press the 'back' button immediately.
- Mercilessly parody-deconstructed in Dead Ringers, which had a recurring segment where Jon Culshaw would Prank Call hapless services in the persona of the Fourth Doctor from Doctor Who. One such segment was simply edited-together clips of him ringing various places and asking "what year is this?", constantly restating until someone gave him a straight answer or hung up. He didn't get a single straight answer.
- In Rifts this was initially vague to both players and characters in-universe since the setting takes place After the End, the specifics of which were originally left open so as to imply it could have happened in the near-future in relation to when the game was first published. That the in-universe "Post Apocalyptic (P.A.)" calendar is based on the founding of the city state of Chi-Town, not on the Great Cataclysm itself, did not help matters. It was subsequently revealed that the Great Cataclysm happened at 12:00am December 22nd, 2098, when a minor nuclear war was launched on the Winter Solstice during a planetary alignment and as a result The Magic Comes Back. Present game date is 2395 A.D., a fact which characters can learn, since certain surviving pre-cataclysmic groups and nations like the New German Republic still use the Gregorian Calendar.
- The Edutainment Game Amazon Trail II (in which you Time Travel by passing through "the blue mist") includes a version of this line in its Dialogue Trees. When asked this question, NPCs helpfully reply with the whole date. One can only assume they think you've been traveling through the rainforest for a long time.
- Some people you talk to aren't that helpful - for example, one native responds to the question with "the end of the rainy season".
- A recurring situation in the Infinity series:
- Slight variation in Never7- the protagonist sometimes asks what day it is on certain routes (while keeping his suspicions to himself in others).
- In Ever17, The Kid asks this not due to being a time traveler, but because he has amnesia. Of course, in some routes the person he asks lies to him, because even if he's not asking because he's a displaced time traveler doesn't mean he isn't one.
- In Remember11, Kokoro is told by Satoru that she is time-traveling, and asks this of people to confirm or disprove it. She gets conflicting results. The conflict is due to the fact that several of the characters are unknowingly time traveling (or have time-traveled), so the people she asks aren't necessarily all from the same time period
- This exact phrase is used by Nigel in The Lost Crown, because so much of Saxton's architecture, technology, and even its people seem to date from an earlier time. And not even the same time, at that.
- Final Fantasy XIII-2, in which the playable characters Serah and Noel travel throughout time, but the question often isn't unexpected, because people know that there are strange things going on with time and in some cases also know of the fact that they're time travelers. Serah, however, gives the exact line in a dream version of New Bodhum in The Void Beyond and only earns an insinuation that's she's gone loopy, because it's a fantasy world in which she never started a time travel journey.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny, Vivio was Genre Savvy enough to ask this to an unusually young-looking Yuuno who seemed perplexed when Vivio called him Head Librarian, confirming her fears that she had somehow landed in a Time Travel story.
- In BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, Relius Clover asked Terumi, who is in spirit form, this very question in the beginning of Relius's story mode after he got consumed by the black beast and trying to understand his current situation.
- In The Cloak, the disembodied head of Robert Mitchum uses this phrase, despite not actually having traveled through time.
- One piece of 4chan copy pasta advice for Instant Seduction involves disappearing for a week, growing a beard, getting a tan (including wedding ring tan line), and being found "semi-conscious" in the target's house, naked and injured, demanding to know the answer to this question. Somehow, Coitus Ensues.
- Played straight when Team One in Suburban Knights released Chuck Jaffers from a magic book. When he asked what year it was, it turns out that he had been trapped for thirty years.
- Used in Nan Quest when it's discovered that people entered the hotel at vastly different times.
- The Other Wiki also has the answer to the question, in case any time traveller wants to consult it.
- Real Life (sort of): Pretend To Be A Time Traveler Day (bottom of the page) got casual results to questions like this. The bystander may think you're crazy, but they'll still answer your questions.
- This kind of thing happens in early January.
- This is one of the stock questions asked of people who have had strokes or are suspected of other brain damage or dementia.
- Often asked by patients coming out of a very long term coma.