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I would like to have different setting for various locales, so per https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Locale I edited /etc/default/locale.

However, the file does not get picked up (after rebooting) and the settings from System Settings>Langugage support are used. (i.e. running locales and cat /etc/default/locale yields very different results). How can I force the system to use the setting from /etc/default/locale?

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I think you should edit ~/.profile (which overrides ~/.pam_environment) instead of /etc/default/locale to achieve what you want. Please see System Settings -> Language Support -> Help -> Advanced format settings for an example.

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