Monday, July 27, 2009

International Measures - What a Muddle!

As the metric system has become the global standard, in theory this shouldn’t cause most expats any trouble.

OK, many US folk moving overseas of course find metric measures a problem. It’s also true that any Briton much over about 45 or 50 years of age probably grew up in the imperial measurement system and still has to mentally convert in their head from time to time. Yet for most younger UK expats and holidaymakers this shouldn’t be a problem – should it?

Well, it’s an odd world. I happened to see a few weeks ago a UK school exam (informal) set for 14 year olds. One question was a gem involving calculations of an arrow’s flight and distance over time etc. The question was set in metres and kilometres per hour but the helpful information printed above asked children to keep in mind that an arrow can fly “several hundred yards” when released. That must have got the youngsters thinking!

Although hilarious, it’s maybe understandable given Britain’s way of going about things in fits and starts. Britain is probably the only country in the world that’s ‘partly metric’ and this will cause confusion at times. If you think I’m joking, just think about carpets in the UK. Quite often their width is quoted in imperial units but they’re sold by the linear metre. It’s still possible to find carpet shops selling some carpets by the square metre but others by the square yard. This frequently confuses not only customers but also their staff.

Yet these oddities with measures affect not only the USA and UK but in some respects, just about everywhere. I recently was looking at the prices of Forest Bark type products (I don’t have a garden – don’t ask why I was looking!) It’s quite incredible because most people want to buy something that will cover an area to a cubic capacity – i.e. an area so long by so wide by so deep.

Yet locally I found this product is sold by the tonne apart from small bags that are sold by the litre. “What is the cubic capacity of one tonne of this stuff?” I asked. “No idea” came the reply. Nowhere could I find any information that related a weight in kilos to a litre of cubic metre of the stuff – apart from on a US site that helpfully happened to mention an approximate weight by volume of Forest Bark. Unfortunately this was quoted in quarts and pounds/ounces so I had to convert both to metric to get back to a figure in kilos that I needed.

”How did you work that out?” said the local company. “Don’t ask,” was about the best I could muster.

1 comment:

John said...

as i work in engineering i find the whole system of measurements ie metric and imperial a total waste of time and resources causing tons of waste i blame the states for holding on to imperial for a modern country the united states are always very slow to change