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Sunday, September 26, 2010

I Have No Idea How Big That Is...

Long, long ago, when large reptiles ruled the Earth and the nightlife was dull, dull, dull, the U.S. flirted with the Metric System.

The elementary schools were abuzz with it. No more inches or feet. No more how-many-pints-to-a-quart or how many fluid hectares to a tablespoon. No. We would join the rest of the civilized world in the supremely civil world of the Metric System, where life would be measured by 10s and 100s and all kinds of other numbers ending in zero. We would, at last, have a common language.

And so, at the insistence of my parents and an un-wielding school system, I attended school – in Brainerd, Minnesota, yet! Home of Bus Brawls and Dirt-Road Trailer Courts – and endeavored to learn the Metric System.

And I did. I learned the Metric System (seems like that should be capitalized, doesn’t it? Like Brotherhood of Man or Emergency Exit). I believe I did quite well at it, too, capably computing how many pounds to a kilogram (2.2 and a smidge more) and how many centimeters to a meter (seven). I may be a little off there – it’s been a while since the fourth grade! – but no matter, as it's all come to naught anyway…

Whatever happened to our Metric System?

Here we are, how many years later, and the U.S. is no closer to the Metric System than we ever were. Outside of telling you how much Diet Coke is in a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke (two liters), I no longer even know what a centimeter looks like or whether or not it has more legs than a millimeter… Speaking of which, I had one of those in my basement the other day. Ack! Not a fan of insects.

You know, if we’d just kept at it, we’d all be used to it by now and we wouldn’t look like maroons when people from other countries say things like “Oh, it’s about 75 kilometers from here” or “He’s over two meters tall”. We’re thinking, so how far away is that in real life? And isn’t two meters really short? I defy you to find a typical U.S. citizen who has a concept of either of those measurements.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

And in the meantime, I’ll take a pint, please.

28 comments:

Shieldmaiden96 said...

I actually sported a lunchbox around this time that celebrated the glories of the Metric System. And I picked it out myself; it wasn't a default choice because all the Josie and the Pussycats and Scooby Doo ones were gone. I liked the tidy sensibility of it.
Of course, I joined Girl Scouts for the uniform so perhaps I had issues.

Charlotte Ann said...

I hate to rain on your parade...but I'm standing up and waving my hand. In nursing school and then into the field of nursing, we plunged with our cc's, ml, grams and micrograms and milligrams. Along with that, came the use of military time only which I still prefer over the way we denote time written. Less confusion using the military time and it's quite easy if you can count to 24!
By the way..thanks for visiting my site and signing up as a follower. I can't imagine you EVER a follower, but there you have it. I have proof! Love ya Pearl!

Georgina Dollface said...

We've had the metric system in Canada since I was in grade two and I am still not used to it. I still measure in feet and inches and pounds. The only thing I really understand in metric (and I am not even sure if this is metric anyways) is weather temperatures. We do it in Celsius, not Farenheit (wait, maybe its the other way around?) Oh geez. I'll never get it right. - G

skippystalin said...

Actually, there are a hundred centemeter to meter, hence the "cente" part.

How many Swaggarts are there to an Eddie Long?

Symdaddy said...

I remember lbs and oz's! We had them when I was a lad ... oh, wait ... we still have them! And those 'mile'-thingamajig's. Pints too, so I've just been told.

Dammit! I was decimalised and metricised (I think I just made that word up) as a kid before spending 30 years in Germany, so why do we still have olde-worlde weight and measures.

And I would never trust an American mile!

They lie!!!

Simply Suthern said...

I actually like the metric system if we would just go to it. Engineering is actually a bit easier in metric. I remember the gas pumps being changed over for about a month back when the olden days and they sold it by the liter. The UK is a bit more interesting as they weigh themselves in Stones.

a Broad said...

Hello from A US citizen living at the Bottom of the World where they use the Metric system and her school in North Carolina did not successfully pound it in to her addled brain. Or at least it is addled now, who remembers what it was like in school??

A long time ago, I learned that a kilo is 2.2 lbs .. it now helps me a lot.. I know sort of what I am getting now .. usually Too Much.. like the 2 kilos of freshly made tortillas someone was selling.
Anyone want fresh handmade corn tortillas?

I have to remember the meters though.. that I learned when house hunting.. my home is 97 meters sq .. so it is about 1,000 sq ft.
Or something like that, what do I know, I grew up in the US :)

A Stone is 14 lbs. If you can remember that, it is easier.. I have one of those math brains .. it won't accept math of any sort but then when I least expect it, I know an answer. I feel like a savant sometimes :)

Kittie Howard said...

Er...here I am *waves* down here...lived in Europe for a bit. Know the system cold...as in a cold pint, thankyouverymuch!

(The metric system failed here because businesses would have to re-tool. Interferred with the bottom line, tsk, tsk!)

Gigi said...

Thanks for dredging up some horrible memories, Pearl! I can barely do whatever system it is we do here (inches, miles, etc) but the whole metric thing threw my brain for a major loop back then. Which I suppose can all be blamed for the fact that my brain does not work in figures - metric or otherwise. But leads me to ponder the question - what do we call our system of weights and measures?

Argent said...

In the UK, we use both systems more or less. A shopkeeper here was once prosecuted for selling bananas in lbs and oz instead of kilos and whatnot (some EU nonsense). Anyhoo, on TV, they have a different measuring system: things are measured by how many football fields long they are or how many double-decker buses tall they are or sometimes, how many jumbo jets they weigh. This is not practical though when you're weighing out ingredients for a cake recipe.

Douglas said...

I didn't think the Great Metric Experiment would ever work. You see, everyone would have to convert to the old system (as you entertainingly tried to do) to get an idea just how much of whatever they just bought. And 12 miles to the gallon sounds a bit better than 5.101 km per liter. And it's not as clumsy to say. Personally, I am almost 2 yards tall. Which is somewhat shorter than 2 meters. I am 71 inches tall which seems less willowy than 180.34 cm. What about 55 MPH vs 88KMH? I'd rather say "I weigh 168 lbs" than say "I weigh 75.74992579 kilograms."

And that Celsius temperature thing is even worse. You have to think in decimals to get an accurate reading. Fahrenheit is much more accurate in whole numbers.

It really doesn't matter in the end (which, in my case, is a yard off the floor) just so we can understand how much you get for how much you pay.

Kal said...

Yeh, I would much rather try to figure out how many fathoms in a hectre instead of counting by tens. You guys love to make more work for yourselves just because all that booklearning is for gays, or the French, or Canadians.

I remember a time in Toronto when me and my buddy went up the CN Tower and the girl that operated the elevator was telling how many elephants tall the tower was. We started to hassle her by asking how many huskey would that convert to, how many spider monkey's and how many turtles then reminded her that we were talking the little baby turtles and not the huge adult ones. She was not impressed because we made her earn her 6 dollars an hour that day.

Irish Gumbo said...

I still haven't figured out bushels and pecks, gills and drams. I need more time if I'm going metric!

Although I suspect quite a few Americans are familiar with millimeters as it relates to bullet sizes.

EcoGrrl said...

it's kinda like living here in oregon where we don't pump our own gas - staunchly oregonian, staunchly american, whether it makes any bit of sense or not. and yes, thanks for the memories. of course by now we're supposed to have flying cars too!

KateGladstone said...

The measurement system with inches, quarts, pounds, etc, is called the "customary system." It used to be called the "Imperial system" for a long time -- and, before that (about 150 years ago) it had been called the "empirical system" in some USA and British textbooks.

Kavi said...

Good one ! There are loads of stuff that you folks do so differently !

We didnt learn to count in 'Millions' ! We always counted in 'lakhs' and 'crores' and suddenly we are getting used to millions !

:)

~Tim said...

I think the U.S. is still in the process of adopting the metric system. We're just kind of inching along....

Tempo said...

Metrics the best..you just count by tens, how easy is that?!
When I first started work my imperial boss would ask for everything in the weird world of imperial measurements. "Go get me a 27/64 drill bit and a 32/64 Whitworth tap"

'You what now?'

Convert...

The Jules said...

Yeah, metric seems the most sensible, and I use it most of the time, but it's nice to mix it up a bit. I don't want to memorize how many groats to a furlong, but a warm day sounds hotter in Farenheit (Ooh, it's 82 degrees) rather than centigrade, and a cold day more impressive in centigrade(It's minus 3 out there now!).

I'm not going to work in Kelvin though. We'll all be boiling hot at room temperature.

yogurt said...

you are so funny.... seriously.... seriously....

GYPSYWOMAN said...

as for me, i'm most happy to just stay with pounds and ounces, thank you very much - although i must sadly agree with irish gumbo's remark relative to americans and millimeters!

powdergirl said...

Hah, Skippy beat me to it!

Yeah, its a pretty good system for quick calculations, but 100 kilometers an hour just sounds so lame compared to 100 miles an hour, right?

In construction, we convert back and forth all day, its a good little time-consumer! I'll have a pint too.

Roshni Mitra Chintalapati said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roshni Mitra Chintalapati said...

ha!! Yes, most annoying for some one completely educated the Brit way to come and to deal with all these pints and pounds!!! Let's start a campaign page...everybody's doing it!!

a Broad said...

For Irish Gumbo ... I think after you get the Bush and a Peck , you have to give someone a Hug Around the Neck.

or so I have been told.

Wynn said...

Unlike to Douglas commented on up there, no one using the metric system says all those decimals. It's totally unneccessary, and I bet all those people saying they're "5'10" are not REALLY 5'10 but around 5'10. It's the same.

"Five ten and three quarters" is for me more work than to just say "One eighty one."

Lynn said...

We should catch up to the rest of the world! Base ten is how it should go. I don't think you can convert realistically. Just get used to what a meter looks like! and so forth.

ex teacher

Red Squirrel said...

Metric makes so much sense - a litre is 1000ml, a ml is one cubic cm of water (at standard temp and pressure). Therefore 10cm (4 inches) by 10cm by 10cm of water is a litre. A square meter of water is a metric tonne.

And one litre of water weighs one kg. It's how it's all defined. The link between weight, volume and length makes it so much easier to estimate things on sight! :)