XXXI – It Doesn’t Quite Measure Up…

When it comes to how to measure things, there are two schools of thought in the world: what we call “standard” or Metric. Whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, you have used the Metric system. But, why does nearly the whole of the world use Metric? What’s the difference? Can’t we all just get along?

Who uses what?

In this vast world, most of the world uses the Metric system of measurements. How many countries don’t use it as a total standard? Twenty? Ten? Five? None of those answers are correct, and all of them are too high. The answer: THREE! Only three countries, out of the nearly 200 in the world, do not use strictly Metric. Our “standard” set of feet/inches, miles and pounds is used in (obviously) the United States, Liberia and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). We still use the confusing non-Metric system.

How confusing is “standard”?

Why is the US system so confusing? Well, 12 inches in a foot; 3 feet in a yard; 5280 feet in a mile; 16 ounces in a pound; 3 teaspoons per tablespoon; 2 cups in a pint; 2 pints in a quart; 4 quarts in a gallon. Then there’s a fluid ounce, a nautical mile, a knot, a furlong, a league, something called a hundredweight (whatever the hell that is). Then, calculating area or volume really gets interesting. A square yard is 9 square feet (which square foot is now 144 square inches). Water freezes at 32°F and boils at 212°F. 😱

Metric measurements are much simpler: everything is based on the number 10. 100 centimeters in a meter; 1000 meters is a kilometer. A liter is 1000 milliliters. Water freezes at 0°C and boils at 100°C. A comfortable day is 20°C (68°F). 🤯

So why don’t we use Metric in the US?

If you’re wondering about Metric use in the US, we do use it. Think about it. Sodas are sold in 1-liter and 2-liter bottles. Everything medical is Metric (inject 500 mL of such-and-such; 200 mg ibuprofen, etc.). Science is Metric. Olympic sports are Metric (100 meter dash, 400 meter hurdles). Every bought a product and looked at the label? Net volume 1 quart (946 mL); net weight 1 lb (453 g). Everything has a Metric equivalent listed. Hell, in your car’s engine you probably need a 10mm socket.

Why don’t we use it strictly? At one time, back in the 1970s, then-president Carter tried to convert the US to the Metric system, and that obviously failed. Americans are really hard-headed and resistant to change. People wanted to drive 40 mph and eat their Quarter Pounders (for the same reasons we still have dollar bills and pennies, when most other countries don’t have a one-whatever note or a one-cent coin). The attempted “Metrication” effort back then was so big that some gas stations had pumps that dispensed fuel in liters, and traffic signs could be seen with Metric or standard/metric equivalents. In southern Arizona, along Interstate 19 between Tucson and Nogales, the signs were all in kilometers (Exit 1 km, 500 m), even up until recently. Those signs are now being replaced by traditional miles. Back in the late 1970s/early 80s, shifting to Metric was a huge task and it failed. In today’s times of dual measurements written seemingly everywhere (just look at any product you buy), you would think it would be easier to convince people to switch, but amazingly, Americans don’t want to change. Just as everyone else in the world is confused by our ounces, pounds, miles and gallons, it would cause a lot of headaches to get people in America, who are used to the idea of getting a gallon of gas or milk, to think about putting 60 liters of fuel in their car (close to 16 gallons), or buying a kilo of steak (2.2 lbs). Thinking of meat or body weight in kilos is a pain in the ass, but oh, hey, a kilo of cocaine or a gram of weed is fine! 🤣

Image result for us km sign
Example road sign, showing miles and kilometers. Many were erected in the 1970s, during the failed attempt to convert the US to use strictly the Metric system.

I personally don’t have a problem with Metric, after all, I’ve spent a couple of years in Brazil. So, I get the concept of things measured in the Metric system. I know that 100 kg is 220.5 lbs, and that 40°C is 104°F; 6 feet is about 1.85 meters.

Whatever your preferred unit of measurement is, you do you. Whether you think of 40° as hot or cold, that’s what it shall be. The world is full of individuals who think their way is the best. And that’s okay, just so long as your way is the best for you.

And so begins our trek into the month of March 2019. We’re all taking that journey on that midnight train going anywhere, small town girls and city boys alike. Just hold on to that feeling, don’t stop believing, and, of course, be safe and be well.

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