Give me back the metric system!

After living in the US for 3 months, I still don’t get it: how is it possible that this country is still not using the metric system? According to wikipedia US is among only 3 countries in the world where this is not the official system of measurement. The other two are Burma and Liberia. No comment.

It’s not only a question of using a different system. I’m happy to adapt to driving on the wrong left side of the road in half of the countries in the world, or (try) to speak a different language, or eat different food (I love that last one!). Even if the fact that this is a different system alone can cause some issues (like the crash of the “Mars Climate Orbiter” due to the failure to use metric units), the main issue is that the system in use here does not make sense.

The metric system has been invented more than 200 years ago and adopted by most countries for a good reason, it makes things easier! If it didn’t, the cost of change (which traumatize at most one generation) would have been enough to prevent most countries to change. Surprisingly enough, the US was among the first countries to sign the meter convention. But the change has been slow to trickle down to people… (133 years so far, that’s more than 5 generations!)

The other day, I was driving down the 101, 3 ¼ miles before the exit I went under a bridge where the height limit was 14 feet and 4 inches, then I stopped in the supermarket (300 feet after the exit) to buy ½ gallon of milk as I needed 2 cups for a recipe (how many cups in a gallon anybody?), 8 oz of orange juice and a one pound steak (or was it 16 oz?). This obviously doesn’t make sense. And I’m not even going into the issues of combining these units for strength, density, etc… Also note that the cooking cup unit is not the same in UK, USA and Australia (more than 20% different)… that might make it more difficult to translate a cookbook from british to american that from chinese to french (who wants to translate a british cookbook anyway?).

I pity the poor primary school students who have to go through this and I can imagine the endless amount of exercises that this can generate. This would be enough to disgust anybody from science. Could this be a reason for the “US education crisis” mentioned in numerous articles? That would probably not hurt to remove few months spent converting miles to feet to inch or explaining the concept of density (is it in pound per gallon or ounce per fluid ounce here?).

That could be even worst actually, I should feel lucky that the basic time unit is the second at least and not the microfortnight from the FFF system.

One another interesting point is the way to measure the consumption of the cars. In most places is in l/km (litre per kilometer), in the US it’s in mph (miles per gallon). It’s not only the units which are changed, but the ratio is also inverted. Is it coming from a difference in objectives? In most of the places, people want to know how much they will use to go where they need to, but here, people want to know where they can go with what’s left in the car. Or maybe it’s just because here: bigger is better!

2 thoughts on “Give me back the metric system!

  1. really funny post! Nevertheless I don’t really understand your allusion about the LIberia which is one of the first african country which got the independence 2 centuries ago. Moreover, I am quite sure that the current president of he Liberia is a woman!
    Archaic system of measurement perhap’s but not archaism of all the society!

  2. Nothing at all against Liberia, I was mostly highlighting that there are ONLY two other countries (and the wikipedia article shows that this is not even sure in the case of Liberia).

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