It’s been 200 years since Napoleon backtracked on his grand plan to make his empire metric, but today the British remain the only ones in Europe who still use the Imperial system.
Ma perchè cavolo in UK continuano a non usare il sistema metrico ???!
It’s an existential question that reveals a lot about how to make sense of the world. Is your ballpoint pen 6 inches or 15 cm long?
Do you buy gasoline by the gallon or by the liter? Cheese measured per ounce or gram? And how far is Rome from Ladispoli? – 21 miles or 34 km?
Call it a proud expression of national identity or a stubborn refusal to engage with European neighbors. Either way, Britain’s persistent preference for imperial metrics is particularly noteworthy at a time when its ties to Europe are under closer scrutiny than ever.
In February 1812, some 17 years after France went metric, Napoleon I introduced a small business system called mesures usuelles – French for customary measurements. These were based on the old pre-revolutionary system, in response to the unpopularity of the new decimal codes.
Only after Napoleon’s departure did France become completely metric in 1840, using the law to impose metrics.
But if the French have eventually learned to think in units of 10, the UK has not so far.
In May 2011, a survey conducted by the supermarket chain Asda (well-known supermarket in the UK, comparable to a Carrefour, buys really well and is one of my favorite grocery stores) suggested that 70% of customers found it confusing. metric labeling and instead wanted products labeled in an imperial way, because basically the British study the imperial system at school and are accustomed from an early age to settle with it. It is as if at a certain point, in Italy they wanted to impose the Imperial system instead of the metric system, everything would go into confusion.
However, the legal requirement to view measurements for most products in both systems means that many Brits have become adept at making the mental shift from ounces to grams and vice versa.
Nowhere is this duality more evident than in relation to alcohol. Imperial measures for spirits were gradually phased out in 1988. Yet it is illegal to sell beer and cider in other units other than pints, strange isn’t it?
It’s a discrepancy that is mirrored in the illegal drug market, with cannabis typically being sold in ounces while cocaine is packaged in grams.
British attempts to do away with imperial measures date back long before the UK came under the jurisdiction of Brussels.
In 1863 the House of Commons voted to impose the metric system throughout the Empire, and in 1897 a select parliamentary commission recommended mandatory metrics within two years. In 1965 the Confederation of British Industry threw its weight behind the lawsuit and the government established the UK Metric Council in 1969, four years before the UK entered the European common market.
Joining the community meant subscribing to the standardized measurement guidelines. Since 1995, goods sold in Europe have had to be weighed or measured in a metric way, but the UK was temporarily allowed to continue using the imperial system.
This waiver was due to expire in 2009, with only pints of beer, milk and cider and miles and was supposed to survive beyond the limit. But before the deadline, the European Commission admitted that persuading the British to accept grams in ounces was a lost cause and that stores could continue to label products in both systems.
The UK may have the inability of Napoleon’s armies to cross the canal to thank or blame for the imperial’s resistance. But it’s not the only country failing to enthusiastically embrace metrics.
The traditional Japanese shakkanho system should have been replaced by the metric in 1924, but it remained popular. It was banned in 1966 but is still used in agriculture.
And of course the United States continues to weigh and measure in customary units, a system derived from the imperial.
Moving from imperial to metric, the UK’s approach to the issue could mirror the debate over its position in the world. So, get over it and if you want to live in the UK you will at least have the basics to be able to convert from metric to imperial and vice versa.
Something that can help you
How to convert between feet and meters:
1 meter = 3.28 feet / 1 foot = 0.305 meters.
How to convert between inches and centimeters:
1 inch = 2.54cm / 1cm = 0.394inch.
So if you are planning a trip to England, you have to adapt, there is nothing to do the British always want to stand out.
Have a good trip