The EU has announced it will allow Britain to continue using imperial measurements. And, perhaps surprisingly, I think this is a good decision.
Britain, as you probably know, is a late arrival to the Metric measurement party. Whereas most of the rest of Europe has been using Metric for yonks (a technical term meaning ‘a very long time’), Britain only really began using Metric in the 1960s, however it quickly became the measurement taught in schools and by the 1990s many goods were sold in Metric quantities and not in Imperial.
Fast-forward to today, and we now have a situation where kids are taught to use the Metric system and most products are sold in Metric measures, but we still buy pints of beer and our road signs still use miles and yards for distance (although I believe weight and height restrictions are in tonnes and metres now). You’d think this is a mess, and that we should all just pick one system and stick with it, but, certainly at the moment, that’s really not feasible. Here’s why:
- First of all there’s the cost. We would have to replace almost every single road sign in the country to show speeds and distances in kilometres rather than miles. Considering how much it costs to make those signs and close of parts of roads to protect the workers, this would probably cost billions.
- Then there’s the idiots. Again, on the roads, I bet within days of signs being changed over the courts will be full of people driving 50mph in a 50km/h zone (which is 30mph), and pleading ignorance over the change.
- There are lots of people here born before 1965, many of whom will have difficulty adapting to Metric. Admittedly fewer and fewer things are sold in Metric now but go to any market stall and you’ll see every advertised in pounds and ounces, with the price per kilogram hidden away in the corner to keep them legal. Maybe this will be less of an issue in 30 years time when more people use Metric instinctively but right now we’re just not ready.
- Considering the binge drinking problems we have in this country, I don’t think we’re ready to serve litres of beer yet – a litre being almost 2 pints. And you know that people (read: manly men) will be put off buying half-litres of beer in pubs, in the same way that manly men don’t buy half-pints.
I don’t think the situation is perfect – ideally we should start phasing in dual-measurement road signs if possible, which show speeds and distances in kilometres as well as miles. Then in, say, 30 years time, we can look again at consigning the imperial system to history, as by then the majority of the British population will have been taught to use Metric measurements at school (note that we are taught how to convert between metric and imperial measurements at around age 14, but we’re taught metric from around age 5). But the original plan to phase out imperial measurements by the beginning of 2010 is just barmy – a waste of money that will alienate scores of people in this country. No wonder no British political party really supported the idea.