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Sunday, January 14

The Culture Shock III - Measure for Measure

I hold you as a thing enskyed and sainted;
By your renouncement an immortal spirit,
And to be talked with in sincerity,
As with a saint.
Measure for Measure, 1. 4
USA remains one of the only 3 countries which do not use Metric System of measurement. For somebody coming in from a country that uses metric system, it can be a real pain in the ass. So temperatures are in Fahrenheit, distances are in miles, weights are in pounds and liquids in gallons and I am in trouble. So how do you decide how difficult would it be to walk home from a grocery store which is 1 mile away, carrying 4 pounds of potatoes and 1 gallon milk when the temperature is 60 degree Fahrenheit. I would rather walk and find out. Even now it is so easy to get lulled into the sense of closeness when suddenly a factor 1.6 pops up.

Now I don't have any pro or anti metric stand since I haven't found any huge benefits of one over another. I think it is a matter of getting used to it.
However not everybody shares my opinion and there are people here who see Metric system as an assault on their way of measuring, on their heritage ! For God's sake ! heritage? I would think that there would be better things to hold on to as heritage. Even in India I never heard anyone say that ser should be preserved as a weight measuring unit or kos as a distance measuring unit because they are part of our heritage !

As I see it, the issue is not about one thing being better then the other but about standardization. I don't think there is any country which exclusively uses Metric units. Units like beegha, gaj, tola are still prevalent in India. But having Metric system in public usages makes it easy for people to work smoothly wherever they go.

Common sense would say that US should see least resistance to Metric conversion owing to strong emphasis on science and technology (the moon mission was all in imperial units), a relatively new society with so much diversity which would negate any historical attachments and the large immigrant population who come here well versed in Metric system. But strange are the ways of man !

In fact I got reading about the Metrication efforts in other countries of the world. It seems almost unthinkable that even India converted to Metric system during 1956-1961. Before independence, there was very little or no use of Metric system in India. The conversion was relatively smooth since most of the population was illiterate at that time and so there was no resistance from them. One would usually think that education makes a person more open minded and rational. In this particular case, the situation seems to be completely at odds.

Another strange thing I have noticed here is that there don't seem to be any standard packing sizes, not even in terms of pound and gallons. The Garlic powder I bought yesterday is some 347 gm and some 12.25 oz. And there are all strange packing sizes like this on the shelves. Either I am missing something very basic here or it is yet another trick of the trade that makes price comparison all the more difficult.


Pulkit said...

A labmate of mine found it hard to pick up a water container, to put it on the filter. She called another labmate for help.

The conversation ended with "How much does 5 gallons of water weigh anyway?" :-)

guess there are advantages of _some_ metric systems.

Pulkit said...

(somewhat on a different note) try computing if you can drive a greater distance here for the same money than in India.