This letter from an expatriate Brit in Switzerland may be of interest. It illustrates very well the frustration felt by many people (not only expatriates) at the insularity and ignorance of so many of our compatriots.
Dear Mr Paice,
I came across your website by chance as I was looking for a BMI chart for British children, in metric. I still haven’t found one, but that’s another story!
I read about your association and its aims with a feeling of empathy and also frustration. It just reminded me how slow UK society has been in adopting the logical and straightforward metric system.
You see, I’ve lived in Switzerland for the last 8 years and here we of course use the metric system all the time. Apart from the obvious buying things by the kilogram or measuring your distances in metres or kilometres, an area (excuse the pun) where the metric system really hits home is in measuring the size of your rooms or the total area of your house. No-one here talks about a 4-bedroom house, although they might talk about a six room house, with a living area of 180mÂ². Just how big is a bedroom that’s 13’3″ by 9’9″?? How can anyone calculate that?
I was born in the mid 60’s, so went through the decimalisation process in infant school. Then we started learning about grams and kilograms, but in everyday life we had to understand imperial measures. You are right, it’s really schizophrenic! What I found astounding is when I talk to my siblings back in England about my weight ( I lost 13 kg) or about the size of the house we’re going to build, they have absolutely no idea what these numbers mean! I can expect this of my mother, who’s 80, but surely those who are still at work must by now have learned!
As a side issue, regarding temperatures, I also grew up with 2 systems. It took the weathermen and women a very long time to switch over, and I still hear them saying 21 celsius, 70 fahrenheit. Although the chart only shows celsius, my mother only takes away the ’70 fahrenheit’ message. It’s the same with the lb & oz. As long as both are shown, people will never switch.
By the way, we live close to the borders with France & Germany and shop cross-border. Most French supermarkets still show prices in French francs as well as Euro! Anyway, I’ve ranted on enough. I can imagine your frustration, and I wish you every success with your campaign.
[name and address withheld]
P.S. my children once asked me why a jar of marmalade weighs 454 g ….