Overheard in the deli

Overheard at the deli counter in a Sainsbury’s in Sussex (reported by Roz Denny).

Elderly lady customer and young shop assistant.
Assistant (weighing out some cooked prawns) – ‘That’s five pounds over – is that OK?’
Elderly customer (looking shocked) – ‘But I only wanted half a pound’.
Assistant seems completely baffled.
Noticing that the scales read 230 g, I say to the assistant, ‘I think you mean five grams over’.
Assistant – ‘Yes, that’s right, five grams or pounds or whatever’.
He really hadn’t a clue what a pound is.
The elderly lady looked a bit sheepish and said ‘I wish I understood these new measures’ and the lad said he didn’t understand the old ones. We all agreed it is a complete mess.

6 thoughts on “Overheard in the deli”

  1. The scales should be marke din both systems, or a new assistant should be hired to serve the customers who understand imperial. Some people do not want to start using metric, and as it is the customer making the purchase, the transaction should be done in the measurement they want it done in.
    The elderly lady above understands imperial so the assistant should use imperial. The confusion between pound (weight), and pound (money) can easily be overcome with body language etc.
    The situation above is confusing, that is true, however the units for the purcheas must be set by the customer.


  2. This is another example to illustrate the need to have ONE system of measurement. With both the Imperial and Metric systems in use at the same time it just produces confusion. Sadly the present UK government does not seem to want this country to go fully metric. The OFFICIAL measurement system of the UK is the SI/Metric System.
    Locally around the country it is disappointing that some Trading Standards Officers are not fully enforcing the metric trading regulations that this country has.
    With decimal currency the change occurred quickly (overnight); it would be great if the government decided to support a full metrication – which includes road signage. The conversion in Ireland went smoothly without any major problems.


  3. Actually, the law requires loose goods to be weighed in grams, so the assistant was acting properly except that he would have done better to say “that’s just over” (as most shop assistants do) rather than trying to use the customers’ units and then getting it wrong. A problem of staff training I suspect.

    The real problem is that the Government has abdicated its responsibility and made no attempt to inform or educate the general public about the change (now 7 years ago!). It’s not too late for such a campaign even now. The underlying message should be: ” These are the legal units for trade. Please learn to use them.” The dual system can’t go on for ever.


  4. It really beggars belief that people still consider the metric system to be “new”. This elderly lady was probably in the prime of her life when the system was adopted by the UK back in 1965. Isn’t it time we moved on?


  5. It has never been the case that the customer determines the unit for trade.

    In times past, before trading laws were tightened up, the trader decreed the units used and usually of their own invention. The Weights and Measures act of 1824 was one of the earliest examples of regulating units for trade (it was a pity that imperial units were used rather than the metic system but I set that aside for the purpose of this discussion).

    The abiter of units for trade ever since then has been central authority of government. Traders have to do as they are told. This apporach is necessary to protect consumers else they can’t be sure of what they are getting when thy ask for a ‘pound’ of something.

    It would be highly irresponsible if that principle was abandoned.


  6. Dave Brown Says:
    “It really beggars belief that people still consider the metric system to be “newâ€?. This elderly lady was probably in the prime of her life when the system was adopted by the UK back in 1965. Isn’t it time we moved on?”

    To those that resist it will always be “new”. Some people go out of their way to avoid metric even when it has been staring them in the face for decades. In the case of the elderly lady, as long as she was able to parrot the words “pounds” and “ounces” to the person behind the deli counter, there was no need for her to even make an effort to learn, especially since there was no help offered and the shops continued to give lip service to Fred Flintstone Units (FFU).

    But in reality that lip service can only go so far. People like the elderly lady still had to see her purchase appearing as grams on the scale and not pounds. But possibly as long as she thought she got what she ordered she didn’t bother to go a step further and make an attempt to learn to actually speak the name of the metric units.

    It is only when errors occur does the frustration of not knowing the metric units occurs. There are many ways to correct this situation and it is beyond me why it isn’t being implemented.

    1.) Get rid of all of the old references. They only serve as a hindrance to learning.

    2.) Provide posters and/or pamphlets explaining what sizes to ask for if you formerly asked for something in FFU. Example:

    If you asked for a pound, then ask for 500 g. Then divide your requests in increments of 100 g for smaller portions.

    It would be nice if people like Roz Denny could publish sample examples of what portions to use for different items. Example:

    When preparing a meal for two, what would be a healthy portion in grams for each person for meant, potatoes, vegetables, etc. ?

    The shops can also encourage metric usage by offering a reduced price if increments of 100 g is asked for. Also, the deli counter service person can start out by asking: “Can I interest you in 200 g of……”? If a person still asks for pounds, then the service person can reply: “Will 500 g suffice?”. The metric sizes should be emphasized.

    The present situation does not need to persist. It is in everyone’s interest to find someway to end the practice of asking for pounds and the means are not that difficult. All that needs to be done is for everyone to make a short term effort for a long term gain. But for those who really need help, it is up to those who are experienced to provide that help.


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