Our Christmas Cracker

The traditional Christmas cracker usually contains a joke, a paper hat and a toy, and goes off with a bang. Metric Views, in its cracker, has an anecdote about a Christmas Fair, links to two radio programmes, and a video with some knockabout fun.

Our anecdote is provide by one of our regular readers, John Murray. He writes:

“I’ve recently helped in our village Christmas Street Market. We had a ‘Guess the weight of the Cake’ competition – you were allowed to guess in either lbs/oz or kg. Depressingly, out of 192 guesses only 12 were in metric, this in spite of the guessers being a mix of all ages, male and female. It was a real nightmare trying to work out which was the winner – converting all those nearest lbs-oz to kg.  In hindsight, I should have filled in the first few spaces on the card with my own metric guesses – and probably more might then have followed this ‘example’. Anyone had a similar experience? (Incidentally, my wife made the cake – which weighed 3.022 kg, and the winner guessed 6 lb 10 oz. We had a couple of 3.0 kg guesses – I hope I worked it out right! What a mess!)”

Now to the first of the two recent radio broadcasts providing views on metric. It is from John Foster’s early morning show on BBC Tees Radio on 17 December. The link below provides an edited version of the discussion between John, two studio guests and Robin Paice, Chair of the UK Metric Association. During the discussion, John asks Robin if UKMA’s campaign will be called off, now that the EU has dropped the timetable for completing the metric changeover. You can guess the answer.


The second broadcast was on 19 December. This is a programme from a series produced jointly for the BBC and the Open University, under the title â??More or lessâ??. The series aims to improve numeracy, and this programme tackled, among other subjects, the day-to-day practicalities of having two systems of measurement side by side. The programme lasts for thirty minutes. To hear it, follow the link below and click on “Listen to the programme”.


The link also takes you to an article, written by the “More or less” team, entitled “Imperial measures: why do they refuse to die?” Click on the picture of fruit at the bottom of this article to see some point scoring between an imperialist and a metricist(sic).

And finally, this first article has a link to a further article, written by a regular contributor to the UK measurement debate, which he describes as “The tidy-minded versus the bloody-minded”.

And if you have got this far, you deserve a mince pie.

Seasons Greetings to all our readers.

20 thoughts on “Our Christmas Cracker”

  1. Perhaps this bit of research can shed some light on how individuals can hold back a larger group:


    The implications of this research are pretty bleak for voluntary metrication when a significant minority cling to the old ways for whatever reasons.

    If centimetres in the garment industry in Australia held back metrication in that sector, imagine how the continued use and advertisting in pounds and ounces will continue to hold back metrication in the UK.


  2. According to news reports, the EU has given up on metrication in the uk. This is wrong of course. As I have checked online and if the newspapers would actually tell the truth for once, they would know that the reason we can use imperial is because of trade with the USA. But since they are using metric more in the States, it won’t belong before the old excuse “we can’t change because America still uses imperial” (or as they call it customary units) won’t apply.

    Let’s get this right. First, the European Commission says that it is up to member states to go metric if they wish. Second, the Government did not say that we will stop using metric - it will be used alongside imperial indefinitely (although laws, like governments, can change). Thirdly, you can do what I do, and during a local election or national or European election tell who ever knocks on your door that you will only vote for a pro-metric councillor or MP or MEP (I know that there are other important things to consider, but do ask them their views on metric. I’ve talked to a lot and they want us to change too).

    Never give up on your beliefs. If you want Britain to be metric, argue your case.



  3. I think I understand this kind of mess round the season as the weight of turkeys is in kg but the height of Christmas trees appears to be in feet and inches. As for the myth that we are being made to metricate because of the EU, it is mainly a fault of every UK government since 1965, which was before we even joined! I am too young to remember 1965, but I was taught metric in school and I’ve been to foreign countries where metric is more widely used.


  4. I see that Warwick Cairns is still promoting his idea that most of the world’s traditional systems end up being remarkably similar.

    He gives the example of the Japanese Kanejaku (also known as the Shaku), which is of similar length to the imperial foot.

    If Warwick’s theory is correct, you would expect the Shaku to be divided into 12 smaller units, and that 3 Shaku would be equivalent to a larger unit.

    Instead, the ancient Japanese system included the following measures

    1 mo = 1/10000 shaku
    1 rin = 1/1000 shaku
    1 bu = 1/100 shaku
    1 sun = 1/10 shaku
    1 jo = 10 shaku.

    These measures don’t seem to correspond particularly well to the inch or yard.

    Additionally, if the Japanese traditional system is similar to the Imperial system, you would expect to find corresponding Japanese units of weight & volume as well as the foot/kanejaku “relationship”

    The traditional Japanese unit of weight is the momme. It is equivalent to 0.1323 ounces

    Other units include

    1 fun = 1/10 momme
    1 hyakume = 100 momme
    1 kan or kanme = 1000 momme

    None of those weights are remotely close to the dram, ounce, pound or stone.

    The traditional Japanese unit of volume is the sho. It is equivalent to 3.174 pints

    Other units include

    1 sai = 1/1000 sho
    1 shaku = 1/100 sho
    1 go = 1/10 sho
    1 to = 10 sho
    1 koku = 100 sho

    Again, none of these volumes are remotely close to the fluid ounce, pint or gallon.

    So, in response to Warwick pointing out the coincidence of the Kanejaku being roughly equivalent to the foot, I would point out that large parts of the Japanese traditional system seems to be based upon multiples of 10.

    Which other measuring system does that remind you of, I wonder?


  5. The problem with individuals converting their own habits to metric – as in the example of the “guess the weight” competition – is that our measuring devices still show both metric and imperial, often with the imperial more prominent. So there’s no need to change your habits and weigh out 200 g when the scales also show you 8 oz. This habit gets passed down the generations, both in the kitchen, the bathroom and the building site. Young builders still use inches because their boss always talks about them, and they can see it on their tape measures.
    The only way to break these habits is for an outright ban on the import or manufacture of imperial and dual system measuring instruments. All scales, rulers, tape measures and measuring jugs should be metric-only. It’s about time the government bit this bullet, otherwise we’ll still have this mess in another 40 years.


  6. I think this anecdote clearly proves that a majority of the British public feel more comfortable with imperial- something which I’ve been trying to get across for two years.
    On a unrelated note, can you really say that a 454g jar of marmalade sounds better than a 1lb jar? I can’t and I’m glad to say that I’ve seen quite a few jars of produce now using dual measures, and a few in imperial only! Wonderful!


  7. This article is quite wide ranging, so I would like to offer my own contribution, which ranges on subjects mentioned here and in previous articles. Yesterday, I encountered two ‘metric’ incidences, one positive, one sad. First the sad one.

    Having reached, er, a certain age, I qualified for one of these government insulation programs. The guy arrived yesterday in the obligatory white van. He was in his very late 20s or perhaps early 30s, and it was obvious he was not exactly the brightest light in the harbour. Certainly no danger of mistaking him for a rocket scientist. We discussed how much insulation he was going to add to my loft. He said 10 inches. I looked at the packaging of the insulation he was bringing in from the van, and it said 200 mm. When I pointed this out to him, he said, “Yeah, that’s right, 10 inches.” No, I said, 200 mm is only 8 inches. “Geez, ya mean they told me wrong?”. Yes, I replied, they did. But not to worry – there’s already 65 mm in my loft, and this 200 mm will bring it up to 265 mm, which is more than adequate. “How’d ya work that out?” Oh dear.

    And the positive incident? At my usual deli counter, the one where they always look at me as a weirdo for ordering in grams, the man in front of me, around 50-ish, was also ordering in grams. When it was my turn and I ordered some ham in grams, the girl said. “Everybody is ordering in metric today. Have they passed some law or something?” No law, I said, just that maybe people find it easier? “Well, I guess it is easier, but very few people normally ask for their food in metric.”

    Hope yet.


  8. Tabitha, I will have to disagree with you. The reason imperial is seen as popular is due to the media not educating people! When Australia went metric in the 70’s, they completely stopped using imperial in the news or in the media or on tv. It was not popular at first especially amongst the elderly but they got used to it. I know it can be scary to learn something new but we will have to adapt as America is doing. All packaging is dual measurements (the same as us). Remember that Burma & Liberia are the only countries that don’t use any metric. Metric is a part of modern life that we must adapt to – about 95% of the world’s poulation lives in metric countries.

    Editor’s note: look out for an article coming up in MetricViews on progress with metric-only labelling in the US.


  9. Tabitha, you are right for once. 454 g sounds awful indeed when compared to 1 lb. However, this is soft metrication, which should be avoided at all costs. If the jar of marmalade had been metricated correctly – this is called hard metrication – it would have become either 400 or 500 g. The same with packs of butter, weighing 227 or 454 g: awful as it is soft metrication. In metric countries packs of butter weigh 250 and 500 g.


  10. Under The Weights and Measures (Miscellaneous Foods) Order 1988, as amended, the prescribed quantities for honey, jam and marmalade sold in the UK are:

    “57 g, 113 g, 227 g, 340 g, 454 g, 680 g or a multiple of 454 g�.

    So Imperial has lived on in our larders for many years, under disguise.

    Jam, etc, packed elsewhere in the EU and legal for sale there can be sold here.

    However, in April 2009, life will become simpler, or more complicated depending on how you look at it, as these and many other prescribed quantities for pre-packaged goods will be swept away. This could be a ‘downsizers’ charter’, so savvy consumers may have to get in the habit of checking labels.


  11. “siv foot six he stood on the ground, he weighed two hundred and thirty five pounds…”
    Try singing that in metric..
    Kill-om-eater, meeter…ugly, artificial words that have no place in the English language.
    There was never any popular enthusiasm for metrication in Australia, New Zealand or Canada. Metrication was forced on their populations at the behest of big business.
    Still, bullying and elitism seem to be OK if they are done to enforce your own preferences? Dearie me.


  12. Though it would unfortunately come at the expense of the consumer, companies downsizing to rational metric sizes starting in April 2009 while keeping their prices the same would at least have the benefit of making sensible metric labeling more widespread.

    I would also presume that such companies would want to drop any Imperial labeling to further disguise their subterfuge, which, while it is an unscrupulous maneuver that hurts the consumer, would expand the presence of metric-only labeling and help wean customers off of Imperial.


  13. nick did you ask them, because at least it has not harmed them besides if it was really hated they would not of changed , besides there are 233 countries & territories in the world the only countries that have not changed over are: Myanmar (Burma), liberia, & the U.S.A, besides I prefer my weight in kilogrammes at least it’s half the weight, compered to pounds, for example if i said i weighed 220lbs that would be 100kgs, thats why I prefer metric, by the way im 1.78 metres & weigh 78kgs.
    by the way it was by international agreement (which britain sighned during the sixties) on the S.I units, all commonwealth countries are completely metric now, this is why I support the UKMA where everyone has the right to an opinion even if it is against metrication


  14. In answer to Nick’s point about forcing metric. In my experience those who prefer imperial are just as guilty (if not more so) of forcing their views on those of us who prefer metric. If I talk about my weight and height in metric I am often pressured to give conversions. Even in hospital I have encountered imperial minded medical staff talking to me in stones and pounds (after having weighed me on metric scales) in spite of my gentle protest to the contrary. So don’t talk to us about bullying!


  15. Philh, I completely agree with you when I visit the doctors & give my weight in metric the doctor always looks as if i’ve just confessed to something terrible, I think the best thing to do ( not in a bullying way), when buying scales ask for metric only, or when you get a sat nav ask if has kilometres or metres, & when buying a car ask how many kms its done , my car has kilometres on the odometer only ( you can change it ) when I take it to the garage to be serviced I ask if they want me to change it back to miles & guess what nobody has said yes . amazing


  16. The sad thing is many young British people are confused by having two systems in place, most I have asked think there are 1000 yards in a mile for example! As for people in Australia not liking metric, what a load of old tosh, I moved to Australia last year (partly to get away from backward looking British people who love to wallow in the past and their own self importance) and I can tell you it is one of the most metric countries in the world. it is wonderful to be able to use my British education in the environment it was intended, ie a metric world.


  17. Last Saturday my wife dragged me to the sales. We looked at a new mattress to match one that we already had and then found that we did not know its thickness. The John Lewis assistant, when measuring up a display mattress for us asked if we used centimetres or inches.


  18. what a shame that to use metric you have to move overseas, no wonder the education system is a joke. I mean to learn something like metric then spend the rest of your life never using it, is to say the least a waste of time. Only when we have a government that is not run buy the press for the press then we ill join the rest of the human race. if people need to use 1st century measurements (roman) thats fine, but don’t hate those who prefer metric.
    one final question? if it is illegal to use metric distances (e.g metres & kms)
    what will the government do in 2012 ? won’t who ever is in power be breaking the law ! or are there plans to change this ? thank you if anyone can answer this? HAPPY NEW YEAR


  19. Martin – I am a section manager for John Lewis, working in Furniture and Electrical. Glad to see you were shopping at John Lewis and hope that you received good service!

    John Lewis has always tried to lead the way by labelling only in metric wherever possible. So all of our furniture is only ticketed in centimetres, as is bedding, curtains etc. We used to show measurement on electrical appliances in both metric and imperial but I think that the practice in this has now ceased and only cms are used.

    That said, my sales team spend a good portion of the day answering customers about metric conversion as people just don’t seem to get it. I have recently bought twelve metric-only tape measures but they are not always popular with the customers or some of the older members of the team. I now make the point to every customer who asks that I officially only know metric, as imperial measurement were no longer taught when I started school in 1974. Its a fine balancing act as we always need to ensure that we are giving good service regardless how irritating the customers questions are!

    Some of those in my team who are not that good with mental arithmetic really struggle with answering these questions, and yet they are they ones who are made to feel stupid by those customers who refuse to try understand the much simpler (and far more accurate) metric system.

    I am about to start a mini-campaign at work to get rid of the linear foot, which is the universal reference in our company to size of shopfittings. This is despite the fact that my department space is allocated to me in sq metres, and that all of the fixtures themselves are metric sizes.


  20. When I queried John Lewis they said they “put the customer first and were happy to converse in imperial” – with the correspondant actually claiming her preference for imperial.


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