# BBC America and the show Top Gear

My SO and I have discovered the joys of the show Top Gear on the BBC America cable channel. It’s a car show, it’s a comedy, it’s Monty Python’s Flying Circus on wheels.

Anyway, I’ve noticed that the hosts refer to speed in MPH and fuel efficency in MPG.

Is this show produced for an American audience, or are MPH and MPG still used in Great Britian?

Still used. The UK is not a metric country. Distances are in miles, weights in stone, heights in feet etc.

Yeah - the UK is sort of a “hybrid” country. Our food is sold in metric quantities as per EU regulations. Our weather forecasters quote temperatures in Celsius and barometric pressure in millibars.

But our road signs give distances in miles and speeds in MPH. And despite petrol being sold in litres (again, per EU regulation) most of us think in MPG, not the metric equivalent.

I was taught only the metric system at school, though. I had to teach myself imperial units, and I’m still not entirely confident using them. But I had to try, because they’re still widely used.

It is worth noting that UK gallons are bigger than American ones - so MPG figures you see cited on that show may sound more impressive than they are in real terms (to Americans)

I’m often surprised by how little-known this fact is in America (and elsewhere for that matter!). Quite a few people even seem to think we use euros. Remember, America, it’s not just you flying the flag for feet and inches, pounds and pints, even if we do go about it in a rather half-baked way (petrol sold in litres, fuel efficiency quoted in both mpg and litres per km, but distances exclusively in miles, and so on.)

It seems like everyone in the UK has different degrees of metrication, though. For me, people’s heights are feet and inches but mountains’ heights are metres. If I’m measuring distances for DIY I’ll use centimetres, but if you ask me to describe a similar distance I’ll use inches. I weigh about 11 stone 9 pounds but if I’m following a recipe I’ll weigh out 250 grams of flour (but then I’ll use half a pint of milk, say).

Don’t expect any logic when it comes to measurements in Britain.

ETA: Top Gear is definitely not “produced for an American audience”, as you’ll see if you watch the episode where they took a road trip through southern States in “decorated” cars…

I use an assortment like that too, One place where I really hate the diversity of units, though, is in cooking - it’s not just that some people use grammes and others use ounces - it’s that:

-Some people use weights and other use volumes
-The people who use volumes may own no scales
-The people who use weights may own no standard measuring cups
-Where volumes are used on both sides, they may have the same name, but be a different size (fluid ouces, pints, gallons)

It wouldn’t be quite so bad, but I also have only a couple of short lines of text to explain it to everybody’s satisfaction (the sub/supertitles on my recipe videos)

Convert them all to International Standard Handfuls. Easy.

I found that some Americans were confused by references to “stones”. And in general, they won’t say they weigh “11 stone 9”, it will be “163 pounds”.

263, more like.

Sorry, I don’t really hate America!

You know, you nearly whooshed me there I thought I’d made a tragic error in calculation.

There are some 300 million Americans in America, and if they have one thing in common, it’s that none of them have any idea WTF a “stone” is.

Seriously, what is it, like, one stone equals the weight of the Queen’s bra filled with lead or something?

About the only time an American might run into “stone” as a unit of weight would be watching Ricky Hatton box in Manchester on HBO.

That is true. No one I come in contact with knows what a “stone” is let alone me. I am pretty sure I have even looked it up a few times before and all I know is that it is a measure of weight somewhere between an ounce and a ton.

I can look it up again but I will just forget. Is there some context British people can give to make it easier to remember?

A stone is 14 pounds. It’s no more silly than any other imperial measure. They all only make sense if you’re used to them.

Ireland is much the same as the UK. We have metric but a lot of people still use imperial for some things. Nearly everyone would give their weight in stones and pounds.

As yojimbo said, a stone is 14 pounds. All imperial/American measures are weird, and this one makes as much sense as any other.

Another weird one is the fact that Americans don’t seem to like yards very much. So I used to see signs on the highways: “Lane ends 3000 feet”. Why not “1000 yards”?

I think it’s because of the constant “America is the only country that hasn’t converted to Metric and thus sucks” noise you hear. Does the UK get the same criticism?

Could I just add the nitpick that it’s really the US pint that differs. A US gallon is 8 pints, just the same as an imperial gallon. But a US pint is 16 fluid oz, while an imperial pint is 20.

Not to the same extent, no. As I (and others) noted above, we do use metric for some things, while metric in the US seems to be applied only to 2 litre soda bottles

My own view would be that the folks who criticise the US for its lack of metrication are mainly Americans. I mean, most of us in the Rest of the World aren’t all that concerned about your choice of units.

Virtually all Americans know yards perfectly. American football fields are 100 yards long and almost everyone knows that. Football fields are sometimes used as a measure as well. Wooden yard sticks are very common and everyone has seen one as well and they are sometimes used to measure height. Yards aren’t always used as descriptive measures but that doesn’t mean that Americans don’t use them commonly.

There are metric units scattered all over the U.S. as well. Metric tools are common. People take drugs in milligrams and the sciences use metric units. One bright spot is inner city youth understand metric units quite well. It just seems like the frequency of use for most people is too low for them to internalize it. Referring to something in meters is not a big problem because it is very similar to a yard. However, bragging about the length of your penis in centimeters is going to leave people confused about how impressive it really is.