Why are Americans (and some Canucks) SOOOOO conservative about metric?

In theory, metric conversion should not be a big thing. Almost all the world except America uses metric. America is a rich, educated developed country. All we are talking about is making life simpler in this age of instant jet travel and internet by having one measuring system that everybody uses.

But then there is the human tendency to bone-headed, stick-in-the-mud, f-k off-and-don’t bother-me conservatism. I am not criticizing America here, because that same sort of bone-headedness exists in my own country.

I live in Canada, which has officially changed to metric over three decades ago, but you still hear a lot of “miles” “feet”. etc.

One good example is Celsius (incorrectly called centigrade) temperatures to replace Farenheit.

Canada switched to Celsius in weather reports, cold turkey, in the the early 70s. Now, Canada is probably the country that most resembles the US in terms of social life, politics, standard of living, etc. So what happened in Canada may give you an idea of what may happen in the US.

How hard can it be to get the hang of Celsius temperatures? Zero is the melting point of fresh water. Any temperature below zero is freezing. 100 is the boiling point of water.

For purposes of weather reports, most inhabited places outside of Death Valley and Antarctica would fall somewhere within the range of -40 at the coldest to +40 at the hottest.

All you have to do to understand Celsius is form a few benchmarks in your mind.

  • Anything under -20 is a very cold winter night when you should stay indoors. You probably live in North Dakota or Canada :smiley: .

  • Minus 10 is still cold but an OK day for winter sports, etc.

-Minus 5 is a lovely winter day, but of course nothing is melting.

  • Plus 5 (we usually leave out the “plus” and just say the number) is a cold Spring or Fall day.

  • 15 is pleasant but sweater weather.

  • 20 is comfortable room temperature for younger folks.

  • Older folks may like 25 for room temperature, but younger people might find it warm.

  • 30 is generally where “hot” begins.

  • 35 or 40 is a good day to stay indoors with the AC on. You maybe live in Arizona. Or certain parts of Canada in the summer.

Now, I ask you, how hard can it be to form those benchmarks in your mind? After more than three decades of getting only Celsius temperatures from the weather reports, almost all Canadians are now saying things like: “Jesus, it’s only 18 in here, turn up the thermostat.” or “I know summer is really here when it hits above 30.”

In the Spring, Canadian mothers yell at their kids: “Lorne, you come back here and put on your winbreaker, it’s only 10 out there.”

But believe it or not, there are still a few Canadians of normal intelligence who cling to Farenheit. Their excuse is that they need to know how hot or cold it “really” is.

What do they mean by “really”? Is Farenheit temperature somehow more “real”? Were they born knowing Farenheit? Of course not. They learned it by forming benchmarks in their minds. When they were kids, their parents said stuff like “We keep the therostat at 70” or “It’s 90 degrees out there, turn on the AC.”

By the time they were seven or eight, they had formed these benchmarks in their minds. They knew that 60 F was nippy but nice, 40 F was kind of cold, that snow would stay on the ground under 32 F, etc.

So how is it that some Canadians, DECADES after Canada converted to Celsius, cannot get their adult minds around a few new benchmarks in a new system?

One particular piece of conservative idiocy is that if you take the Celsius temperature, double it and add 30, you get the approximate Farenheit. For example, 10 Celsius, doubled plus 30 gives you 50 Farenheit. But this only works for the “plus” temperatures.

To this day, I still meet jerks who will say: “It’s 30 out today? Wait, now. . . . 30 times 2 plus 30 is 90 Farenheit. Gee, you’r right, it IS hot.”

I cannot believe these people would spend thirty years doing this mental calculation rather than just get usd to the fact that 30 Celsius is a hot day.

I am not a metric fanatic. I just despair that we in North America are so set in our ways. But look at the amount of change successful nations like Jpan went through whn they decided to catch up to the west in the late 1800s.

And we can’t get used to a new measurement system?

Well, feet and fahrenheit are better IMO for measuring quantities we deal with everyday, as it provides enough discreteness to differentiate between two things that are really different without having to microspecify it.

Liters, OTOH, provide a good desired level of discreteness that the gallon does not. And Americans actually use liters for some things, so there you go. But we still use ounces for the same reason: better describes how much of something there is than a ml.

Now, miles versus kilometers, I think are about equal in terms of descriptive power, if not a bit better kilometer-wise, and I do think it’s just sheer inertia that people are resisting the change.

Can anyone explain why an ad for mechanical devices to regrow your foreskin would appear at the nd of my posting about metric? Straight Dope works in stange and mysterious ways its wonders to perform.

What’s hard to understand? I’m used to using Farenheit, I’ve used it all my life, and 90 Farenheit is going to mean something to me that 30 Celsius won’t. I’m sure if America converted to metric, I could use Celsius, but I’m probably going to keep on thinking in Farenheit.

It’s like learning a second language. Even if you get good at it, you still think naturally in the language you grew up learning

Why? I honestly don’t see the point in getting all hot and bothered over this. Scientists and engineers and those types <cough NASA cough> should be using metric, as I do in my job, but when I drive home I’m going 40 mph. Switching every sign in the country just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. They tried it 30 years ago and it didn’t take, it’s expensive (I assume) and makes people uncomfortable. What’s the payoff if we bite the bullet and do it all at once? More importantly, what’s the payoff for me?

300,000,000 people are used to doing it this way and are comfortable with it.

When people say that Farenheit is “better” I wonder if they really mean they are more familiar with it. After all, Zero in Farenheit is the freezing temperature of water at maximum salinity, but very few users of Farenheit know this. They have formed a benchmark in their minds that “below zero” is really cold. It is, but you will have to admit that it is a purely arbitrary.

How useful is zero Farenheit? Heavily inhabited Maritime regions of the world from Europe to Asia to America are unlikely to experience below-zero Farenheit and in any event the ocean on Boston Harbour or even Halifax Harbour is not going to freeze. Inland regions like Moscow, Colorado, Alberta, etc. are likely to get winter lows below Zero Farenheit, but they have no salt water to freeze, do they?

OTOH Zero Celsius forms a dividing line between the freezing and melting of fresh water. When you hear that there is going to be a night-time low of minus 1 in the fall or early spring, you know to go cover any frost-threatened garden plants. When you hear that it has been five degrees as a daytime high in the Spring, you know that the snow cover is melting away.

Now, it is true that Farenheit changes more “slowly” so that a change from 10 to 20 Celsius is about equivalent to a change from 50 to 70 Farenheit. But who needs that much specificity? Can you honestly tell me that most people can tell the differnce between 70 and 75 Farenheit? But a change from 20 to 25 Celsius is very noticeable.

Why don’t all non-English speaking countries just switch to English? If they’d just give up on their own language and make the switch it’d make life easier in this age of instant jet travel and internet by having one communications system that everybody uses.

As an American I am quite comfortable with the units used in daily life and am easily able to communicate with everybody around me using those units. In the cases where I need to interact with a metric speaker I have translators available to me. What’s the benefit to me of switching to another system which will affect almost every transaction I do all day every day so that it’s consistent with the rare transactions I may have to do once in a great while outside that zone? What we have now is a hodge-podge of units that make no logical sense but it’s a hodge-podge that I know and can use without thinking about and which I can reasonably expect everybody around me to also understand. Changing would be disruptive for an extended period and in the end, at best, I’d be in essentially the same situation I’m in now with very little to show for it.

Do I think that in some larger sense it would be good to have a logical, systematic set of measuring systems that was in common use everywhere? Of course, but it’s in the same sense that I think a single language would be useful and that English should be cleansed of irregular verbs and archaic spellings. It’d be easier to learn and to use and would facilitate interactions across the globe but I’m not convinced that the inertia can be overcome given the lack of any immediate benefits.

I think you pretty much nailed it. I would add that it’s like learning an invented language, like Esperanto. It feels less natural or organic.

Feet, inches, pounds, gallons, miles, the Fahrenheit scale, etc. are convenient in a different way than metric units. They aren’t as nice and logical for calculation and conversion, but they are user-friendly in the sense that the distince of a foot or a mile, for example, is one that it’s handy to have a name for, which is why these units were invented in the first place.

Well, not only was the basic metric system first applied in France, but it was also a result of the revolution. Besides, the bible doesn’t use the metric system.
So - French, revolutionary, atheistic, what’s not to like ?

Or as others have mentioned, habits die hard…

The big mistake is in thinking there’s something wrong with the English system. There’s nothing wrong with it. It works perfectly well and we like it. I’d much rather deal with inches and fractions of inches than centimeters and millimeters, particularly for woodworking.

It is like learning a second language if that second language contains about 10 words! :stuck_out_tongue:

As I said, all Canadians used Farenheit before 1975 or so. Now, execpt for the few holdouts I described, the vast majority are perfectly comfortable with Celsius.

Presumably, you learned how to use the Internet and a computer somewhere in the past 15 or so years, Captain Amazing. That took a lot of adaptation and acceptance of new concepts, did it not? Most of us have learned to recycle our plastics and other materials every garbage day. We adapt every day, every year.

And yet, your mind will refuse to adapt to the concept that 30 is a hot day instead of 90??? :confused:

I repeat, I am not a metric fanatic. It is simply the conservative initeria involved here that bugs me.

To a large extent people ARE using English as a common language worldwide.

But surely you can see a difference between all the non-English speaking peoples of the entire world learning a language with its thousands of new words, irregular verbs, unfamiliar pronounciations, difficult spelling (English spelling is one of the world’s most irregular) etc. etc. and Americans getting used to a few new measurement units over a few years?

Do you really think this comparison is valid?

I like metric. I even prefer it to what I call the ‘stupid system’. It lends itself much more readily to conversions and calculations in general. However, since I was not introduced to it until…well, really high school, I suppose, I can’t think in metric. It’s annoying, but I deal with it. I for one am not opposed to switching everything over, but there would need to be a period when everything is posted in both systems, which is true now for nutrition anyway.

That is probably what they mean, but you have to understand, nobody is pushing for anyone to convert to Fahrenheit. We in the US are already using it, we’re comfortable with it and a bunch of busybodies seem to think we’re “backwards” because we don’t feel like changing to a system someone else made up.

We don’t have to prove that the US system of measurements is better in order to justify keeping it, you have to prove the Metric system is better to convince us to change.

What benefit am I going to get by saying a hot day is 30 instead of 90? Outside of having to buy a half dozen new thermometers and thermostats, of course.

The reality is that 99% of our everyday interactions with measurements do not include a significant amount of scale conversions, which is the only benefit that Metric really provides.

But you still haven’t presented a compelling reason why we should. Justify the cost and inconvenience. How will I, personally, benefit from the change? Higher taxes to fund the education and replace signs? Product prices won’t go down, the tiny fraction of a penny (or centidollar) that not printing the US volume on a bottle of shampoo might save won’t be passed on to the customer, I suspect.

Why should we? Just because Canadia did it?

The way I view it is the US system seems much more ‘human’ based, or natural so to speak. The temp. scale ranges basically from 0 to 100, a foot is pretty much the unit that a caveman would come up with if he had to invent some form of measerment.

As we are still pretty pissed about that space probe to mars we lost because someone tried to convert to metric.

My only real beef with metric is threading. The modulus system (mm/thread) often results in fasteners with overly coarse or fine threads which weaken the fastener, and thus require larger fasteners to be used. The finer the thread, the coarser the increments. The reciprocal SAE pitch system (threads/inch) results in much finer increments at finer pitches, allowing the thread depth to be more closely optimized for the fastener diameter.

This is true even when .25mm modulus increments are used. And then there is the pain of having to keep the half nuts engaged when cutting metric threads on a lathe.

Celsius is a lame unit anyway. You have to subtract 273.15 from it to do most calculations and the ones that you don’t have some empirically derived constant associated with them so Fahrenheit vs Celsius vs Kelvin is all the same from an ease of calculating standpoint.

I live overseas from time to time, so I’m fairly used to metric measures. When I’m at home, I use American (pardon me, not “English”) measures like Fahrenheit and gallons and miles, and overseas I use Celcius and liters and kilometers. No big deal, and no reason why I shouldn’t use the system I like when appropriate.

Then again, I’m a native English speaker who taught himself to read and write Chinese. :smiley: Maybe it just doesn’t seem so difficult in comparison.

Speaking of which, there are all sorts of crazy Chinese measures still in use, such as describing the area of an apartment not in square feet, not in square meters, but “Pings”. I still for the life of me cannot picture how big a 30 “ping” apartment is.

I’m told that a “ping” simply measures the area of two tatami mats. OK, that’s helpful. :rolleyes:

Why have you tied this to conservatism? Maybe some new political benchmarks are in order.