So, we touched on this briefly in one of our very early posts but I thought I would expand a bit on what must be one of the quirkier quirks we’ve had to get used to in Canada. I am, of course, referring to the exciting topic of weights and measures and Canadians’ seeming inability to make up their minds on whether to join the modern metric world or stick with the imperial system preferred by their ironically anti-imperial neighbour to the south (and west, I haven’t forgotten about you Alaska!).
For the record, Canada officially adopted the metric system in the 1970s for most everyday uses but, for whatever reason, the locals just don’t want to let the old ways go. Is it because they want the Americans to still think they’re cool or is this just Canada’s world renowned politeness coming into play, not wanting to impose on peoples’ ways of life.
Generally this doesn’t bother me too much as I’m pretty conversant in most things imperial and, thankfully, the one measurement that I can never really get a grip on (Fahrenheit) doesn’t seem to be commonly used, except in the kitchen. The lack of a uniform pattern of usage is, for the most part, a fairly harmless oddity and a mild annoyance but in some situations it just seems downright inefficient. Here are just a few examples that I’ve come across over the last 11 and a bit months:
At the supermarket / grocery store
Officially, everything has to be priced in metric units, i.e. per kilo / litre, and for most items that is all that’s displayed.
For fresh produce, however, the main ticket price is typically displayed as a price per pound with the metric price hidden below in small print. This can be quite deceiving, especially when you get to the checkout and your $3.99/lb veggies ring up at $8.78/kg and you’ve got to do the arithmetic to make sure you’re not getting ripped off.
It’s particularly devastating for a meat eater like me when you think you’ve spotted a bargain steak at $20/kg until you look a little closer and, oh wait, it’s actually $44/kg! [Sadly this would actually still be a good price in Canada – beef is ridiculously expensive here but that’s for another post…]
Fortunately for us, we’re nicely settled into our cosy condo and don’t have to worry about this again for a while, but back in December last year when we were frantically searching for a place to rent before my initial accommodation ran out, the degree of difficulty was dialled just that little bit higher by having to do the square feet to square metres conversion.
While land is officially measured using metric units for planning and legal purposes, imperial is still the standard in general day-to-day use. So, 10 square feet equals 0.93 square metres, meaning that you can at least do a quick conversion in your head by just dividing by 10, so a 600 sq. ft. apartment equates to about 60 m². Even still, when you’re searching websites trying to compare all your options and figuring out if your bed will actually fit in the bedroom, a surprise math quiz is not what you’re looking for!
In my work as a civil engineering consultant, I deal on a day-to-day basis with technical drawings and reports which rely on accurate calculations and measurements. You would think that in a technical field like this, where slight miscalculations can cost big $$$ or worse, cause buildings to collapse, there would be a greater level of consistency and standardisation. As you’ve probably figured out by now though, this is not the case as demonstrated by the following examples:
- Drainage flows are calculated in litres per second but the pumps designed to accommodate these flows are rated in US gallons per minute (not to be confused with imperial gallons);
- Dimensions are always shown on drawings in metric yet people talk in imperial, i.e. a drawing might specify a 3.0 metre deep basement but in conversation, this will be referred to as 10 feet; and
- If you’re not explicit in your instructions, you may still receive survey measurements in feet and inches even though, as I mentioned above, drawings are (almost) always in metres
For the examples given above, there is at least a clear official standard and it is just that people choose not to follow it. When it comes to writing the date, however, it is literally a case of just do what feels right at the time.
You might not realise that something as innocuous as how you write the date would be governed by official standards but, at least for most of the world, it is. According to that infallible font of all wisdom that is Wikipedia, there are three standard short form date formats used around the world – Year/Month/Day (YMD), Day/Month/Year (DMY) and Month/Day/Year (MDY). The most commonly used format, and the one used in Australia, is the DMY format, and most people would be familiar with the MDY format as the standard in the USA, think 9/11. In Canada, however, there is no official standard and absolutely no consistency whatsoever, even on official government documents. It’s not uncommon to see two different formats specified in different places on the same form! Even worse is when different formats are used in the same document without any indication of which one is being used where. This can understandably cause quite a bit of confusion, such as when you see the date written as 06/07/08 – is that June 7 2008, 6 July 2008 or July 8 2006?!
To avoid any ambiguity, in the absence of a clearly specified format, I’ve taken to following the failsafe DD/MMM/YYYY format, as in 03 NOV 2016.
So, to wrap up, I’m generally not one to tell others how to live their lives, and experiencing the uniquities of different countries is one of the great things about travel. But Canada, you’re coming up to your 150th birthday and you’re all grown up now, so it’s time to ask yourself:
Do you really want to stay in the shadow of your next door neighbour’s imperial icon or bask in the sun with your Commonwealth mates on the majestic metric mountain?