Poster sizes

COLUMN: Metric measurements include some odd sizes

When Canada switched to the metric system, the change was meant to bring a level of simplicity.

The metric is based on multiples of 10, 100 or 1000. To measure length, there are 100 centimeters in a meter and 1000 meters in a kilometer. Weights are measured in grams and kilograms, with 1000 grams per kilogram. The volume has 1,000 milliliters per liter. And the temperature, in Celsius, is based on the freezing point of water at 0 C and the boiling point at 100 C.

In theory, it’s a great system, but it didn’t work as well as expected. The conversion of our measurement system took time and was not welcomed by all.

And even today, nearly half a century after the metric switch began, some of the pack sizes I see are anything but simplified.

The notebook pages on my desk are 24.1 centimeters by 15.2 centimeters, instead of 24 or 25 centimeters by 15 centimeters.

Some products sold by weight come in 227 gram and 117 gram containers. There are a few items sold in 28 gram packs.

Beverage containers include 355ml, 473ml, 591ml and 695ml, in addition to one, two and four liter containers.

These figures make calculations difficult. The other day I noticed the nutrition information on a liter pop container. A liter is a nice metric measure, but the serving size listed was 355 milliliters. This one liter bottle does not have three full servings. Instead, it contains 2.8169 servings. The serving size would translate to 12 fluid ounces.

While Canada made the transition to the metric system beginning in the 1970s, the United States continues to use quarts, gallons, ounces, pounds, feet, inches, and miles. Packages have metric measurements but are based on US sizes.

The United States is one of only three countries that does not use the metric system. The others are Liberia and Myanmar. These three countries have a combined population of approximately 393 million and represent less than 5% of the world’s population.

For most, but not all, measurements, Canada uses the same standard as 95% of the world. Seeing packaging based on sizes used by a small minority of people seems a little odd.

The United States currently has the largest economy in the world. More than 70% of Canada’s international trade is with this country. China, our second largest trading partner, accounts for approximately 8% of Canada’s international trade.

The amount of cross-border trade between the United States and Canada affects some of the sizes we see in stores in Canada. However, it is not because we trade a lot with the United States that we are obliged to follow their example.

Each country is free to use its own measurement system and adopt its own laws, regulations and governmental structures. We don’t have to conform to our largest neighbor and dominant trading partner, and the United States has no obligation to follow our structures here.

After the time and effort it took to adopt the metric system in Canada, changing our measurements now to conform to the United States would be outrageous.

Yet a universal standard would make international trade and consumer shopping much easier than the size conversions we encounter today.

John Arendt is the editor of Summerland Review.

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