I was bemused to read a few days ago a report that some market traders in the UK wondered if the Brexit vote meant they could ditch metric measurements and return to Imperial ones, such as pounds and ounces, feet and inches.
The notion of bring comfortable with units of accounting may seem nerdy, but is really basic. I recall many times people talking about ‘funny money’, when the UK decided to move to decimal currency. For the British, counting in 12s was easier than counting in 10s. Go, figure! However odd that was, for many, moving from pounds and ounces, to grams and kilograms, or from inches and feet and yards, to metres and kilometres was a step too far. The crossover generation, had it worst, obviously, much like those Swedes who woke up one day to be told they had to drive on the right, not the left. But, the cross over was a long time ago, so the nostalgic hangover is rooted deeply.
One of the features of mass migration from the Caribbean from the 1950s was that people were moving within the same system. How Imperial Britain worked was essentially how the Caribbean worked. Though, as is often the case, being away from the core means some things change slowly. So, for instance, many Jamaicans in the 1950s used distance measures like chains (66 feet or 22 yards) and volume measures like gills (pronounced ‘Jill’, a quarter pint), which had mostly died out in the UK. (Many older rural people still use them in Jamaica.) But, a little time in the ‘Mother country’ was enough to cement the understanding that such terms wouldn’t take you far. But, we knew about feet and yards and furlongs, so weren’t tripped up as they flourished. I had no problem visualizing a furlong race, and understood why a running track was 440 yards long.
Had Caribbean migrants gone to mainland Europe, we would have had language issues piles on top of unit issues.
Conversely, those migrants from French and Belgian colonies were similarly advantaged when they moved from Africa and Caribbean places to their ‘Motherlands’.
Britain went metric in 1971. Jamaica moved to the decimal dollar in 1969. I cannot remember if we had a period of confusion between those years as Jamaicans remitted money and travelled back and forth. But, it must have been fun. Jamaica started going metric in the 1970s, but didn’t complete the process for some 30 years.
Of course, some aspects of life defy bureaucracy. I love that you can find stone mile posts dotted all over Jamaica. Blessed are we to have places like ‘Three Mile’ and ‘Six Miles’ and ‘Mile Gully’. Ironic that my undergraduate college was in a part of London called ‘Mile End’. I don’t know if some dusty memos somewhere has proposals to change these to metric equivalents.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this ‘make Britain great again by bring back the groat’ post-Brexit reaction.
I am as comfortable giving a penny for your thoughts as I am giving you my two cents worth; both fit into Anglophone decimal thinking. But, turning on a sixpence isn’t the same as turning on a dime. I could easily understand distances as a child, when things related to the approximate length of a foot; or an inch was about the length of the thumb joint. A metre? A centimetre? I think drinking pints of beer makes more sense than drinking a third or half a litre. I don’t have trouble travelling thinking in miles or kilometres.
The Internet age is all metric, so my brain has no need to translate kilobytes and megabytes, though it helps to know that kilos are much less than mega-sized things.