Social Question

BBawlight's avatar

Why doesn't America just switch over to the metric system?

Asked by BBawlight (2427points) August 15th, 2012

It seems like the metric system is a whole lot easier to use and the whole world uses it. So why can’t America switch over to the metric system? It’d make it easier for immigrants and emigrants. Don’t you think?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

45 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

I wish I knew. Not switching doesn’t make any sense to me.

ragingloli's avatar

Becuz thiz iz amurrrka, nahd urop.

Nationalist pride.

Judi's avatar

Weare stubborn and brats.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Because we’re Amurikan and we want to be with the other two powerhouses of industry that still use it: Myanmar and Liberia.

It is a shame.

CWOTUS's avatar

Actually, if you work in American industry that is in any way involved in export trade, as I do, you already work in metric. That’s because our customers’ orders are in metric measure, our suppliers sell us goods to metric measure (sometimes converted to English as well, if the contract happens to be for goods to be used in the USA).

But it’s not as simple as passing a law and saying, “Do this.” A lot of business (and all of our domestic sports) rely upon English measure. With 300,000,000 Americans, most of whom have not recently immigrated and who do not plan to emigrate (or even travel overseas), the conversion costs are not inconsequential.

We’ll get there, but it would be better for us all to do it organically than by fiat. Not that such knowledge will stop the true zealots who think that such a conversion will make us magically “more competitive” in overseas markets.

downtide's avatar

Britain was supposed to be switched to metric 41 years ago. We still measure distance in miles, beer in pints, people’s weight in stones and pounds, their height in feet and inches, steaks in ounces, fields in acres, speed in miles per hour and fuel consumption in miles per gallon. There’s no sign of these ever changing, I honestly don’t think they ever will. A whole generation has grown up never being taught imperial measures in school, and still they’re not any less popular.

I don’t think there’s any point in the US even attempting to bother.

marinelife's avatar

It would cost a lot of money for government, for education, for industry.

_Whitetigress's avatar

And call an NFL game in meters? Not on my 100% Red Blooded American dime! :P

SavoirFaire's avatar

No idea. I had to learn it when I was in elementary school because all of the teachers were convinced that we’d be switching in the near future. All these years later we still haven’t switched. The odd thing is, the change could be made fairly smoothly. First, you make it a standard part of education (which it should be anyway). Second, the US makes it a policy to replace all worn out road signs with signs showing both metric and US customary units (with the metric units being more prominent).

This is money that will be spent anyway, so we might as well use it to help the transition. Assuming the first step has already been put into place, there can also be a provision for this to stop after a period of time so that all replacement signs after the specified date are metric only. If everyone by that point has been educated in the metric system and has been made aware of the imminent switch, there is really no need to be sympathetic to anyone who simply refused to learn.

The same strategy of education and attrition should work to minimize the costs in other sectors as well. Introducing the change through signage, however, has the advantage of letting people get used to the new system while still having the old one there to help them just in case. Not many machines can be replaced with dual-system versions, but the dual-system signs could help people get used to it and not feel so put upon by the transition (thus addressing the fear of change mentioned a few times above).

@downtide It seems to me that 41 years is a rather short period of time in the grand scheme of things. One generation has only been taught metric measures at present, but what do you think things will be like a few generations on when everyone will have grown up learning only metric?

@CWOTUS @marinelife I’d be curious to see numbers regarding the conversion costs and what kind of transition schedule those numbers are assuming. An overnight transition would certainly be very costly; but then again, we already know that not converting has cost the US large sums of money (such as the $328 million lost all at once when the Mars Climate Orbiter was lost).

Judi's avatar

I graduated in 78 and they taught it to us because we were going to be switching soon. I think the Regan Administration put the breaks on the whole idea if I remember correctly.

_Whitetigress's avatar

I actually like how we scale distance.

fremen_warrior's avatar

Damned commies, first the fluorization of water and going after your precious bodily fluids and now this! “Metric system” Might as well call it the socialist system! <hrrr>

Who the hell knows why not? I assume it would be costly (and there’ never a good time for costly reforms), and some people might actually protest this, because tradition, bla bla bla, more reasons etc.

elbanditoroso's avatar

We tried that once, and it never even remotely began to catch on. Essentially it was one of those ideas that no one (but the backers) had any enthusiasm for, it was going to cost an arm and a leg to deal with, it was going to take a generation to really catch on.

Bottom line, there was no compelling reason to di it.

josie's avatar

Why doesn’t America simply abandon English and become routinely multi-lingual.

Who knows. Who cares for that matter. It is a technical issue, not a cultural one.

If you enter a profession that requires metric, you will learn it pretty quickly. It is not that difficult.

Otherwise, you will get by OK worrying about how much hamburger costs per pound.

filmfann's avatar

Q: Why doesn’t America just switch over to the metric system?

A: Why don’t you go fuck yourself?

The simple answer to both is it is difficult to do.

DominicX's avatar

Tradition dies hard. Honestly, I prefer Fahrenheit to Celsius because of the smaller intervals, so temperatures seem more exact without the need of decimals. I also don’t have a problem with miles, feet, and inches.

What I wish could change is the ridiculous measures of capacity: tablespoons, cups, ounces, fluid ounces, pints, quarts, etc. Milliliters and liters would be a lot easier in those cases…

I’m reminded of Grampa Simpson on this subject: “The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets 40 rods to the hogshead and that’s the way I likes it!”

whiteliondreams's avatar

@SavoirFaire lol “all these years” huh? Don’t want to say the decades you have waited for the conversion? lol

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

This is one of those questions that make my blood boil. I don’t understand the reason why the US hasn’t converted either. While in grade school (this is the 60’s), we were taught the metric system. Our rulers have had both metric and inches on them for ages. Food items have had labels on them in both metric and whatever our system is called for years. Mom’s old Ford car had a setting for miles and kilometers.

Seriously…why can’t the US bite the bullet and convert? It only takes a strategic plan in order to keep costs at a minimum and prevent chaos. The metric system is easier to understand, not to mention creates a more global connection.

@downtide Y’all are seriously messed up when it comes to measurements. As much as I respect and adore England, this is the one major downfall in today’s times.

mazingerz88's avatar

Because miles is a five letter word while kilomete…ugh, I’m tired already!

BBawlight's avatar

@mazingerz88 That’s why you shorten it.
Inches and feet and meters bother me because you can’t just move a decimal point and the names probably have nothing behind them while centimeters and kilometers have something behind the name. You just have to move a decimal point over and TA DA! You have a kilometer to a meter.

Bellatrix's avatar

I live in a country where metric is the standard system. I grew up in the UK where Imperial was the standard system. Imperial measurements had long since been ditched when I left the UK but as @downtide suggested, not wholly adopted. Like @downtide said, I do use metric for height and weight but also convert back to imperial. I also, like @DominicX still think of temperature using Fahrenheit. Somehow 100 degree Fahrenheit seems so much hotter than 37.7777778 degree Celsius!

Jeruba's avatar

Ah, me. Why don’t we do a lot of things that would be good for us? Why indeed?

But as to your argument, @BBawlight, I don’t think making it easier for people who are leaving or have just arrived is going to amount to a serious priority.

Mariah's avatar

I wish we would, but I can recognize that probably a lot of people would die on the highways as a result. Making a change like that wouldn’t be easy.

I think we could start by changing speed limit signs to give speed limit in both mph and km/h. People will slowly start learning what metric speeds are equivalent to familiar imperial speeds. Then after a while, we start making cars that only have km/h speedometers. Then we’d have to wait a pretty long period to ensure that the vast majority of the cars on the road use km/h before replacing speed limit signs with ones that only give km/h. Overall, an expensive and probably dangerous conversion to make.

JonnyCeltics's avatar

exceptionalism, power, control, imperialism, colonialism, America!

SavoirFaire's avatar

@whiteliondreams Well, I guess I can’t hold back now that @Judi has been gracious enough to tell us when she graduated. I was part of the class of 2000, and I started learning the metric system in first grade. So that would make it 24 years since I was told the switch was imminent.

Jeruba's avatar

I was told it was coming inevitably, and probably sooner rather than later, in science class in 1960.

_Whitetigress's avatar

100 yards=91.44 meters

That just doesn’t sound right in NFL.

trailsillustrated's avatar

I don’t see what the big deal is. It’s easy to convert in your mind. When in Rome, folks.

Jeruba's avatar

Yes, and when in the U.S.—?

SavoirFaire's avatar

@_Whitetigress I doubt anyone is expecting the transition to be so complete that it ignores instances in which there are good reasons to keep using US customary units. A lot of my martial arts equipment is still measured in shaku and sun (old Japanese units) in addition to meters and centimeters for reasons having to do with tradition. It’s not like switching to the metric system makes the older systems go away. It just changes which system is most prominent.

JLeslie's avatar

Because America is fantastic and we don’t have to do what anyone else does. ~

Back in the 70’s we were on track to switch as s e mentioned above, but the kabosh was put on it. Americans all around me at the time talked about how hard it is to convert the numbers, failing to realize that if you are just living in the system, you don’t need to convert anything. So these non math types want to maintain a system based on 8, 12, and 16, because those are so easy to multiply and divide by. ~

Lots of sarcasm for some reason in my answers.

I was talking about this with a gentleman from the UK a few weeks ago, and as much as I think the US should switch, I am quite critical we haven’t, when he started to go on about it I reminded him how odd it is that England did switch, except, not their speed limits, and maybe some other things I am not aware of. That’s odd to me. Oh, they use stones for their weight, so that would be the old system. At least it seems to me they are literate in both systems. And, I don’t think they worry about converting, they just use whatever they use for a particular thing. There are bunches of Americans completely clueless about metric.

Brian1946's avatar


…(such as the $328 million lost all at once when the Mars Climate Orbiter was lost).

Good point, because that would only be 100 million metric dollars. ;-)

rooeytoo's avatar

If we did, what would people bitch about? Gotta have fuel for those who want to complain.

jungle_girl's avatar

Because we are an ODD society? Maybe?

ucme's avatar

The foot of Uncle Sam shall inch closer to the arses of the metric followers.
Shoot, y’all be x’pectin folks to go the whole nine yards on this…....dagnabbit!!

Paradox25's avatar

Working as an industrial mechanic and electrician for the past 15 years has allowed me to utilize the metric system alot. While the metric system in theory is easier to use, people are still used to the standard system. The thought of replacing saying only a few miles to go with only a few kilometers to go would be difficult to get used to it seems.

CWOTUS's avatar

@Paradox25 “a few klicks” caught on even among badly educated American servicemen in Vietnam a couple of generations ago.

Coloma's avatar

I always freak out when I accidentally reset my cars gage at kilometers instead of mph. It is a few seconds of WTF! lol
Yes, I agree with @filmfann , easier said than done as he pointed out. haha

downtide's avatar

@SavoirFaire I think it will still be the same. Even young people who have never been taught imperial measures in school, have to use them outside of school because that’s the way the county is set up. It will only happen if imperial measurements were made completely illegal, and I can’t see that happening either.

rooeytoo's avatar

The older I get, the harder it is to see those silly little millimeters on the tape measure.

@CWOTUS – I think saying “badly educated American servicemen” is not a good generalization. I know many very well educated Vietnam vets.

CWOTUS's avatar

Thanks for the chance to clarify, @rooeytoo; I don’t want to be perceived as being arrogantly indisposed in general to Vietnam vets as some kind of uneducated lower class. However, most draftees of the time were poorly educated (or they wouldn’t have been there in the first place), however much they may have improved that status since then, and however intelligent they may have been at any time. And “even among those without much education”, it wasn’t hard for them to pick up on what “klicks” were. Or kilos.

All I wanted to say was that it doesn’t take a lot of education and training to arrive at a personal understanding of various measures and adopt those.

However, making an entire industrial and commercial switch to “alternate forms of measure” is a huge, complicated and expensive undertaking.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@CWOTUS It is quite correct of you to distinguish “uneducated” from “unintelligent,” but I’m still waiting on some numbers regarding the conversion costs and what kind of transition schedule those numbers are assuming.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

It all comes down to benefits. What are the benefits of the US converting? If they can be identified and agreed upon, then the cost of converting is just a matter of a strategic plan.

JLeslie's avatar

The US does use it in medicine and other sciences. But, doctors have to convert it for patients if they are prescribing liquid meds, stuff like that.

Answer this question




to answer.
Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther