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'Metric madness' invades Britain

Only the pint remains in new world of meters and liters

poster protesting metrics Reynolds

From London Producer Rob Reynolds

October 1, 1995
Web posted at: 10:25 a.m. EDT (1425 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- It had to happen. Inching forward into a new era of Euro-standardization, Britain is replacing its yards with meters, pounds with kilos and gallons with liters. Beginning Sunday, most goods in British shops must be sold by metric measurements. And although the switch has been a long time in the making, it doesn't come easy.

bananas by the...kilo?

"We've had to change over 200 stores and convert all the scales into the metric system as well as adjusting all the labelings," said Paul Baker, manager of ASDA supermarket, voicing a complaint held by many merchants.

The move comes as the British government tries to get in step with its European Community partners, all of whom use the metric system. Some of the old measurements will remain -- loose goods can still be sold by the pound, for instance, but packaged items must be metrically marked.

Not too many people seem to think it's a good idea. An impromptu bull session with shoppers garnered a litany of concerns ranging from confusion for the elderly to "It's our heritage, innit?" One woman complained, "They're taking nearly everything away from us."

Give them a meter?...They'll take a yard.

annoyed customer; sound link annoyed customer; sound link annoyed customer; sound link

The British Federation of Small Businesses has launched a campaign against what it calls metric madness, saying small shopkeepers will have to spend millions of pounds to conform to the new rules.

"They'll have to change their labels, their pricing, their menus, and perhaps their scales, to improve on the existing ones or to buy new ones," said Stephen Alambritis of the FSB. "And we've costed it out at something like £3,000 to come up to scratch. That's an awful lot of money for the traditional corner shop."

So is the price of non-compliance. Fines run up to £5,000.


Vin Vara predicts his hardware store customers will be taken aback by metric measurements: "Somebody comes up for a pound of putty, I say, 'D'you mean five hundred grams?' And they'll go 'Unhhh?'"

Most people believe this is yet another dastardly plot foisted on Britain by faceless European Union bureaucrats. Not so says the E.U.'s man in London.


"It was in 1965 that the government, at the request of industry, decided to move gradually toward metric units," said E.U. spokesman Angel Carro. "And at the time it was expected that the process would take 10 years, so it is a very British idea -- which is supported by governments left and right of the political spectrum."

So farewell to pounds, ounces, yards and gallons. But one thing won't change. There's a special exemption for pubs. Yes, you can still get a pint of beer in Merry Olde England.

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