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Metric vs Imperial Measurements

November 10, 2020

The main characters in Northern Survival, Olive and John, are different in many ways. One of those ways that causes friction at the beginning of the story is their preference for their country’s measurement system. I thought it would be great fun to compare the two and use them as an argument point.

Northern Survival

While Canadians have been using the Metric System for decades, it hasn’t completely erased the Imperial System still used in the United States.

Using kilometres is pretty standard, but it’s not uncommon for a Canadian to say, “It’s a mile up the road.” I don’t know anyone who knows their weight in kilograms or their height in centimetres. They’ll say they’re 150 pounds at 5 feet, 7 inches. Baking remains in Imperial measurements, too. I don’t know how much 100 grams is, but I can guestimate a cup of flour and a teaspoon of honey.

Strides to convert carpenters and anyone with a measuring tape have completely failed. We use inches and feet. I had one Metric measuring tape years ago—it had come in a two-pack I had bought—but I don’t know where it is. I’ve never used it.

What most Canadians know best is the temperature because the news broadcasts it every day in Celsius. I grew up and still live with an old thermostat for the furnace, so I understand room temperature is perfect at 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 21 degrees Celsius. Doesn’t matter if they equal the same: that’s the temperatures we set things at.

The pilot of the four-seater plane in Northern Survival, Allan Prescott, introduces the two measuring systems early in the story. Here’s what he says.

“This is your captain speaking,” said Al in an informative voice. “Grey clouds ahead may give spotty showers, but winds are light for smooth sailing. Cruising speed is 142 knots. That’s 263 kilometres an hour for us.” He glanced at Olive. “And 163 miles for our American friends.”

This sets up scenes such as these.

In spite of telling herself to be patient, her voice rose to an unnecessary level. “Technically, it’s the same distance; a hundred miles to Mishiegammie—or whatever they call it—and a hundred kilometres to Fort Hope,” she snapped sarcastically.

His face darkened. “How far is a fucking kilometer?”

“A thousand metres.”

“In miles,” he growled.

“Don’t you have an APP to figure that out?”

Notice how John stresses kilometer, the way he spells it in America.

Once Olive and John find common ground, the different measuring systems become amusement to some degree.

The cold start to the day left frost covering the ground until the sun came out around noon. Olive checked the temperature: 2 degrees Celsius. She shivered. The cool breeze off the lake meant a windchill that probably dropped below zero.

John looked at the thermometer. “Thirty-six. I’m going to freeze to death.”

“I like your reading. It makes it feel warmer.”

“Warmer?”

“Mine reads two degrees.”

His eyes grew large. “I like 36 better, too.”

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Diane McGyver author
2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2020 8:12 am

    Cute exceprts. Living in Europe everything is in metric so I am so glad I was raised with it.

    • November 10, 2020 8:29 pm

      Darlene, I can see the advantage. I was raised with it in school, but many people in Nova Scotia haven’t completely transitioned. Depending on the topic, we can sway either way.

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