Inching Along in Metric Europe

Something's afoot. One kind of pound (sterling) may disappear early in the next century if Britain decides to join the impending euro money bloc. But the other kind of pound (avoirdupois) may be getting a reprieve from oblivion.

Reports from Brussels indicate that some influential officials of the European Union now lean toward postponing the January 2000 deadline for installing metric-only measurements of size and weight on products sold in EU territory.

For perhaps a further 10 years (nice decimal figure) the old kingly weights and measures would then continue to coexist with grams and centimeters on product labels.

The reason is strictly financial. Businesses in both Europe and North America complained. They face major costs if they must start separate labeling and inventorying for products on each side of the Atlantic. At present, companies afix dual-spec labels in metric and imperial measures and ship them off to either market.

If the EU mandarins relent, one question immediately surfaces: Will global businesses be any more willing to separately label in 2010?

Realists note that Americans have long yawned off attempts to metricize everyday life. They're accustomed by now to two-liter bottles and 100-meter sprints. But most would rather walk a mile than a kilometer.

In a fair world, Britain and the US ought to go fully metric in return for the world's acceptance of the English tongue (or tongues). It's possible this might yet happen if enough Anglo scientists, engineers, and global business leaders push decimal measures on their home populations. But don't hold your breath till hell drops below zero Celsius. Brits (and Americans), set in their ways, are better than King Canute at holding back Euro-tides.

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