If you follow politics in the U.S., you have likely heard the concept of American Exceptionalism thrown around. I do believe in American Exceptionalism – the U.S. is exceptional in many ways. I don’t think we’re exceptional in biblical proportions, however, which effectively disqualifies me as a prospective Republican presidential hopeful!
Regardless of all the things that makes the USA exceptional (individual freedom, a great constitution, abundant natural and human resources, beautiful and diverse landscape…) there are two things I truly hate about American Exceptionalism: imperial units of measure (also see, U.S. customary units) and letter-sized paper!
My formative teenage years were back in the mid-1970s. At that time there was a significant push towards adopting the metric system in the USA. The effort was serious enough that we learned metric units in grade school – before it was even introduced as part of any science instruction. To this day, I still benefit from that early education. (Luckily for me I went on to get a degree in Chemistry, lived in Europe for a few years, and I am a fan of European bicycle racing – all of which involve daily life in metric!). With these experiences I know that metric units of measure are easier to learn, convert, calculate and communicate. There’s nothing exceptional about America’s love with imperial units of measure.
Another dumb form of American exceptionalism is our love for 8 1/2 x 11-sized paper (that’s 215.9 × 279.4 mm for those following along in metric). Why we love this paper size is beyond me. I don’t have any great affinity for A4 either – other than that 85% of the rest of the world uses it. (Anyone who knows me can attest to my general disdain for all types of paper). Luckily for the U.S. no one will print anything after 2025 anyway. The poor Canadians are stuck with letter-sized paper. Throughout Mexico and some South American countries letter-sized paper is commonly used as well. This is quite literally a manifestation of the U.S. hegemony in this hemisphere!
At this point in U.S. political history, I have great sympathy for actual advocates of the metrification of the USA. Nevermind the logistical hurdles to actually carrying out such a transformation; the political backlash is far more painful. I fear that inches, pounds, gallons and 8 1/2 x 11 paper will remain as symbols of American Exceptionalism; rather than what they really are…barriers to the USA competing on the global stage.