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Small things to measure our lives by

Canada has many wonderful features, but one less-than-wonderful feature is that it is STUCK when it comes to a few things, like measurements of temperature and weight, and writing the dates.

Officially, Canada went metric in the early 70s.  No problem, right?  Except for our great big honking neighbour to the south (despite ALSO officially having gone metric around the same time) continuing to insist on using antiquated, kings’-feet and ancient-British butcher type measurements.

Doctors in Canada may officially chart your baby’s weight in kilos or your child’s height in metres, but the numbers they tell you are usually in pounds, ounces, feet and inches.  Ask somebody what they weigh or how tall they are and you’d be very surprised if they answered in any type of measurement that even vaguely resembles what the rest of the world uses. 

Ditto in grocery stores:  the butter in Canada may SAY it weighs 454 grams, but everybody calls it a pound.  Prices for things sold by weight are often listed in pounds (with kilos in small print that nobody ever sees).

Also, probably around the same time as the metric thing, but maybe not, because I have done ZERO research into this, it was determined by the Powers that Be that Canadian dates should run the European way:  day, month, year.  It’s a reasonable order, smallest to largest, as any kid could tell you.  Except for our great big honking neighbour to the south telling us that it’s more sensible (why, exactly?) to list the month first.

For whatever reason, and again, this could just be me, I never was able to determine what it meant if a best before date said something like “9.10.13”.  If it was September 12th, was it expired?  What about October 12th? 

And as if it wasn’t hard enough to maintain our Canadian date-identity, along came… 9/11.  Not 11/9, the Canadian way – no, the Americans had to impose their strange dating system on impressionable minds all over North America and the world.  Confusion!

(again, maybe it’s just me?)

Also, temperatures.  Sure, the weather forecasts are all in metric, but if you ask around what the temperature will be, it depends who you ask:  anyone over about 45 will tell you in fahrenheit; anyone under, in celsius.  Speed limits are a little easier, because there are signs and actual law enforcement behind that.

In any event… none of that is a problem anymore.  All has become – if confusing – also beautifully simple.

Dates are small-to-large:  no ambiguity.  Today is 15.10.2013, period.  Temperatures are in Celsius and even expat Americans have to use them, though it’s funny hearing people with “die-hard” American accents telling you it’s 30 degrees out.  (maybe only funny to me?)

Of course, this also means I have no idea how much I weigh (not much!), how tall I am, or how much butter I want to buy.   In the store, I just guess at quantities of things, and had to stop myself, on our pilot trip, from asking for a kilo of almonds, because that really would have been too much for a snack.

Also, did I mention the dates are all standardized, European-style?  Not exactly; not quite.  Although it’s true that today is 15.10.2013 for all standard government-type documents, cheque-writing and whatnot, it is also, in every legal sense, the 12th day of Cheshvan, 5774 (which happens to be the memorial of Yitzchak Rabin, killed 18 years ago today). 

Though he died in mid-November, this is a government which has no problem shoving the secular calendar around a little to accommodate the rhythms of the Jewish year.  Indeed, the whole country will be heading to the polls soon to vote in municipal (city) elections, on a date which happens to fall next Tuesday, October 22, but which – it is clearly announced on our voter registration cards – will take place on the 18th of (mar)Cheshvan.

(Cheshvan is sometimes called Marcheshvan, for a number of reasons, including the idea that it was “bitter” (mar) because it doesn’t have any holidays of its own.  Perhaps a good reason for calling elections then, too… and maybe another explanation for the bitterness if its favoured candidates don’t win?)

I won’t lie; it’s tough getting used to (l’hitragel in my new boot-camp Hebrew!) the rhythms of life in this holy land.  Most of the time, we feel like the six-day weeks (no weekend!) and 6:00 am mornings (no sleeping in!) are killing us, slowly or quickly, depending on our mood.

But in some of these other small ways in which we measure the size, warmth, breadth and length of our lives, things have gotten infinitely simpler, more understandable and familiar.


  1. you may enjoy this debunking article. he is a friend, and sometime jewish snopeser:

  2. Elizabeth: thanks - will check it out! Here is a link that works better, if anyone is interested in knowing more about the name of this "bitter" month:


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