Measure for Measure: when is a pint not a pint?

by | Travel Tales and Musings | 43 comments

Discovering and celebrating the differences which exist in the world is a joy: I have written about this before (see Is travelling losing its mystique?). However, there is one area which leaves me bemused: standard units of measurement! Standard? Aye right!

View from window driving along for units of measurement

How many litres to the mile?

The whole nine yards

In the UK we turned metric a number of years ago…..sort of.  I suppose it is natural in this somewhat extended transition phase that we should be bilingual with regard to some (not all) metric and imperial measurements.  I don’t think people convert back to pounds, shillings and pence any more and most people think in terms of Celsius rather than Fahrenheit for temperature, but it is not unusual for us to ask for 4 oz of ham or a pint of milk instead of 100g or half a litre. Similarly, sometimes we measure in feet and inches as opposed to centimetres and metres. No issue – really ( – but thank goodness we don’t bother with furlongs, chains and rods anymore. Hands up those who remember learning these!) However, petrol is priced in litres (makes it look cheaper!) whilst cars still measure fuel consumption in miles per gallon.  And although we have purportedly adopted a metric system, all the signs on roads and motorways are in miles not kilometres……Well, a bit of a mess I suppose (no comments about Brexit here!)

When is a pint not a pint?

But then we come to the USA. The currency is very definitely metric with a hundred cents to the dollar (although I suppose one might argue for an anomaly in the use of a ”quarter” as opposed to “0.25”?) but everything else is imperial.  Milk is sold in pints and gallons – except that an American pint is different (smaller!) from a UK pint! An American gallon of petrol (gas), therefore, is also different from a UK gallon of petrol and so miles per gallon are also different.  Distance is in miles, not kilometres so as long as you are not trying to compare miles per gallon in the US with miles per gallon in the UK, you are on safe ground.


Some like it hot

Temperature? We often cause confusion when we discuss with American friends how hot or cold it is as we measure in Celsius and they measure in Fahrenheit. Knowing that 0 C is freezing and 100 C is boiling to me is easy; having 32 F as the freezing point and 212 F as boiling point seems unnecessarily complicated. I know there is a conversion formula, but my quick conversion tip is that 16 C is the same as 61 F and I work backwards from there. Perhaps it is worth noting though that in both Fahrenheit and Celsius, freezing point and boiling point change if you are at altitude ( – and bread rises at a different rate!)


Camper van bread, baked at 9250 feet. Sussed!

Sticks and stones

Which leads me on to cooking where the differences in recipe instructions continue to bemuse. In North America butter is measured not in ounces or grams, but in “sticks”; flour and sugar are measured in cups, but there is no easy conversion to measure these ingredients in weight because a cup of sugar does not weigh the same as a cup of flour! The easy solution is to just give in and buy a set of measuring cups. I have just one question: why?

The standard units of measurement for ice cream: small, medium or large….

An enormous ice cream illustrating that there are no standard units of measurement for ice cream

I asked for a medium!

And I’m not even going near dress sizes and shoe sizes!

How long is a piece of string? 

One might have thought that standard units of measurement would in fact be, well standard, but at the end of the day, it is this diversity which makes the world interesting to travel – even when it stretches the maths!

If you like this post, please pin it for later!

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Other posts like this you may like:

Travelling: is it losing its mystique? 

Eating traditional Japanese food

Travelling: is it losing its mystique?  As the world becomes more accessible, are different areas losing what makes them special and unique? Food for thought!

Reflections of a Baby Boomer Travel Blogger

British passport from my first trip abroad

Confessions of a Baby Boomer Travel Blogger!  How has the world changed since I first ventured abroad? Was there a world before mobile phones and the internet?



  1. Agghhh….. I hate it when I have this conversation when I travel the world (most of the time this conversation comes up in the USA or Canada as I am from Britain). Not being funny, I prefer kilometers, meters, etc…it just makes life so much easier. What the heck is an ounce or a stone. I really dont know., I think I should have paid more attention in school. 😀 Love reading this and yep…shoe sizes..dont get me started on that!

    • it would be great if we all had the same. Don’t care which one- miles or kms, C or F but it would be better if there was a universal standard.
      Interesting observations in this post.

    • One of the brilliant things about travelling is understanding how other people describe things – you’re forever learning something new!

      • Absolutely! Travelling opens the mind and we learn so much.

  2. It us a conundrum! But, as you said, it makes the world far mire interesting. With the smartphones, however, conversions are a cinch!

  3. And just try teaching it all in the maths classroom! No wonder young people find it confusing. When we changed from sterling we ‘ technically’ went metric – so all the textbooks are metric – eg how many km from Glasgow to Edinburgh – but the road signs are all in miles….????????

    • I know. Mad! Had not even thought about text books…

  4. We’ve been metric for a long time in Canada, but many of us still use imperial for height and weight (although we buy food in grams). Don’t get me going on the “stick of butter”! They are convenient, but not all sticks are created equal.

  5. I personally love measuring cups because I find them to be more convenient than measuring the weight of it. Although as I’m getting more and more into cooking and baking I’ve realized that weighing is more accurate. It’s funny how some things have completely converted to metric in the UK while some have stayed similar to the U.S.

  6. I stopped paying attention to measurements after graduating in college, but it seems like you’d use it more when you travel. 😀 But seriously though, these conversions and difference of uses is very interesting and needs to be laid out well for people not to get confused ESPECIALLY when buying stuff (dresses and shoes) outside your home country. 😀

  7. What a funny read! Love the sticks & stones explanation, but it’s true. It’s get tricky to travel when countries use metric/imperial measurements interchangeably when it doesn’t make sense. Thanks for sharing this, quite enjoyable!

    • Thank you. A bit tongue in cheek, but I enjoyed writing it!

  8. Interesting read on metric from different geographies. We are mostly used to what we learn in our classrooms but when we travel to different places it becomes very confusing to change km to miles ir deg centigrade to deg Farenheit. At that time We all really check our mathematical conversion skills.

  9. I find all the conversions difficult, too. Especially when it comes to cooking and the recipe is with cups. I have to google for each ingredient to discover the amount in g. Sometimes I just give up on certain recipes from the start, just because they aren’t in g. Like UTC, I’d love to have some standard measurements for anywhere on the globe. Then again, when it comes to clothes and shoes, even using the same measurement systems, the sizes actually are different from brand to brand… so I think there will never be smth standard there.

  10. Haha I guess everyone can relate to this post in someway. I’m from India so I didn’t face much problem when travelling to UK. However I can relate when looking at the temperature or trying to use a recipe from USA. It can get confusing as hell. Your post is relatable and funny. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  11. Ahh, but the gallon of which you speak is an Imperial gallon and the U.S. gallon is not. And therein lies one of the many differences. To understand, one must be bilingual (and I do speak fluent American, Canadian and Brit 😉 ) In the U.S. a gallon is 128 fluid ounces or 3.785 liters (note the spelling) whereas in the U.K. the gallon is 160 fluid ounces or 4.546 litres (gotta keep the lingo straight here). The problem, as I understand it from history, is that in the 1800s the powers that be in the UK opted to abandon the Queen Anne gallon used to measure wine and a different measure for beer and such and lump them all into one, the Imperial gallon. Meanwhile, the upstart U.S. colonists stuck with the Queen Anne version and well, here we are. 😉 Billiantly written tongue firmly planted in cheek bit! Loved reading it.

    • Thank you! This is an equally well written response, which made me smile!

      • Impressed with your perfect campervan bread Jane! I didn’t even attemt to bake in the RV’s has oven. I like the way you use 16 C = 61 F as a starting point. I’ll remember that.

  12. I found this very funny and a great read! Being from the US it can be frustrating that we measure things so differently from everyone else. I need to do a better job at learning the metric measurements, but I have a hard enough time with Imperial! Haha. Also love the reference to making bread as it can be so temperamental to make. Bread recipes can drive you nuts sometimes between the different ways to measure.

    • Living in the UK, the US and Canada at different times has addled my brain with all these different measurements!

  13. And here’s the German who is still confused by EVERYTHING that is not Celsius, meter or gram^^

  14. Very fun post Jane! I get so confused when in America, I turn to Google to make sure I understand the right measurements. I’ll always take a large ice cream however 🙂

    • Yes, Professor Google is my go-to too!

  15. Sums up all of my general confusion nicely. Plus, I had no idea that a pint was smaller in the US than in the UK.

    • Neither did I until we moved to Canada and my baking suffered!

  16. Now I know why my American friends could never keep up with me when drinking. Their pints are smaller than ours. A very fun post Jane and so true.

    • One of the few things where the American version is smaller!

  17. Great post! We use metric in Canada, however, Imperial measurements are commonly used for certain things. Good thing it’s easy to look things up online now, but it would be great to have the same measurements everywhere!

    • I found exactly the same when in Canada. Just as well we are bilingual when it comes to metric and imperial.

  18. This a great post! When I was in 7th grade, in the 1970’s, the U.S. was going to convert to the metric system. I had to take a class in the metric system! I’m not exactly sure why that failed to go through, but obviously we never went metric! But we do some things that are. We run 5k’s! Alcohol comes in 750 milliliter bottles, some car manufacturers make make metric cars & most car repair shops have metric tools.
    It is a conundrum. From what I hear, it’s too expensive at this point for the U.S. to change over. So, we will live with conversion charts forever! 😂
    Thanks for a fun read, Jane!

    • I had no idea that the US ever dallied with the idea of turning completely metric. Would not be so difficult, I would have thought, as the currency is already there. I clearly remember D-Day (Decimal Day) in the UK. What a kerfufffle!

  19. Fun post, Jane! I can to c to F conversion but your neat 16C/61F tip is super useful!

    And don’t get me started about baking hahahah add into that kabul altitude, I’m surprised I make anything edible hahaha

    • Cooking at altitude is a bit hit and miss. Even boiling pasta takes so much longer!

  20. That ice cream is a little small, weren’t you hungry afterwards, Jane? 😉

    I saw you mention that you really enjoyed writing this post, and I can see why. It’s one of those universal challenges travelers deal with all the time! Lots of fun observations here.

    • That ice cream was a one between two – and then we did not finish it!

  21. Fun article. It makes for interesting conversions when traveling.

  22. What a fun and interesting post! I had no idea that an American pint is smaller than in UK. I wonder why? It would be way easier if we were all on the same system. Even though I grew up in US, I used to be in science/medical field and got to know the metric system pretty good. You pose good points and thoughts!

    • Well, it keeps us on our toes!

  23. Jane this post made me laugh as it is so relatable for me. However, my confusion was moving to Australia which measures much the same as America. I think after 20 years I’ve grasped it but baking still baffles me with American recipes (that’s when you will hear “hey google” haha

    • With sticks, cups, grams and ounces, baking is the worst!

  24. I’ll admit that when I travel to places where metric measurements are used, they leave me scratching my head. Thank goodness for Google! Your photo of the medium ice cream made me LOL!

  25. I get lost in translation if it’s not metric. It’s a really fun post with lots of good points. I do appreciate the American ice cream sizes though 🙂

  26. So true and so confusing!


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Hello!  I’m Jane. I live in the Lake District in the north of England with my husband, Peter. We love to travel, but this is a great place to call home.

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