Myanmar’s Next Big Decision. Customary or Metric?

Here’s a good question for pub quizzers. What do the US, Myanmar and Liberia all have in common? Yes, you guessed it. They’re the only countries in the world not to have adopted the metric system. Or International System of Units (SI) as it’s officially called.

We can understand America’s determination to go it alone and stick to yards, miles, pints and gallons. After all, they are the largest economy in the world (just) so can be forgiven for acting tough. And we should feel honoured that they continue to use the ‘customary system’ which was, ahem, developed by we Brits in the mid 1800s.

But Mynamar’s decision is a strange one. As the country emerges from a lengthy, self-imposed absence from the global scene, you’d think it would want to join the rest of us in serving drinks in litres and measuring excess luggage in kilogrammes.

(Perhaps, as a former British colony (Burma) it too, like the US, felt a connection with the former British empire was the right thing to do).

But it’s not without risk. Back in 1999, NASA lost a $125 million Mars orbiter because one engineering team used metric units while another used the ‘customary units’ for a key spacecraft operation. And research later showed that NASA alone has lost almost $1 billion dollars as a result of “failures” and “mistakes” not too different from the Mars orbiter one.

So Mynamar probably isn’t going to launch a space rocket any time soon, but it is going to welcome back thousands of tourists who are all, no doubt, going to be perplexed by the idea of how to order a large glass of wine; which is 250 mls to 99% of the world’s population but not to US, Burmese or Liberian bar tenders.

And why those three countries? A quick look at a world map shows they are thousands of miles (sorry, kilometres) from each other, located in separate continents in fact.

Our advice to the Mynamar tourist authorities is to go with the flow and embrace metric. Not only will you not lose any space probes but you’ll make your visiting tourists very happy. Cheers.



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