Saturday, September 18, 2004

Of Cups and Hungry Husbands

On these chilly northeastern English mornings (yes, I know it's probably hard for some Texans out there to believe it's chilly anywhere in September...), nothing makes for a better breakfast than a bowl of porridge. Since I have the most lovely wife in the world, she regularly has a nice hot bowl ready for me when I am done with my morning bath. Mixed with a little brown sugar and some raisins, followed by some hot tea, I am then ready for whatever the day may hold.

However yesterday morning I came down to the kitchen, looked at my bowl of porridge and saw that there was substantially less than my normal portion. Has Crystal determined that a diet is in order? Is there more somewhere else and this is just some extra leftovers? (I hunted around the kitchen but could find no more). Crystal was unavailable for questions so I just resigned myself to a meager meal.

It wasn't until bedtime that I thought to bring it up and Crystal was baffled: "I made the same amount I always do...though I did put slightly less milk in it to thicken it up a little...." But I was quite sure there was substantially less than previous mornings. A mystery....

But then Crystal's eyes lit up and she said, "English cups!" And suddenly it all made sense. Since our belongings had recently arrived from the states, we now had our American measuring cups, which Crystal had used instead of the English ones that were furnished by our landlords. Now, what difference would this make, you ask? After all, we were prepared for the conversion of teaspoons into milliliters, and cups of flour into grams -- but a cup is a cup, no? Well, no.

It turns out that a cup in the good ol' USofA is 8 ounces (thus a pint is 16 ounces, leading to the harmonious saying, "A pint's a pound the world around"). But in England a cup is 10 ounces (leading to the less-harmonious saying, "A pint's a pound and a quarter unless you are an importer"). Now why, one may ask, if the US is just about the only country in the world that still uses British units instead of metric units, do we have different values for the same things? Well, apparently the story goes that when the colonies were established there were two different liquid volume measures in vogue in Britain: the wine gallon and the ale gallon. The colonists decided to standardize things by settling on the wine gallon as their measure. [I know at this point in the story you're probably guessing that the Brits decided to standardize on the ale gallon...but you'd be wrong]. On this side of the pond, they decided to throw all tradition to the wind, and defined a new British Imperial gallon to be the volume of 10 pounds of water. The difference results in 20 oz vs. 16 oz pints.

I think I'll spare you the saga of the teaspoon (4.929 milliliters as measured in the US, often simplified to be 5 milliliters, but sometimes also referring to 6.16 milliliters in the UK so that it will be 25% more than the US measure, in keeping with the pint problem discussed above....), but please make my porridge according to the (larger) English measure!


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