Levity in the culture wars

Today a diatribe on the dumb Americans–thinly veiled as a purely informative website on paper geometry–got me to laugh aloud. This provided me with a much needed light moment in the midst of otherwise feeling great doubts about what it is I am doing here in the UK.

The set-up is quite simple. I need to make a poster for display at a professional outing. I was vaguely aware that there were standard-ish sizes for such things based on the paper sizes used here in the UK with “A” designations (“A4” etc.) and I needed to see what physical dimensions these poster-sized pages (A0 and A1) corresponded with. I found this extremely helpful but also commentary-rich website.

I can honestly say, it had never actually occurred to me to extol the virtues of A4 paper and to criticize the dumb Americans for their stupid insistence on using “Letter” sized paper at 1/4 inch wider and 3/4 inch shorter than A4. I use both size conventions depending on what I’m doing, and have never actually found it to be as crippling a disadvantage as the author of the site seems to think. I actually switch my little inkjet printer back and forth, since I had a back-stock of Letter paper (alas, not just letter paper, but letter paper with NON-ISO-STANDARD 3-hole punch holes in it!) when I moved.

The whole page is priceless for its detailed and insistent subtle and not-so-subtle criticism of the dumb Americans. It’s as though many years of anger over many things is being channeled into this subtle but biting summary of an otherwise reasonably dry topic. It’s the conclusion that I particularly love:

“If you want to purchase cheap A4 paper and accessories in the U.S. but still have difficulties finding any locally, please do take the time to inform the purchasing department of your usual office supply company about your needs. Point them to this web page if they are not familiar with the paper size system used by >90% of the people on this planet.”

Right, I invite you, oh website author, to go into your average office supply store in Arkansas with your poncey Euro accent and tell the office supply clerk “your needs” for slightly taller and thinner paper. And please videotape the exchange for me, I could use another good belly laugh.

In the meantime, I encourage you (gentle reader) to click on the link near the bottom of the page, with the (scanned?) pdf response from the U.S. Government printing office when this guy apparently sent them an inquiry on the subject of introducing metric printing sizes into printing government documents. Dude! You have too much time on your hands! Why is this paper size thing such a crusade for you???

I think this is a good time for the “when in Rome” philosophy. I use A4 here in the UK because it’s what’s done, and in the US I use “letter” paper. My files are mixed between the two and somehow I am managing to cope. Neither my laptop or my printer actually care too much and most of the automatic rescaling goes on without my ever noticing it. My file folders seem to manage to hold documents of both sizes just fine. Note too that I have never actually seen A4 paper being used in the US, although the author of the website wants to insist that it is done with increasing frequency, especially within Universities (where I have spent most of my time for more than the last decade). But next time I start to feel as though I could stand a good laugh, I will go back to this website and re-read this extremely long and detailed diatribe. Someone actually spent hours preparing this for the internet. Absolutely priceless.


5 responses to “Levity in the culture wars

  1. Remember, even with the sqrt(2) aspect ratio, you can’t fold it more than 7 times!


  2. I love this… just what I needed… a big ‘ol US chuckle. And I thought I had no life!

  3. > Neither my laptop or my printer actually care too much and most of the automatic
    > rescaling goes on without my ever noticing it.

    My experience of printing letter documents on an A4 printer is that the printer sits there doing nothing in the vain hope that someone will load a sheet of letter paper. Loading a sheet of A4 into the printer usually tricks it into continuing printing. Of course the relief that that the printer isn’t broken again is tempered by the half hour wait while it slowly prints a 10 copies of a lengthy review paper because a colleague thought if he tried it again it might work this time… This wouldn’t be so bad, but invariably the printer is down 2 floors and along a long corridor – and you are running late for the meeting you need the printout for.

  4. What file format? I suspect that part of the reason it never troubles me to go back and forth is that I never, ever print something directly from MS office, I function always in pdf. The automatic re-scaling then is trivial.

  5. > What file format?

    I’ve certainly had problems with postscript – the “automatically rescale” option to acrobat reader is relatively new.

    The main problem though is when someone else does it. Fixing the problem takes 10 seconds – it is waiting for the rest of the backlog of printing that is annoying.

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