Measuring up to Europe

Despite being a member of the European Union since 1973, other countries are often puzzled by the UK's apparent reluctance to integrate with the rest of Europe. Many British people feared that the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 would mean an end to Britain's unique island status, but it seems as if Britain's reputation for 'splendid isolation' has never been stronger. Britons still talk about going to Europe' or 'to the continent' when they cross the Channel, and foreign visitors to a British today are still served beer in pints, and still have to pay for those pints in pounds sterling. The metric system has been taught in British schools since 1974 and today's teenagers use it without thinking, but most Britons over 40 still cling on to imperial measurements. Since 2000, all food retailers have been obliged by law to price and weigh their food in metric measurements, but they are also allowed to show the imperial equivalents. This double-labeling, which will have to end in 2010, has led to a number of compromises, Milk and butter are still produced in their standard, recognized 1-pint cartons or 8-ounce packages, but proudly display the odd metric equivalents, and market traders often advertise the imperial prices of their fruit and vegetables much more clearly than the metric prices. Feelings run high on this issue, with many people resenting the 'interference of Brussels in the traditional British way of life. In 2002, five 'metric Omartyrs, all market traders, were taken to court for not displaying metric prices on their goods. Their spokesman, Neil Herron, said that their defeat meant "the death of democracy", but the five received huge support from the public, who raised £250,000 to help pay their legal costs. Britain has also constantly delayed adopting the euro, which other major European countries such as Germany, France, and Italy accepted as their currency without fuss in 2002. The British government has promised to hold a referendum on the subject and let the British people decide if they want the new currency or not, but with an estimated 65% of voters currently opposed to joining the euro, it is very uncertain when this will take place.

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