On Standards, Sizes & Sockets


What is a standard? And how can a standard be a standard for a culture and not for another? These are questions a foreigner starts to ask when realizing that all his/her previous reference points are not universal. I am not talking about behaviors, etiquette or macroscopic analogies and differences between human beings. I am referring to a personal epiphany happened the very first day I got to America.

I was in need to make a photocopy of some documents for my sons’ new school. As we did not have a photocopy machine, I went to a shop near home to have it done. When I handed the ITALIAN PAPER to the man, he took a long look at it, he sighed and said: “European format, eh?” That is when I realized that a standard A4 paper size in ITALY is not the plain standard letter size in AMERICA. This is a visual presentation of the two paper sizes, showing the American one as larger but smaller than the Italian version.

Italian and American standard paper sizes
Italian and American standard paper sizes

Since then, I have learned that I need to challenge all my beliefs and that in most cases standards are just one of the possibilities. And being able to discover and eventually adapt to different standards has become my personal daily  intellectual work out.

Another practical example. Sockets and plugs. I know, this is an easy pick. Apparently every country has developed its national standard for electronics and voltage. In Europe, we are trying to figure it out how to replace every country’s own standard with a common one. We are getting there, but at the moment we are a bit lost (see infographic here). So, during my relocation, I brought my hair removal appliance with me together with an adaptor. After about 15 days of my arrival, I decided it was time to use it. No way could it work. A voltage problem prevented me to use it. My husband, moved to pity by my too-natural new look, agreed that we had to do something to fix it. It was necessary a cord, an American plug and a transformer and finally I could wear shorts again. This is the mythological creature after my husband’s intervention.

Italian and American sockets
Italian and American sockets

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