How big is your paper?

European Airbus model A4.

European Airbus model A4.

One of the many items on my long and oh-so-exciting To Do List (which I’ve been steadily working through since returning to the US, thanks to the ease of getting things done here) is organizing my files. Fun times. While dutifully doing so, I was reminded of an American quirk I had totally forgotten about: so-called “US Letter” sized paper.

Every school child knows that the US uses the imperial system (e.g. feet, miles, pounds, and gallons), while the rest of the world uses the metric system (e.g. meters, kilometers, grams, and liters). But few people know that America’s stubbornness doesn’t stop there. In the same way that the US refuses to adopt the universally accepted decimal system of weights and measures, Uncle Sam has also given the finger to the international standard for paper size, as established by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

All throughout Europe and in most of the rest of the world, the normal size of paper is called “A4,” which measures 210 millimeters wide by 297 millimeters long. In 1975, this A4 standard letter format was established as an ISO standard, and that standard has since been adopted by all the countries in the world. All the countries in the world except the United States, that is (and, ahem, copycat Canada). The US uses the “US letter” format instead, which is 8.5″ wide by 11″ long (measured in inches, of course, you metric morons).

The end result of this Yankee obstinateness is that you have two similar, but maddeningly different, paper sizes. The American “letter” paper is slightly shorter, slightly wider, and slightly more squarish than the rest-of-world A4 sheet. The technical term for the narrow dead space between the two sheets is “aggravating.”

Of course, American file folders, American binders, and American stationery supplies in general are all sized differently to accommodate this. So, if you find yourself trying to file your US-sized papers into your UK-sized binders or plastic sleeves (what repatriated fool would do that?), expect lots of funny bits sticking out. Argh.

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3 Comments

Filed under Practicalities

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