I made an interesting observation at the local Subway outlet near my work the other day. Like other American fast food joints, Subway has the annoying quirk of retaining American terminology even when operating in a country – like Australia – where some of the terms either mean nothing or mean something completely different in the local dialect of English.
For instance, Subway insists on referring to its brown bread as “wheat bread” – a term that nobody in Australia has any familiarity with whatsoever, except within the confines of a Subway outlet. Similarly they refer to wholegrain bread as “multigrain bread”. Perhaps most annoyingly, they have a thing called “marinara sauce”, which is just a tomato based sauce, with no seafood in it whatsoever. In Australia, “marinara sauce” means a seafood sauce, usually served with pasta. I really don’t understand why they insist on importing confusing American English terms wholesale, rather than adapt and change the terminology to match the English that people actually use here.
The other thing they do is refer to the size of the subs as “six-inch” and “foot-long”, despite the fact that Australia has been wholly metric since the 1970s, and almost everyone under the age of 40 has no real idea what an inch or a foot is any more. They could (and I argue should) much more meaningfully call them “small” and “large”.
This was brought home to me by the incident mentioned at the top of this post. We have a variety of food places near my work and my friends and I tend to choose somewhere different each day for variety. On this particular day we chose Subway. I wasn’t really paying attention when the woman behind the counter asked for my order, and I said I wanted a “twelve-inch” sub, since in my mind this was equivalent to something a foot long. The woman looked at me puzzled for a second, and said, “Sorry, do you mean a six-inch?”
I corrected her to “foot-long”, and then I realised that by asking this she was showing that she may well have had no idea whatsoever that there are twelve inches in a foot. If she’d known twelve inches make a foot, she’d have probably either just assumed I wanted a foot-long, or asked, “You mean a foot-long, right?”
So I suspect that for some of the young people working in Subway in Australia, the sandwich sizes of “six-inch” and “foot-long” are actually just labels. They don’t have any meaning in terms of length, because they’ve never used either a foot or an inch as a unit of measurement in their entire lives.