Home Explore the BBC
 Life | The Universe | Everything | Advanced Search

2. The Universe / The Earth / Europe / Belgium
2. The Universe / The Earth / Europe / United Kingdom / Wales
3. Everything / Maths, Science & Technology / Physics
3. Everything / Society and Cultures

The 'Wales' and the 'Belgium' as Units of Measurement

The United Kingdom used to be a superpower. Hard as it may be to believe, this small island used to control half the world through the British Empire, and later through a Commonwealth of Nations.

Living on this small island meant that the inhabitants had a distorted sense of scale, believing the world to be much smaller than it actually was. A scale of measurement was needed; a way of comparing the world to something recognisable. Choice by consensus decided that the Wales should be the standard to use.

The 'Wales'

Wales has, for decades, been used in the UK as a standard of measurement, not just of land mass but also of population, annual rain fall, tourist numbers and exports. Every large country's size was measured in 'Wales'es. Popular media, like radio and television have used the 'Wales', mainly in news reports.

The Americans have invaded Vietnam. This country in south east Asia is 14 times the size of Wales.
The Falklands have been invaded! These disputed islands, half the size of Wales, have been sought after by the Argentine government for decades.

Meteorologists have also used the Wales as a unit of measurement.

Today the islands of Hawaii have received more rain than falls on Wales in a year. Local streets became rivers. Residents were evacuated from their homes by boat.

Wales measures roughly 225km from north to south and between 60 and 160km from west to its east, where it has a border with England, making it the perfect size for comparing it to other nations. Its area is approximately 20,000km2.

The 'Wales' has also been used to measure much larger objects, like Near Earth Asteroids.

The 'Belgium'

After entering the European Union, British switched, on the whole, to using metric units of measurement.

 Pounds → Kilograms Ounces → Grams Yards → Metres Inches → Centimetres Wales → Belgium

The 'Belgium' is the European standard of measurement now. It has almost completely eliminated the usage of the 'Wales' in this respect. Belgium is about 1½ times the size of Wales, approximately 30,000 km2.

The 'Belgium' first started to be used in the early 1990s, as the British public realised there was a whole European market available to them, with the UK taking its place in the newly renamed EU.

Since introduction the 'Belgium' has expanded into other areas of comparison. Common factors of countries to be compared using it are:

• Gross Domestic Products (GDPs)
• Population sizes
• CO2 emissions
• Cars per capita
• Land use
• The public transport budget of Belgium with other countries

Other Countries

The American version of the 'Wales' is usually the 'Rhode Island', although, being a diverse people, they also use other land areas as a baseline for comparisons. These include:

• California
• Florida
• Long Island
• New York
• The Contiguous United States1
• Manhattan Island (usually only to describe asteroids)
• Texas

Some people say that there's a fine line between being diverse and being greedy.

To a lesser degree the 'Three Mile Island' is also used, but usually to compare radioactive fallout. The 1979 meltdown at the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear plant was the closest that the US has come to a nuclear disaster.

The Canadians use many different parts of the world in their comparisons, instead of regularly using just one area. Parts of Canada itself used for comparisons include:

• Prince Edward Island [PEI] - a province
• New Brunswick - a province
• Nova Scotia - a province
• Baffin Island - an island, part of Nunavut, a territory
• Manitoulin Island - the world's largest lake island, part of the province of Ontario
• The Queen Charlotte Islands - an archipelago, part of the province of British Columbia
• Newfoundland - the only island portion of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, a former independent British Colony

The Australians use the 'New South Wales' (NSW) and the 'Victoria'. However, the comparison is now how many times a country would fit into NSW or Victoria. For smaller descriptions, the 'Tasmania' is used. They also like to remind the British that Australia is 52 times the size of the UK. The response given is usually a reminder them that Australia is roughly 52 times drier.

Conclusion

Every country has its own version of the 'Wales' or the 'Belgium'. It is needed to help explain the size of foreign countries and is a useful technique, as most people listening can then get an idea of the size of the area being described.

It's not clear how the French or the Americans deal with using their entire country for comparisons. It's unlikely that the majority of the population have travelled across the entire country; perhaps they were just better at geography?

1 The lower 48 states; all of the states except Alaska and Hawaii.

 The "Kosovo" (Last Posting: Feb 18, 2008) Nearly as useful as the DDB (Last Posting: May 26, 2005) Decline and Fall (Last Posting: Aug 7, 2003) "Iraq is the same size as Canada" (Last Posting: Jul 21, 2003) Converter (Last Posting: Jul 21, 2003) EF: Change Made to Entry (Last Posting: Jan 20, 2007) The Wales..... (Last Posting: Nov 25, 2003) I have been all across the USA (Last Posting: Jul 23, 2003) shouldn't the moderator take that out? (Last Posting: Jul 21, 2003) Slightly smaller than Oregon (Last Posting: Jul 21, 2003)

 Add your Opinion!There are tens of thousands of h2g2 Guide Entries, written by our Researchers. If you want to be able to add your own opinions to the Guide, simply become a member as an h2g2 Researcher. Tell me More!
Entry Data
Entry ID: A1066484 (Edited)

Written and Researched by:
Atlantic_Cable

Edited by:
Rho

Date: 21   July   2003

 Referenced Guide Entries Asteroids The British Empire Belgium Wales Gross Domestic Product

 Related BBC Pages BBC Science and Nature

Most of the content on this site is created by h2g2's Researchers, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here to alert our Moderation Team. For any other comments, please start a Conversation below.

Most of the content on h2g2 is created by h2g2's Researchers, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please start a Conversation above.