It’s long puzzled me why sliced brown bread here in France comes in ‘normal’ packets of 14 slices (550g) and family size ones of 21 slices (825g). Those seem to be strange numbers of slices, especially the 21 size. You can’t make an even number of sandwiches with that. Sandwiches come in pairs, everyone knows that! This equates to a single slice weighing 39.285714285714285714 (recurring) grams! Is this some kind of magic number? Baguettes and pains come in 400g and 800g so there’s no real correlation there, and they can be cut into 1 or 20 chunks.

Average French household size is 2.3 (INSEE, 2008). Our 14 slice loaf yields 6.09 slices per person and the 21 slice loaf yields 9.13. INSEE also tells us that the average consumption of bread per French person per year is 51.7 kg, which is near enough 1 kg per week. That works out nicely as 2.5 baguettes or 1.25 pains. It’s not so handy with brown bread. Remembering that a slice weighs 39.285714285714 g, we French residents therefore need to consume 25.45 slices of bread per week to get our kg. Neither 14 nor 21 slice packets are particularly helpful there either!

On to another peculiar size. Condensed milk comes in the quantity 397g. You have to wonder why the manufacturers can’t add another 3 g to make a nice round 400g, or scoop a dollop out so we have 375g. And it gets weirder. To dilute the milk down, the instructions tell you that you have to add 800g of water. I don’t generally go around weighing water. Do you? But we’re left with no alternative. By adding that weight of water we end up, apparently, with 99.3 cl of milk. Where have the grams gone? I think someone is taking the Micky! (In case you’re wondering, since our 1197g of liquid equals 99.3 cl, this means that 1g = 0.083cl. So, 800 times that equals 66.4 cl. Don’t get the scales out next time you dilute your condensed milk. Just whack in 66 cl (660 ml) and that’s near enough!)

It goes on. Ketchup comes in 560g bottles, mayonnaise in 470g jars, jam in 370g jars, tomatoes in 780g tins, and some cheese in 320g. I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason behind these strange quantities. They’ve possibly evolved from some obscure historical measurement or maybe simple stubbornness is to blame. I like a tin/jar/bottle that size and that’s that! And it’s not just food that’s strange. Coffee filters come in 40s or 80s usually. Why? Why not 50s or 75s or 100s? Washing powder tablets are delivered in multiples of 16. Pourquoi? These latter are also strange because you’re told that the 32 tablets in a small box are enough for 16 washes. I get it – 2 per wash. So why not make them twice the size if that’s the recommended dose? Or provide them simply as singles without dictating exactly how many to use at a time?

If only I ruled the world …