Plug versus Plug

We take a 100 per cent objective look at the plugs of the world, scientifically judging their attributes to decide which will come second to the mighty British plug. Oh, did we give it away?

Ian Morris
7 min read

We might be British, but that doesn't mean we're generally swelling with national pride. After all, there's much about the UK that's simply broken and highly annoying (Hello, trains! Take a bow, Royal Mail!). We do have some things going for us though. Our health system means if we get ill, we get treated -- and our power plugs are excellent.

Yes, you read correctly. We said power plugs.

So, let's take a 100 per cent objective* look at the plugs and plug sockets of the world -- who will rise to be the global victor in this crucial battle between the power interconnects of the planet? We welcome you to a no-prongs barred fight that will eventually decide what sort of sockets they use on Mars.

*Objectivity in this sentence has a one-off, government-approved change in definition. Its meaning here, and only here, is the exact opposite of what it usually means.

Let's come right out and say it. The American plug is a weedy little implement. That's hardly surprising though, because their mains voltage is also half-arsed. Seriously, 110V, is that the best you guys can do? We aren't sure why the Americans think a 5-litre V8 engine is necessary in a commuter car, but 110V is enough to power your juicer. Surely they should have gone for 500V? Or even a trillion?

The Americans never really wanted AC power at all. When he wasn't busy killing elephants, Thomas Edison was leading a smear campaign against AC, telling people it would kill their children. Something about dead children got into the consciousness of an otherwise great nation, and they ended up with weedy mains power and pathetic little plug sockets.

And that has left the US with a plug and socket system that makes Chuck Norris weep. Plugs that hang out of the wall. Pins that are so easily bent you could write off a cable just by looking at it in the wrong way. How anyone ever gets their Apple laptop to fully charge without the adaptor falling out of the wall is beyond us. We're not sure why the company bothered inventing Magsafe -- surely if anyone in the US trips over a power cable, it flies out of the wall so fast no laptop could ever be pulled to the ground.

Sadly, the absolute best thing you can say about US mains sockets is that they look like happy little faces.

Score: 1 out of 10

Like the Americans, the Japanese use a meagre 110V for their mains, and as such, use those dainty little death-trap plugs and sockets too. But then, this is a nation that invented the TV gameshow Hole in the Wall, where people must contort their body into a shape that allows them to pass through a hole in a moving wall.

Sadly, Japan's entertainment is far more risky than its power plugs, and for that, we have to declare them to be losers in this great battle. While it's highly laudable if someone copies the British power plug, copying the American system in the same way is just laughable. That's because we live in a world of double standards -- deal with it.

Score: 1 out of 10

Your bananas will be this shape, your cucumbers must be this long, your pints need to be litres and if you sell a pound of plums we'll come and rip your plums off. That's right, Europe is the place to go if you want to pass a law of some kind that annoys at least one of the constituent members. Generally it's either working-class British people getting in a flap about pints, or the French getting cross about some cheese legislation. When it comes to a new kind of plug though, we support such outrage because look at the bloody mess that is the Europlug.

Europlug is everything that's wrong with Europe. It's bland, featureless and the sockets don't look like happy smiling faces at all. These cables can only carry currents of up to 2.5A, but there have been suggestions that the UK would have to move over to this two-pinned, circular-socketed affair. What's the point? After all, if you want to use a European plug in a British socket, all you have to do is jam a paperclip into the Earth pin hole, and ram the plug into the live and neutral. The weedy Europlug is the whipping boy of plugs, and it will easily kowtow and happily slide into the great British power outlet. Will the proud British plug slip so easily into a European whore-socket? Will it 'eck.

Score: 0 out of infinity

Like so much of Australian culture, Aussie plugs take their cues from both the Great British plug socket and that useless slacker, the American power outlet. You can see the confusion in Australia over the origin of its culture. On the one hand they drive cars that are largely American in their hoggish sensibilities. On the other, they drive on the left and have a legal system based on English common law. They also make use of our Queen.

But because the men and women of Australia are real men and women, they also have 240V mains supplies. They need this to power their sheep-shearing equipment, so it's hardly a surprise they didn't consider that laughable 110V system of our friends in the US.

It's hard for us to hate the Australian system too much. It's a three-pronged affair, they generally have switches on the wall socket for extra awesomeness and, most important of all, their sockets look like surprised faces. Surprised faces are almost as awesome as happy ones -- extra points to the upside-down folk here. But not many.

Score: 2 out of 10

To be honest, given the brilliant Italian attitude to pastimes such as smoking, drinking delicious coffee and driving, we fully expected the Italians to just have some stripped wires hanging out of the wall and for equipment to be connected with a spot of twisting and maybe a touch of sticky tape.

Amazingly, the Italians confounded us by having a pretty respectable system of plugs and sockets. The 'Type L' Italian plug and socket combination have the distinction of being able cope with currents as high as 10 or even 16A. Now that's enough current to put hair on your chest -- not that those delightful Italian men need much help with that.

The Italians also have sockets that can take the two different Italian 10 and 16A cables, as well as the European-style 'schuko' plugs. It seems that when it comes to electricity, the Italians are a well-ordered group. It's just a shame they can't manage a national airline in the same way. Or elections.

Score: 8 out of 10

It's hard not to love the Danish. First of all, it's a nation that understands the importance of bacon. And second of all, it has a power socket that looks like a really, really happy face.

That's all. The only reason we didn't give the Danish system a higher score was that it's just not quite as good as the overall winner in our Plug vs Plug deatchmatch. Who could that possibly be?

Score: 9 out of 10

The British plug solves some problems that don't exist in other plug-socket combinations. The British system is pretty much the only one in the world that is fused in the plug. This extra safety measure keeps you safe from too much current going through a mains lead and setting fire to it. But because there's a fuse on the live wire, you need to make sure the pins go in the right socket -- which is where the pyramid stack comes from. Brilliant: a problem solved that no one other plug needs to solve.

The fuse and sturdy construction prove the British plug is very clearly the safest in the world. But it's better than that, because the sockets also feature shutters that prevent children from inserting paperclips and getting a nasty shock. There's often shielding at the base of the live and neutral pins too, in case your finger slips between the plug and the wall and touches one of the pins. What's more, if you pull the cord out of a British plug, it's designed in such a way that the three inner leads disconnect in an order that prevents death.

The only time the good old British plug isn't safer is if you accidentally leave it on the floor, then stand on it while not wearing any shoes. This is a level of pain that can only really be beaten by standing on Lego, or someone giving your reproductive organs a sharp yank.

If Chuck Norris was a plug, he'd be the sturdy, kick-arse British plug. If aliens came to live on Earth, they'd almost certainly bring new types of gadget, and those types of gadget would only work when connected via a British plug.

There is only one possible criticism of the UK plug and socket system, and that's that it doesn't really look like a happy, smiling face -- the Americans can hold that over us.

Score: 10 out of 10