The Duchess Rants – Measure THAT!

Look, i get it. There is a “we’ve always done it this way” thing going in America which often gets in the way of things. But really – because it’s going to be Just. Too. Difficult. For. People. To. Understand. – I don’t know – somehow the rest of the world seems perfectly capable of dealing with Celsius while the good old USA remains stuck with Fahrenheit, almost belligerently so.

I was born in Europe and I grew up metric (we’ll get back to THAT can of worms in a moment…) and if you tell me the temperature in Celsius I know EXACTLY what that means. I know 0 is freezing. I know 100 is when water boils. I know that 36-37 is a normal human body temperature. I know to pick up gloves when it’s 4 degrees outside, or to leave home the outer layers when it’s 27.

But ever since I’ve moved to America, and it’s been twenty years, I have never known any of this. All I have are ranges – anything under 32 is too cold, 33 – 45 is cool, 46 -60 is warming up, 61 – 78/79 is comfortable, 80+ is Too Hot. That means I dither when I get dressed. Is the temperature going to switch ranges while I am out? is lit likely to drop enough degrees that I will be thrown into Sweatshirt Range and be sorry I don’t have one, or rise enough degrees that I will be shoved steaming into the TOo Hot category and be left with lugging three layers of clothing I no longer need? I simply don’t have the instinct that THIS is the temperature and THESE are the clothes that go with it. The digital thermometer in the car is set to Celsius, dammit, no matter what my American husband says, I’m the one who’s driving and I’m the one who needs to know. In the house, for his sake, we have Fahrenheit. And I never know how hot or how cold it really is.

I have weird conversations with people. When they tell me they have a 100-degree fever I picture them boiling merrily like a human kettle. When they tell me it’s 34 degrees outside I picture sweltering; they’re freezing. And then I read reports about the heat wave in Europe and someone says that the temperatures “reached fifty degrees” and all of a sudden I”m back in my ranges, and that “fifty” sounds woefully wrong in the context of a heat wave. WHimper. I am confused.

Also since I came to America, I have no idea how much ‘gas’ (I used to call it petrol but I got over that) I am putting in the car because I have absolutely zero idea what a ‘gallon’ is. I grew up with (I told you we would come back to that) litres. I know what a litre is, and that a millilitre is an exact and precise decimal portion of that, and I have this in my head, and it’s simple and easy and you literally have nothing to remember except to divide or multiply by ten. Instead, we have GALLONS, and QUARTS, and SO MANY quarts go into a gallon, but then there’s other measurements that have nothing much to do with either and it’s arbitrary how many of each go into any – why why why do people complicate their lives like this? (I suppose I shuold be eternally grateful that I don’t live in the England of guineas, sovereigns, thruppences, shillings, florins, ducats, and whatever other weird and wonderful names they came up with to call their seemingly entirely arbitrary money system…) I could handle nickels and dimes. Just. Why anyone would feel the need to name every individual coin of the realm something different and then interrelate them in a manner that is so magically arcane that you might be living in a fantasy novel… I cannot fathom.

I miss metric. I miss the simplicity and the obviousness of it. America’s attachment to Imperial measurements, some of which have been abandoned as obsolete by even the original country of that original Empire, can sometimes create modern day emergencies in things like the space shuttle when American and European engineers are talking about the same thing in diferent units and stuff goes FUBAR very fast after that. Metric is easy, my fellow Americans, it’s REALLY easy, you’re going to have a hiccup of an adjustment as you take that first step but then you’ll be on the same damned staircase as the rest of the world instead of insisting on using your own, JUST out of whack with everyone else. I WISH they would at least think about it…

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The Duchess Rants – Measure THAT! — 4 Comments

  1. It’s the halfway measures that bother me the most. I have a recipe for tofu that calls for 170 grams of soybeans (and no, I have no idea how much that is, but google tells me it’s about 7/8 of a cup) but measures the water you add in cups. I frankly prefer everything in cups because otherwise I’d have to add a scale to my overcrowded kitchen, but the mix of the two systems is what makes it most annoying.

    As for gallons vs. liters, I’ve learned both of them by now, since milk still comes in gallons but lots of other bottled liquids come in liters. I’d be willing to adjust if there was consistency, which, of course, there isn’t.

    I’m the reverse of you when it comes to temperature. Not enough gradations in Celsius for me and I know exactly what 85 means and how it varies depending on the humidity.

  2. Mostly, I don’t care. Sure, I would like it if we didn’t have two sets of measurements, one for the U.S. and one for the world. But whether my liquid comes in a quart or a fifth or a liter doesn’t matter to me. My speedometer on my car has both sets of measurements, I use the one that matches the speed limit signs.

    It’s having to work with different paper size standards, different screw types, and other places wher we need two sets of tools that we have problems.

    With cooking, there is a different issue. Grams vs cups appears to be about metric vs English, but it isn’t. It’s about mass vs volume.

  3. Howard and Nancy Jane – common thread in both your comments, AND in the original rant – “it’s the mix of two different systems that will get you”. That is precisely the point. But who is the entity introducing and maintaining the second system in the face of the rest of the world? The one that matters, anyway? Its AMERICA. It’s the good old US of A which clings to its measurement systems. If we then have a spacecraft accident, as happened at least once, because someone is measuring things in metric and someone else in Imperial – and people potentially die of it – this becomes a literal life or death issue. We need that single system – and like it or not, metric MAKES EMPIRICAL SENSE. The only thing that Imperial has going for it is “We’re used to it”.

    As for recipes and cups vs everything else… I guess that works. If everyone has the same size measuring cup, that is. Unless some people think a cup’s worth is a teacup and others use a mega coffee mug. I am guessing the thing we’re making won’t quite come out the same… 🙂

  4. Apparently, measuring dry ingredients by mass(weight) is more accurate than measuring by volume.