A Very Metric Christmas

I’ve already decided what I want for Christmas next year. I realize MY wish comes at the expense of everybody else, but isn’t that the way Christmas works? Dear Santa, please exert yourself and all your elves, and expend significant resources so I can have what I want? So I’m going for it:

I want the U.S. to go on the metric system.

Ow! I’m bracing myself for the kickback. But again, this is all about what I want. And I want it because I now live in The Rest of the World, where the metric system is standard, where I struggle to keep up, and where I’m routinely embarrassed by not knowing how big/hot/heavy something really is.

My beloved, Mr. Calculator-in-His-Head, walks around with the conversion formulas as solidly in place as the names of his children and with the mathematical capacity to do those conversions inside said head. Well, good for you. Not the case in here.

The worst part is the way it kills my opportunity to enjoy something funny.

Saudi cherries

If I had to convert just the currency, I’d be so much quicker to enjoy the joke of how expensive these cherries are. So let’s see…119.95 Saudi rials for a kilogram. A rial is worth $.28, so I customarily divide by four and add a little. 120/4 = 30. That means the cherries are selling for about $34/kg. (You get used to guessing–turns out it’s actually $33.60, so I’m pretty pleased with myself.) Easy!

But we’re NOT THERE YET. Now I have to go through the weight conversion to give myself a point of reference against what I’m used to paying at home–something none of my European friends have to do. SO, 1kg = 2.3lb, and 1lb = .45kg. What we’re looking at is two different ways of describing a really awkward relationship. Bigger than double, less than double plus a half. And because I have so many Big Ideas in my head that I don’t have room for formulas and math, I just function on the idea that a kilogram is a little more than 2 pounds, and that a pound is a little less than half a kilogram. In my world of approximates, $34/kg means $17 for a half kg, but you’re paying LESS than $17lb because a half kg is MORE than a pound, right? Or did I just do that backwards? No, so these cherries are selling for about…$16lb? (Less pleased with my guess–turns out it’s actually $15.30ish.)

THAT’S SUPER FUNNY! Or it would’ve been if the punch line hadn’t taken ten minutes and a calculator to set up. And they don’t even look as if they’ll be that sweet. A little bright, don’t you think?

Which is not how I feel most days. A recent cold snap in my dear old home of Colorado pushed nighttime lows into the -30F neighborhood. People around here tend to talk about the weather when it gets into the 50s, so you can win any “Yeah, but” conversation when you whip out numbers like that to local folks, whether they’re actually Saudi or from India, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, South Africa, and really most of Europe. But only if you can put it in centigrade! I’ve been left stupidly silent in a lot of these conversations, itching to impress, but unable to accurately translate the temperature in Colorado to something anybody else can understand.

The latest from my favorite food writer, not yet available in the U.S. because it’ll take a while to translate it for us backward Americans

And they shouldn’t have to work at it. Our system is stupid, and theirs is logical. Let’s review: A pound is 16 ounces, so when the kitchen scale says you’ve measured out .8 pounds of chocolate, that’s not 8 ounces. It’s a little shy of 13. A cup of liquid is 8 ounces. A pint’s a pound the world around, so 2 cups is a pint, and a quart is 2 pints, but a quart is only a quarter of a gallon, so you need 4 of those to get to 1 gallon. We good? A tablespoon equals 3 teaspoons (3?), but 8 tablespoons equal a cup. A stick of butter is a half a cup, so you have 2 cups of butter in a box that has 4 sticks. DOES ANY OF THIS MAKE SENSE? And I haven’t even touched on miles (5,280 feet), yards (3 feet), feet (12 inches), and inches (divided into eighths).

Of course the transition would be hard at first. I know exactly how hard because that’s pretty much where I am right now. I have a metric converter on my phone, a website link on my iPad, a sticky note by the oven with temperature conversions, another by the baking goods with units of measurement, and a kitchen scale set to grams. But I expect that my head will come around eventually. I already know that 0c is 32F, so I know what 0 feels like. I know that at 10 I’m wearing a sweater while my beautiful Thai neighbor is in some fabulous boots and slammin’ skinny jeans and a coat and is showing me on her phone how incredibly cold it is. I’ve gotten used to the idea that 20 is comfortable for the house, 30 is starting to warm up, 40 is desert-hot, and 50 is what you’re afraid of in a Saudi summer. We can do this, people.

Because, you see, we’re not just embarrassing me, but embarrassing all of ourselves. Right now, in this land of imported food, I am constantly confronted by boxes and cans and jars that have American weights and measurements. You have to know that every time a non-American picks one of those things up there’s a head shake, an eye roll, and a silent “those idiots.”

But back to me. You see, when we make the grand transition, so nobly attempted and abandoned when I was in elementary school (“We can fight the Nazis and fly to the moon, but not count by tens!”) I and my children’s children will no longer be global hicks and rubes, but will finally be fluent in the language that probably started all the rest of the language: A couple of cave guys, trying to estimate how much more meat was on a mastodon than a bison, and whether the cost of pursuing one was more per unit than the other.

In the name of global commerce and international cooperation, everyone else has made the grand gesture of learning our language. (Thank you, Silicon Valley.) And that’s hard. So in return, can’t we make just a little effort to use their measuring cups? For Christmas. For the children. For me.

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