02 April 2015

Navigating the Metric System While Under the Imperial Influence

There are plenty of habits that I've adopted while living in the Netherlands. And then there's the metric system.

In some respects, the metric system is great. It's universal. It's a base-10 system. You use decimals in your measurements instead of crazy fractions. You'd think that this would be easier, and the rest of the world clearly does. 

But the US has stoutly ignored the metric system. We operate on the English Imperial system for weight, volume, length, etc. Sure, we'll throw the 30-ish centimeters on the other side of the ruler to say we taught the kids metric measurement, but we're all only using the tick marks for the 12 inches to the foot on the "main side." Our big soda bottles may come in liters, but every other liquid is measured by ounces, quarts, and gallons. Our cars' odometers boldly display the speed in miles per hour, while the tiny markings for kilometers per hour were added on as an afterthought - in case you cross into Canada. And I don't see this changing any time soon.

I'm with Grandpa Simpson on this one.

So what does an American do abroad? Make endlessly broad assumptions about measurement. 

I know that 500 grams is *about* 1 pound, that 1 liter is *about* 1 quart, and that 1 kilometer is somewhere between a half mile and a mile. These types of "measurements" do not instill confidence in your metrically-minded peers. I've tried to switch, but it's just not sticking. 

And after this long, I've stopped caring. The Imperial system is so ingrained in my brain that I can't escape it. I can only envision things in feet and inches, and my work doesn't rely on accurate metric measurements, so, meh. Consider my reliance upon the Imperial system as a quirk of my personality; so just smile and nod while I'm talking in gallons and miles, and when it's really necessary we'll break out a smart phone and Google it. 


  1. I am now good with cooking ones but yeah distance is not going to happen and Celsius give me a break!

  2. Oh, Celcius... I gave up and put Fahrenheit back on my phone apps, haha!

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