Embracing the Metric System, by Sara

sauregurkenzeit-german-english-expat-blogGuest article by Sara at sauregurkenzeit.wordpress.com

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Embracing the Metric System

Numbers are universal, but units definitely are not. Well, they almost are (looking at you, United States).

The Metric System vs. The Imperial System

The metric system vs. the imperial system has already caused many roadblocks in my conversations with Germans. Sure, many Germans speak English, but they don’t speak American English. So, since I am here to learn not only the German language but also the German way, I have decided to embrace the metric system.

This might not seem like an important thing to do. Sure, if you really want to, you can google the conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius (Degrees Celsius = (Degrees Fahrenheit – 32)/1.8), but that isn’t the point. The point of becoming familiar with the metric system is to become familiar with Germany, and really the rest of the world too.

Little aspects of communication can make huge differences in an effective connection with another person. I notice this when I speak to my host family, and other new Germans I am meeting. A lot of conversations end in things like weather, speeds, and distances. What is the weather going to be like tomorrow? How far is Dallas from Purdue? What is the speed limit on this road? Often times, I am asked these, and other times, I am asking them. Either way, I don’t expect the whole world to change their extremely logical measurement system so that I can easily know what the weather is outside.

I can tell that my host family appreciates me trying to “speak metric” to them. Really, it seems like the least I can do, since I am staying in their home for 6 weeks without knowing a word of German. Plus, now I might actually know how long until the next train station, or how to dress when someone tells me the temperature. So, as I attempt to familiarize myself with the metric system, I have learned some tricks that have helped me remember how to simply compare values instead of converting them.

Fahrenheit to Celsius:

It helps to know that body temperature in Celsius is 37 degrees (96.7 F). A German taught me that it is easy to think about summer temperature in thirds. 12°C, roughly 1/3 of 37, usually means a cool day (jeans, closed-toed shoes, light jacket). If it’s rainy, you will probably keep your jacket on all day. If it is sunny, the jacket can come off, but you might need it in the shade. 12 degrees roughly translates to a cool spring day (54 degrees F). 24°C, roughly 2/3 of 37, is what most Germans would consider the perfect temperature. For perspective, this is roughly 75 F. Anything hotter, and Germans tend to be unhappy with the weather. This of course I find funny, since 75 degree weather in Texas ends in April, and it’s into the 90s from there! 75 degree weather usually means jeans, short sleeve shirt/light weight long sleeve, sandals if sunny, and probably still a light jacket, in case of rain, which is very common in Germany.

Miles to Kilometers

The easiest way to familiarize yourself with this conversion is to memorize a few equal points, and then use comparison from there to figure out a general sense of speed. So, here are the conversions I have memorized:

  • 20 mph (typical neighborhood road speed) = 32 kph (usually speed limit is 30-35 kph)
  • 40 mph (typical street speed) = 64 kph (usually speed limit is 60-65 kph)
  • 70 mph (typical highway speed) = 112 kph (Usually speed limit ranges from 100-110, since not everyone drives as fast as they do in Texas)

With these conversions, it is easy to recognize what the speed of the road is. Of course, if you aren’t driving, maybe you don’t care as much about this, or you are more likely to simply look at your dashboard, but I think it’s important to generally know how fast the speed limits are.

If you want to talk about distance, the easiest tip I can give you is to just do the rough calculation in your head. 1 mile is 1.6 kilometers, and by using a rounded version (1.5) this conversion isn’t too hard to do in your head. Eventually, this calculation is less necessary as you become more familiar with how long a kilometer really is. For now, I’m focusing on distance and temperature.

Since I didn’t give you a section on volume, just note one thing: A liter is 2.11 pints. And, another unrelated fact, German beer is stronger than American beer. That should do it on volume. If you too choose to familiarize yourself with the metric system, know that the rest of the world is on your side. Except Liberia and Myanmar.


Simple Tools and Tips:


Click here to read more from sauregurkenzeit.com. Thank you for sharing your post with us, Sara!

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