Canada axed the old Imperial measurement system and adopted the more global metric system fifty years ago. Back then, I was living with Joan, a friend from my Willard Hall days in downtown Toronto. I clearly remember her confidently declaring that she would not be ‘converting’. She was determined to abandon any previous knowledge of Imperial and declare herself wholely and utterly now in the metric world. No looking back. I lacked her confidence and accepted that I would be condemned to manually doing all those complicated mathematical calculations required to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius and pounds to kilograms.
Perhaps the problem stems from the fact that I do not have a math-friendly brain, but fifty years later I’m no further ahead. I’m getting better at temperature. I know twenty degrees celsius means decent weather and compares somewhat to seventy degrees Fahrenheit but north or south of those numbers, I’m lost. Zero degrees Celsius is nowhere near as cold as zero degrees Fahrenheit. Zero Celsius barely requires gloves. Zero Fahrenheit requires mitts, a hat, long underwear, a hooded down-filled parka, insulated boots and plenty of Canadian stamina. A pocket full of tissues for drippy noses is advised too.
Similarly, I’ve never been able to sort out kilograms or centimetres. Sure, everyone says just multiply by 2.6 (or is it 2.4?) or something like that, but I’m never sure which end of the measurement I’m supposed to multiply. Should I multiply 5 kg of ground beef by 2.6 to get pounds, or divide by 2.6? Don’t tell me. I’ll never retain it anyway.
For the past fifty years, I’ve relied on eyeballing the size of my meat and produce purchases. When people ask me how big my Christmas turkey is, I just say “It’s big enough for ten people . . . I hope.” It looked pretty big in the store and I’m hoping it will be enough. When I’m making chilli or spaghetti sauce, I just pick up a chunk of ground meat that looks about the right size. I don’t know how much it weighs or how much it costs per kilogram because if I did, I would have to convert it to pounds, if I knew how to do that, which I do not. I need a big hunk of ground meat and that’s all I need to know.
There’s some comfort in the fact that we’re not as backward as in the U.K. where they still weigh human beings by the ‘stone’. One stone equals fourteen pounds . . . not kilograms. Ten stone is a pretty average size for a woman, so when I read once in a book about one of the famous Mitford sisters weighing eighteen stone, well, I was shocked and felt better about my own weight. Mind you, she was the one who worshiped Hitler and tried to kill herself when he declared war on Britain, so obviously, she was not normal in any way. Most days I feel like a huge sack of potatoes but at least I’m not Mitford-sized. That’s some consolation.
A couple of years ago I got too fed up trying to convert the Imperial measurements for the ingredients for my Christmas cake into metric so I bought a nifty little electronic food scale that does it all for me. Why I didn’t do that five decades ago is a mystery but at least shopping for currants, glazed fruit and other things is now much easier. I never could sort out how many pounds a 385 kg bag of raisins converted to. At least my recipe (which is nearly one hundred years old) called for one large jar of red cherries and one large jar of green cherries, units of measurement I could comprehend. Likewise, I splash in generous quantities of rum, another unit of measurement I totally understand without being dictated by metric or imperial units. Guzzling in a bit more makes it even better.
In spite of me, time marches on
My husband and a friend once completely baffled a waitress in Florida by telling her that Canadians were on metric time. They explained that we have 100 minutes in an hour and 100 seconds in a minute. Since most Americans have little to no knowledge of the world beyond their own borders, she believed them. That also explains a lot about the results of the 2016 election in the United States.
Then, another time when we were in Paris, my husband and I dropped into a local café for lunch, where we encountered a left-handed clock. As a leftie, it was right up my alley and served as a reminder of how often we south-paws have to adjust our brains to a right-handed world. Being Imperial and left-handed is not without its challenges.
Thank goodness my oven defaults to Fahrenheit. Otherwise, those breakfast muffins I make for my husband would resemble coal. Needless to say, the thermostat in our house is also still in Fahrenheit and because we couldn’t figure out how to program the new-fangled digital one, we had it removed and replaced with an old-fashioned one that we control manually. Now we’re always comfy. In Imperial.
I wonder if the fitness tracker app my husband has on his phone is metric or imperial. Could those steps we’re so diligently measuring and counting be kilograms when we think they’re miles? Or should that be centimetres? It’s all so confusing for this old boomer. If I check my left-handed clock I can confirm that our walk takes 35-40 minutes. But with 100 minutes in an hour, that means we’re only chalking up . . . wait . . . I’ll never figure this out.
Just be thankful I don’t work in a bank taking care of your money. I’m not sure whether our dollars are metric or imperial. I’m just thankful they’re not shillings and stones. And Canadian money is different colours for different denominations which helps enormously. We got one thing right, no matter how you measure it.