degrees of bilingual

I blame the seventies for any sense of inherent confusion I might possess. I was a teenager for much of that decade—a confusing enough time of life, but on top of that, and other mind-altering details floating freely about in those groovy days, it was when Canada went metric.

Here’s the question though: did we actually go metric… or did we more sort of ooze into it?  Either way, the point is this: by the time the eighties rolled around I was a functioning dysfunctional bilingual.

And in large part I remain so.

What I mean is that I’m not completely comfortable in all areas of metric, nor am I comfortable in all areas of whatever the other way is called. The miles and inches way.

For instance. I am five feet, seven inches tall. If you asked my weight I would tell you in pounds. [maybe…]

Area is measured in square feet. But fabric, in metres. The height of a tree or a building is metres also. Yet I have a ruler and a yard stick.

I know what the air feels like in Fahrenheit from about 60 degrees up. Below 60, I wouldn’t be sure what to wear. I’d need to know what it is in Centigrade.

I register all AIR temperature in Centigrade. But water temps only make sense to me in Fahrenheit.

With respect to distance, I can wrap my mind around a mile if pressed [it’s less than a kilometre, right? or more??], but, truthfully, I prefer the metric version. Even so, I say things like: we walked for miles; it may as well be a million miles away; you can see for miles…

Speed, also, must be in metric. I don’t know how fast 75 mph is except that a cab in St. Louis did it once and it wasn’t good.

A kilo has no weight at all. And ovens are in Fahrenheit for good reason.

I can process one litre easier than 1000 thingies but please don’t ask me to pour you anything in millilitres and if you refer to a gram I will ask Which one? Your mum’s side or your dad’s?


If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to measure it, is it still bigger than a breadbox?

If you remember the metric conversion era, you will remember breadboxes.

But I digress.

I blame the seventies.



8 thoughts on “degrees of bilingual

  1. I’m similarly dysfunctionally bilingual. Height and weight and oven temps old-style. Temps outdoors and indoors in C. I use inches for knitting, weaving, sewing, though I can sort of use centimeters and meters too. Within reason. Two meters I can imagine. (Because a meter is 39″ which is just over a yard, so two meters…) Don’t bother with 12 or 22 meters. Though I’d be just as confused by 12 yards or 50 feet. I’ve stopped doing miles for calculating distance because it’s easier with kilometers, assuming one drives 100 k in an hour.
    Perhaps, Matilda, it’s not just the metric ooze that helped destabilize us, but an inherent unwillingness to bow to the strictures of quantification?

    1. The crazy thing is I actually like the metric system better. It makes more sense, all those things dividing evenly into hundreds and thousands. Eight ounces, sixteen ounces?? The Imperial way is illogical, no? But there it is, comfortably [and comfortingly] stuck in my psyche along with the names of all the Archie comic book characters and the words to Stairway to Heaven.

  2. The only way I would have properly absorbed metric was if they threatened to send me to jail for making a mistake. I’m with you, Carin.

    1. I’m so very happy to know this, Mary. There must be rather a lot of us wandering about. I’m making a point this year of trying to understand water temps in Celsius. Set the bar high, I say… (;

  3. This is perfect, Carin! . . . Given my first profession, I’m comfortably bilingual in ruler-scale-tape-measure-speak. And I can extend that to include km and km/h, which make sense. But hand me a temperature in Celsius, and it just doesn’t FEEL right. This exasperates my daughters, who insist, “We live in CANADA, Mum. We’re METRIC.” They simply can’t comprehend, though they’re fluent in English and French (another CANADIAN trait), that, when it comes to “F” or “C”, our generations will always speak different languages. ; )

  4. yeah, me too. I know summer temperatures in F but winter temperatures in C. Clicks I assume to fall somewhere between kilometers and miles, neither of which are accurate anyway. I’d rather measure in 1/8 inches and teaspoons. measuring spoons in ml mean nothing. sigh.

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