It took me a while to get used to the Metric System. It can be difficult to retrain your brain to a whole new number scale of “hot,” “cold,” and “tall”, especially if it’s pea-sized, American and went to public high school like mine.
Carnitas warned me. “Get used to it,” he said. “It’s standard.” I never doubted him but that didn’t stop me from balking each time I saw a metric measurement on a recipe or saw my weight flashing up at me on a display scale. 45 kilograms – what was that supposed to mean? Had I gained weight since loading up on white rice and Japanese bakery rolls or had I lost weight since gorging on fish? A trip to the online conversion calculators usually helped me out of the pickle but nonetheless, it was months before I came to truly understand that 35 degrees is skin-liquifyingly hot and weighing 45 kilograms means I can still fit into what the Japanese consider “large”-size pants and what Americans consider “Extra Small.” Other measurements tend to be gauged on those but in the beginning, there were a lot of trip ups.
Family members are a common topic of conversation in my lower level adult classes. We discuss what they do, what they look like and what kind of people they are. I’m prone to bragging about my brother, Diego, who I think is extra super great. He’s an Associate Producer at CBS News, ultra charming, chicks think he’s handsome, and he agrees with me that “UHF” is one of the greatest movies of all time. Of course I brag.
A student once asked how tall he was and my usual bragging stopped cold. Try as I might, I couldn’t remember my own height in centimeters so was forced to pull out my fancy math and try to calculate Diego’s on my own. Diego’s 5’5″, I thought. 5’5″ inches tall is 65 inches. A centimeter is roughly half of an inch. Multiply 65 by two! Thanks, brilliant math brain! Who said math was hard for girls???
“He’s 130 centimeters,” I said.
Eyebrows shot up. “Ehhhhhhhhhh??!?!?!?!”
I was immediately cranky; my brother is considered short by Western standards but I didn’t want to be hearing this “Ehhhhhhhhhhhh?!?!?!?!” nonsense from people whose society deems me, at 4’11”, to be on the “smaller” end of the “normal” scale. No way. No how.
“Yes, he’s 130 centimeters!” I said testily. “And everybody loves him!”
130 centimeters equates to about 4 feet 2 inches. My apologies, Diego.
It’s a slow but ultimately successful process. My 11 year-olds had to learn to say how tall they were in English at the beginning of the year and from time to time, I quiz them to see if they remember.
“I’m 147 centimeters.” said Naoko proudly last week.
“Come on, Naoko,” I said, gesturing from the top of her head to mine and then lifting my flattened hand upwards several inches. “147? I don’t think so. You’ve grown. You’re like me now.”
Then we both blushed – she, because I’d noticed and I, because I’d just realized that she is as tall as I am.
Which is, by the way, 149.8 centimeters. It sounds a little grander than 59 inches so I’ll take it.