Fahrenheit vs. Celsius

Sometimes I don’t think I will ever get used to non-American measurements. The Metric system and Celsius degrees are much more logical, but it’s not what I spent most of my life using and even after years of living in the country that was the first to adopt the Metric system, I still find it hard to switch between the two. Especially when it comes to degrees, I prefer my Fahrenheit numbers. There’s just something about saying it’s “below zero” when referring to Fahrenheit that has much more of an impact than when you say the same for Celsius. Maybe it’s because I’m from the northern US where we usually have negative temperatures (in Fahrenheit!) each winter. Negative degrees in Celsius are nothing to me.

Right now there are cold temps all over France and the news stations are making such a big deal out of -5° C (or 23°F). Try -5°F. Then you can start complaining about how cold it is (about -20°C). Though I do have to agree that even if the temperatures aren’t as cold here, sometimes it still feels just as cold because of the amount of time we have to spend outside and because of the lack of proper heating indoors.

David said the coldest temperature he can remember it being here is about -10° C or 14° F. The coldest temperature I remember in Michigan is -21° F or -30° C. I was in 6th grade and we didn’t have school that day and it was awesome.

Have any other Americans successfully stopped using the customary system or am I doomed for life with a mess of conversions in my head?

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  • http://www.edgeoftheforest.wordpress.com/ Andrea

    You’re not alone. I’m the same way – the metrics, while I know “in my head” what they mean, just mean nothing to me.

    The other day, I was trying to tell someone that last week it was “minus 10″ in Wisconsin, and they didn’t seem duly impressed – until I realized, that they, of course, were thinking “minus 10 c.” which just isn’t as impressive. Being from the northern midwest like you, I know what “real” minus temps are like, and they aren’t pretty! :)

  • http://www.edgeoftheforest.wordpress.com Andrea

    You’re not alone. I’m the same way – the metrics, while I know “in my head” what they mean, just mean nothing to me.

    The other day, I was trying to tell someone that last week it was “minus 10″ in Wisconsin, and they didn’t seem duly impressed – until I realized, that they, of course, were thinking “minus 10 c.” which just isn’t as impressive. Being from the northern midwest like you, I know what “real” minus temps are like, and they aren’t pretty! :)

  • http://chaunoise.blogspot.com/ Shannon

    I can usually give a rough estimate in Celsius without looking it up, but it doesn’t always mean much to me unless I think of the F counterpart. I like my American measurements!
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..where i talk way too much about the weekend =-.

  • http://chaunoise.blogspot.com Shannon

    I can usually give a rough estimate in Celsius without looking it up, but it doesn’t always mean much to me unless I think of the F counterpart. I like my American measurements!
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..where i talk way too much about the weekend =-.

  • http://kiwigirl-infrance.blogspot.com/ Kim

    I’m the other way around… but not so much with temperatures as with miles! When I go out running with Erica I have to get her to tell me the kilometres we’ve run (sounds more impressive than in miles!) so I can make sense of it. Also when I go anywhere in the UK I have trouble judging how long it’ll take us to get somewhere because everything is in miles when I’m so used to kilometres. I don’t think I’ve ever been in -30°C, that is cold! The coldest I’ve been in is around the -10°C mark and that’s a good thing given we don’t heat our houses in NZ and there is often no insulation.
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..everday is a kiwi christmas =-.

  • http://kiwigirl-infrance.blogspot.com/ Kim

    I’m the other way around… but not so much with temperatures as with miles! When I go out running with Erica I have to get her to tell me the kilometres we’ve run (sounds more impressive than in miles!) so I can make sense of it. Also when I go anywhere in the UK I have trouble judging how long it’ll take us to get somewhere because everything is in miles when I’m so used to kilometres. I don’t think I’ve ever been in -30°C, that is cold! The coldest I’ve been in is around the -10°C mark and that’s a good thing given we don’t heat our houses in NZ and there is often no insulation.
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..everday is a kiwi christmas =-.

  • http://davidsswamp.blogspot.com/ David

    The trick is the same as with the money. The more you translate and convert, the less you learn.
    The more you directly use in the target scale, the more you learn.
    As simple as that.

    And personally I always found that using Fahrenheit was easy as you directly and constantly feel temperature. It doesn’t take you long to know what a temperature is (in F or C) when you physically feel it.
    Because of this, learning Farenheit was much easier than learning miles (I rarely drove in the US), or ounces (o this day I have no idea what an ounce is. I don’t mean how to translate it into metric, I mean how much liquid/weight it represents in the real world.
    Because it’s all about correlating the new scale to the real world, not to the “home scale”.
    .-= David´s last blog ..How to Eat Sushi =-.

  • http://davidsswamp.blogspot.com David

    The trick is the same as with the money. The more you translate and convert, the less you learn.
    The more you directly use in the target scale, the more you learn.
    As simple as that.

    And personally I always found that using Fahrenheit was easy as you directly and constantly feel temperature. It doesn’t take you long to know what a temperature is (in F or C) when you physically feel it.
    Because of this, learning Farenheit was much easier than learning miles (I rarely drove in the US), or ounces (o this day I have no idea what an ounce is. I don’t mean how to translate it into metric, I mean how much liquid/weight it represents in the real world.
    Because it’s all about correlating the new scale to the real world, not to the “home scale”.
    .-= David´s last blog ..How to Eat Sushi =-.

  • http://laprochainefois.blogspot.com/ cathy

    coming from texas… i’m dying. especially when it’s 68F over at home. and i cant get used to C as well. i have the weather on my computer set to C, but i’m constantly converting to F. otherwise, its just some number.

    however, i have forever abandoned cups and tablespoons,.. that i honestly don’t understand because it never is accurate. grams + a scale is the way to go!
    .-= cathy´s last blog ..i went to lyon for the lights but i came back with something sugary and red. =-.

  • http://laprochainefois.blogspot.com cathy

    coming from texas… i’m dying. especially when it’s 68F over at home. and i cant get used to C as well. i have the weather on my computer set to C, but i’m constantly converting to F. otherwise, its just some number.

    however, i have forever abandoned cups and tablespoons,.. that i honestly don’t understand because it never is accurate. grams + a scale is the way to go!
    .-= cathy´s last blog ..i went to lyon for the lights but i came back with something sugary and red. =-.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com/ Zhu

    I remember some – 35C in Canada!

    I’m the opposite. I’m comfortable enough with pounds, miles and inches but I just can,t do Fahrenheit.
    .-= Zhu´s last blog ..The Olympic Torch Relay In Ottawa (2/2) =-.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com Zhu

    I remember some – 35C in Canada!

    I’m the opposite. I’m comfortable enough with pounds, miles and inches but I just can,t do Fahrenheit.
    .-= Zhu´s last blog ..The Olympic Torch Relay In Ottawa (2/2) =-.

  • http://ausoleillevant.blogspot.com/ au soleil levant

    I’m pretty comfortable with the Fahrenheit/Celsius conversion, I can approximate miles and kilometers… and that’s about it. In general I have a terrible sense of space and weight and am really awful at math, so it’s just one big confusing mess to me. I can barely wrap my head around the English system, the metric system is too much for me! I will always be a converter, and I’m okay with that. Besides which, Fahrenheit makes so much more sense than Celsius! The numbers actually represent the real temperature!
    .-= au soleil levant´s last blog ..Day +5 =-.

  • http://ausoleillevant.blogspot.com au soleil levant

    I’m pretty comfortable with the Fahrenheit/Celsius conversion, I can approximate miles and kilometers… and that’s about it. In general I have a terrible sense of space and weight and am really awful at math, so it’s just one big confusing mess to me. I can barely wrap my head around the English system, the metric system is too much for me! I will always be a converter, and I’m okay with that. Besides which, Fahrenheit makes so much more sense than Celsius! The numbers actually represent the real temperature!
    .-= au soleil levant´s last blog ..Day +5 =-.

  • http://blondeinfrance.blogspot.com/ Andromeda

    Running and driving got me used to km, but I use a quick conversion 10km=6m so I just divide everything by ten and multiply it by six . . . well, it’s quick in my head at least, lol. If something is around 60miles away you know it’ll take about an hour to get there with the highways, so in France, anything around 100km away is the same.

    And for C/F, 10C=50F so anything below 10C and I am cranky and in a coat, and anything above 15 or so, I assume is fairly warm. No need to convert every day. When I was little we never knew the temperatures, we just asked mom if it was “one pair of socks(okay), two pairs(cold) or none(hot)” so I guess my 15 rule is the same kind of thing.
    .-= Andromeda´s last blog ..Five =-.

  • http://blondeinfrance.blogspot.com Andromeda

    Running and driving got me used to km, but I use a quick conversion 10km=6m so I just divide everything by ten and multiply it by six . . . well, it’s quick in my head at least, lol. If something is around 60miles away you know it’ll take about an hour to get there with the highways, so in France, anything around 100km away is the same.

    And for C/F, 10C=50F so anything below 10C and I am cranky and in a coat, and anything above 15 or so, I assume is fairly warm. No need to convert every day. When I was little we never knew the temperatures, we just asked mom if it was “one pair of socks(okay), two pairs(cold) or none(hot)” so I guess my 15 rule is the same kind of thing.
    .-= Andromeda´s last blog ..Five =-.

  • http://emmygration.blogspot.com/ Emmy

    I don’t understand °F AT ALL! and as for weight in pounds, I don’t have a clue. I’m used to stone and pounds! It took me ages to get used to weight in kilos in france. Miles and kms are fine now, I actually prefer kms. don’t ask me how tall I am in metres. I only do feet and inches.

    A right proper mix, no?!
    .-= Emmy´s last blog ..this fonctionnaire made me laugh today, but the dream is dead =-.

  • http://emmygration.blogspot.com Emmy

    I don’t understand °F AT ALL! and as for weight in pounds, I don’t have a clue. I’m used to stone and pounds! It took me ages to get used to weight in kilos in france. Miles and kms are fine now, I actually prefer kms. don’t ask me how tall I am in metres. I only do feet and inches.

    A right proper mix, no?!
    .-= Emmy´s last blog ..this fonctionnaire made me laugh today, but the dream is dead =-.

  • http://boeingbleudemer.blogspot.com/ Cynthia

    Oddly enough, I know metric and imperial measurements. The bad thing is I use C° for outside temperature but F° for the oven or the temperature of the pool. I can only understand my weight in lbs but at the grocery store I use Kilos for meat but lbs for veggies. And I cannot translate any of these in the other measurement system.

    But I know that it’s really cold when it’s -35°C in Canada but that somehow 0°C in Paris feels so cold !

  • http://boeingbleudemer.blogspot.com/ Cynthia

    Oddly enough, I know metric and imperial measurements. The bad thing is I use C° for outside temperature but F° for the oven or the temperature of the pool. I can only understand my weight in lbs but at the grocery store I use Kilos for meat but lbs for veggies. And I cannot translate any of these in the other measurement system.

    But I know that it’s really cold when it’s -35°C in Canada but that somehow 0°C in Paris feels so cold !

  • http://bisoufrancaise.blogspot.com/ Brandi

    When in France, I never really had to convert temperature from C to F, I always have to convert everything from F or C to “A” for Apparel. This a complicated formula that involves, C/F, wind, humidity, and sunshine. B/c 80F is not the same in DC or SLC. I was pretty good as converting C to A. So there is hope for you. For my kids I have no idea what they LBS weights mean, since all of their weights were in KG before now, so I have to convert back to see if they are growing….
    .-= Brandi´s last blog ..Dr.Heartless =-.

  • http://bisoufrancaise.blogspot.com/ Brandi

    When in France, I never really had to convert temperature from C to F, I always have to convert everything from F or C to “A” for Apparel. This a complicated formula that involves, C/F, wind, humidity, and sunshine. B/c 80F is not the same in DC or SLC. I was pretty good as converting C to A. So there is hope for you. For my kids I have no idea what they LBS weights mean, since all of their weights were in KG before now, so I have to convert back to see if they are growing….
    .-= Brandi´s last blog ..Dr.Heartless =-.

  • http://cyrusfarivar.com/ Cyrus Farivar

    Basically the way that I do temp conversions is at freezing/boiling and then that 70 F is about 20 C and that 15 C is 60 F. The rest is guesswork. :-)
    .-= Cyrus Farivar´s last blog ..Cyrus on Al Jazeera English: The Listening Post – December 11 2009 =-.

  • http://cyrusfarivar.com Cyrus Farivar

    Basically the way that I do temp conversions is at freezing/boiling and then that 70 F is about 20 C and that 15 C is 60 F. The rest is guesswork. :-)
    .-= Cyrus Farivar´s last blog ..Cyrus on Al Jazeera English: The Listening Post – December 11 2009 =-.

  • http://www.lafauxvaisienne.blogspot.com/ Emily

    It got down to -22°C in Beauvais last year, and -25 out in the country. Crazy cold, especially for me who had spent my last 4 winters on the South Carolina coast complaining when it didn’t get above 55°F/13°C.

    As for conversions, I know a rough estimate. I learned it in 5°F increments, so I know that 60°F is 15°C, 65°F is 18°C, etc etc.

    I don’t think America will ever give up the standard system of measure though, and for some reasons I am glad. Kilometers mean absolutely NOTHING to me! It would be nice to not have to convert for people though. I like the logic in metric, basing things around 100 or 1000.
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..New books for a new year! =-.

  • http://www.lafauxvaisienne.blogspot.com Emily

    It got down to -22°C in Beauvais last year, and -25 out in the country. Crazy cold, especially for me who had spent my last 4 winters on the South Carolina coast complaining when it didn’t get above 55°F/13°C.

    As for conversions, I know a rough estimate. I learned it in 5°F increments, so I know that 60°F is 15°C, 65°F is 18°C, etc etc.

    I don’t think America will ever give up the standard system of measure though, and for some reasons I am glad. Kilometers mean absolutely NOTHING to me! It would be nice to not have to convert for people though. I like the logic in metric, basing things around 100 or 1000.
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..New books for a new year! =-.

  • http://cndrnh.blogspot.com/ CN Heidelberg

    I’ve totally switched to metric for temperatures, no problem. Metric weights have become sensible to me, too. Short lenghts I’m okay with, and kilometers – but middle lengths, like telling me a restaurant is 100 meters away – I’m in trouble there. I have trouble remembering my height in metrics too!
    .-= CN Heidelberg´s last blog ..Best of 2009: Packaging =-.

  • http://cndrnh.blogspot.com CN Heidelberg

    I’ve totally switched to metric for temperatures, no problem. Metric weights have become sensible to me, too. Short lenghts I’m okay with, and kilometers – but middle lengths, like telling me a restaurant is 100 meters away – I’m in trouble there. I have trouble remembering my height in metrics too!
    .-= CN Heidelberg´s last blog ..Best of 2009: Packaging =-.

  • http://travellingamber.blogspot.com/ Amber

    I got used to celsius by forgetting about farenheit. When the temperature said 5°C, I remembered what it felt like so that i’d have something to go on the next time I saw that temperature. I know that -5°C, for me as a southerner, is horrible. When we were living in Normandy it got down to -10°C, and my coldest winter that I hardly remember because I was too small was -30°F in Iowa. We never had temperatures like either of those in SC!
    I can remember my sizes because my shoes and my jeans are almost the same, and my height is almost the same — 5ft is 60 inches, right? and 5’3 is something like 160 centimeters, so I always remember that.
    Something I do find strange though is that it takes so much longer to drive 100km than 60 miles. Car trips in France drag on and on.
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..I can’t resist =-.

  • http://travellingamber.blogspot.com Amber

    I got used to celsius by forgetting about farenheit. When the temperature said 5°C, I remembered what it felt like so that i’d have something to go on the next time I saw that temperature. I know that -5°C, for me as a southerner, is horrible. When we were living in Normandy it got down to -10°C, and my coldest winter that I hardly remember because I was too small was -30°F in Iowa. We never had temperatures like either of those in SC!
    I can remember my sizes because my shoes and my jeans are almost the same, and my height is almost the same — 5ft is 60 inches, right? and 5’3 is something like 160 centimeters, so I always remember that.
    Something I do find strange though is that it takes so much longer to drive 100km than 60 miles. Car trips in France drag on and on.
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..I can’t resist =-.

  • http://www.lindamathieu.com/ Linda

    I think I am stuck forever with the American system. My brain just can’t do the conversion. I always have to look everything up, especially when cooking.
    .-= Linda´s last blog ..Around The Louvre =-.

  • http://www.lindamathieu.com Linda

    I think I am stuck forever with the American system. My brain just can’t do the conversion. I always have to look everything up, especially when cooking.
    .-= Linda´s last blog ..Around The Louvre =-.

  • James

    Well, I live in France now but spend a lot of my time in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway so I had to quickly get used to juggling many currencies in my head. That has become quite easy even though I do still have to think in USD since that’s where I earn my income (yes, I get killed on conversion rates). Everything else I can ballpark pretty well, but it really means nothing to me. Distant comes from shooting photography my whole life, weight comes from smoking too many “special” cigarettes when I was younger, 24h time comes from switching my iPhone years ago yet I am still battling with temp. I am typically fine staying in the positive range, but as soon as I go negative I get all messed up. For example, last night here in Copenhagen it was -11C and I had no idea how to explain that in F to a Danish friend to give it that huge impact of “one time I was in Vermont and they closed the ski lift because it was -45 with wind at the mountain top”…

    Then again though, no matter how many times I call a table “une table” or “bord” it will always be a table to me. When I count anything out in my head, I still count in English no matter what country I am in. Some things will just always be ingrained in you.

  • James

    Well, I live in France now but spend a lot of my time in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway so I had to quickly get used to juggling many currencies in my head. That has become quite easy even though I do still have to think in USD since that’s where I earn my income (yes, I get killed on conversion rates). Everything else I can ballpark pretty well, but it really means nothing to me. Distant comes from shooting photography my whole life, weight comes from smoking too many “special” cigarettes when I was younger, 24h time comes from switching my iPhone years ago yet I am still battling with temp. I am typically fine staying in the positive range, but as soon as I go negative I get all messed up. For example, last night here in Copenhagen it was -11C and I had no idea how to explain that in F to a Danish friend to give it that huge impact of “one time I was in Vermont and they closed the ski lift because it was -45 with wind at the mountain top”…

    Then again though, no matter how many times I call a table “une table” or “bord” it will always be a table to me. When I count anything out in my head, I still count in English no matter what country I am in. Some things will just always be ingrained in you.

  • http://www.tampile.com/ Tampile

    Indeed, celsius scale is made with 0 to point water freezing. And it is a good measure, in the winter if it is below 0 it is bad, if it is over, you can smile and hope that spring comes earlier.

    Fahrenheit scale.. it is possible to go below 0 ? I mean, it every happened to you ?

  • http://www.tampile.com Tampile

    Indeed, celsius scale is made with 0 to point water freezing. And it is a good measure, in the winter if it is below 0 it is bad, if it is over, you can smile and hope that spring comes earlier.

    Fahrenheit scale.. it is possible to go below 0 ? I mean, it every happened to you ?

  • Dru

    Ah! I am living and working in Shanghai, China! When I was in high school and took French, I stumbled upon your site and randomly check in to see what you are up to! But I totally agree with your thoughts. I’m from West Virginia and it gets extremely cold in the winter. However, I had a harder time in winter in Shanghai than back home because no matter where you go, inside or outside, you are still freezing cold. This is why I am moving to Taiwan next year…warmer climate :)

    Thanks for your website! It’s so fun and inspiring!

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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