Measuring Cup
Expat Life

What I’d Do With a Time Machine

If I had a time machine and could go back and tell my 10-year-old self just one thing it would be this:  “learn and master the metric system.”  Well, it would be a toss-up between that and “wear your retainer every night, FOREVER.”

There are plenty of things we’re forced to learn in school where we say to ourselves, “when will I ever use this in real life?”  Like advanced trigonometry and calculus.  I can’t say that I’ve ever used these in my every day life.  Ever.  And my lack of commitment in fully understanding these things (and, consequently, marginal grades) shows that I did have some foresight to know I would never need these tools again.  I understand that everything in the universe around us is somehow fundamentally explained by mathematics.  I’m just happy to be in awe of this without actually being able to explain how the Fibonacci sequence appears in pine cones.

But what I could not have predicted was that in my late thirties I would leave the United States to live in another country, a country that like all other industrialized nations in the world uses the metric system (mostly).  And this I use every day.  Running on the treadmill at the gym?  Speed in kilometers per hour.  Buying meat, canned goods, ANYTHING in the grocery store?  Weights in kilograms or millilitres.  Buying a storage cabinet from IKEA? Measurements in centimeters.  Checking the weather forecast?  Temperature in Celsius.  The list goes on.

I find cooking to be a particularly interesting challenge.  I’ve always enjoyed Christmas baking and most years bake numerous varieties of cookies.  But in my opinion good baking requires precise measurements, measurements that don’t always lend themselves to conversion.  Like when a recipe calls for one stick of butter.  Let’s just say that last year’s Christmas baking of what had been tried and true recipes didn’t turn out so true. I’ve made things a little easier for myself by bringing with me my US measuring cups and spoons and purchasing a kitchen scale, something I’d never bothered with before.  But I’m still endlessly converting ingredient lists to the metric system as that’s how they’re packaged in the store.  And, I can’t even pre-heat the oven without doing a Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion.

No one at the age of 10 can predict what life may have in store for them.  But as the majority of countries around the world use the metric system as their primary system of measurement, I’d guess that one’s likelihood of using the metric system at some point in their life is pretty high.  While the curriculum in my American grade school certainly included the metric system, it’s a classic case of use it or lose it.  And growing up in America I didn’t use it, so I lost it. Thank goodness I live in the age of the Internet where I can now find the tools to convert units for me with relative ease.  But this is clumsy and a time waster.  It would be much easier if I had mastered the metric system and could do this in my head.  And, I wouldn’t have to answer “hmm, I don’t know” when the doctor asks me how many kilograms my child weighs.

So time machine on.  Ten year old self, pay attention to the metric system.  Learn it.  Use it.  Master it.  The world is big and diverse.  You will travel, work, and live outside of America.  And you will find billions of people who do not measure butter in sticks.

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  • Reply Matma November 30, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Numbers and words – two of my favourite things!
    And on the subject of ruing a lackadaisical past

    … perhaps a bit left field but an amusing take?

    P.S. Retainer?

    • Reply katlightner November 30, 2011 at 4:32 pm

      After you’ve had braces on your teeth, they give you a “retainer” to wear at night to keep your teeth from moving out of place again. Good thing I’m bilingual!

  • Reply Matt Pickworth November 30, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    First trip to a deli counter in Canberra in ’97…
    Me: Can I have a pound of smoked turkey?
    Them: Grams or kilos?
    Me: (a little flustered) Um, I’ll take a kilo.
    Them: Here you go. (the sound of 2.2lbs of turkey hitting the counter)

    • Reply katlightner November 30, 2011 at 4:29 pm

      Ha! I can certainly sympathize. I’m still intimidated by the deli counter. No idea how much to ask for!

  • Reply jacqueline December 1, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Dearest sweet Katherine, it’s my first time visiting from Picture the Holidays and i am loving your very inspiring blog. I love the way you write and it’s so interesting. Mathematics is really fascinating to me eventho i am not a master in it. 🙂 Have a lovely merry happy day and love to you!

    • Reply katlightner December 1, 2011 at 7:49 pm

      Thanks so much for the lovely comment! Looking forward to Picture the Holidays!

  • Reply Diana December 3, 2011 at 12:42 am

    Love your blog. Met you on Picture the Holidays!

  • Reply Mom February 9, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    Love you and your blogging. What a super woman you have become. I’m so very proud of you & I miss you. I’m listening to Il Divo (in Spanish which I don’t understand much of) & reading your blogs & crying because I miss you. You are amazing & I wish I could go back & be as good a “mummy” as you’ve turned out to be.

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