Years ago, back when my daughter was going to preschool I had to contend with what temperature was the threshold for wearing hulahopke. ‘Tights’ in English, but the translation doesn’t really carry this garment’s cultural heft. Kids wearing hulahopke is serious business in Croatia, and I was left with the decision of when was too warm and when was too cold. This dilemma was compounded by the fact that I didn’t really understand the Celsius temperature scale.
Americans talk about ‘American Exceptionalism’ and think that this means we are exceptionally awesome and amazing. But, once you live abroad you realize it actually means we are exceptionally stubborn, maybe stupid, because we don’t use the metric system (along with Burma!), we don’t use commas for denoting decimals, and we put dates as month/day/year instead of how the rest of the world does it day/month/year.
Before I moved to Croatia I thought the metric system was just another silly thing from Canada. But, after living here I’ve come to realize how much easier using the metric system is, as opposed to a system that seems to be constructed out of arbitrary ‘things.’
In America we use ‘feet,’ ‘yards,’ and ‘miles’ to measure length, ‘cups’ and ‘spoons’ to measure volume, and ‘pounds’ to measure weight. Now, when you say meter and centimeter you can understand a clear relationship between the two. In fact, and this might blow an American’s mind, a centimeter is one hundredth of a meter, and you know that because centi comes from centum for one hundred in Latin. Wow! And you can go from there by just using prefixes. 100 centimeters in a meter, 1000 meters in a kilometer. Genius!
Thirty two degrees?
See how nice and systematic all of this is? Meanwhile in America we have 12 inches in a foot, 3 feet in a yard, and 5,280 feet in a mile. Now how many spoons are in a cup? As a kid I was always wondering whose feet they used to measure a ‘foot.’ And of course there is the whole problem of temperatures. At what temperature does water freeze in America? 32 degrees. Why? Because who the heck cares or knows? But what happens at zero? Nothing special, it just gets colder.
Having to replace one system of measurement with another required that I truly abandon my old system. I had to experience 7, 19, 22, and 36 degrees Celsius and make my mind and body remember how cold, hot or comfortable each of those temperatures felt like. And as for my daughter and her hulahopke. Well, I eventually learned that the decision to wear hulahopke has almost nothing to do with actual temperature. No, that decision involves the mysterious intuition of Croatian grandmas. And I still haven’t figured that out.