It is 30 degrees and it’s freezing cold. Learning how to use feet in America

Italian version here

Right, because 30 degrees Fahrenheit equal -1 degree Celsius; quite chilly, isn’t it? As I’ll probably be on this side of the Pond for a while yet, I’d better find an easy and fast way to survive the various inches, feet, cups and any other limb or tool that gets used in this measurement system which, let’s face it, doesn’t make much sense.

In fact, while our Decimal Metric System, just like the name implies, is based on multiples of ten (that is, 1 km is 1000 metres, passing through 10 hectometres and 100 decametres, although Italians leave these last two in third grade), the United Customary Units System doesn’t make things as easy. 1 mile equals 5,280 feet and 1 foot equals 12 inches. Hang on, what? Exactly. Leaving alone pounds, ounces, yards, cups, teaspoons, barrel, gallons, nanny’s trunks and so on,

[Click here to jump straight to the conversion table]

Even though before crossing the Atlantic I spent over 6 years in the United Kingdom, I never really bothered saying that I would ride my bicycle for 6 miles every morning (it was 9 km) or that my weight was 149 pounds (it was 68 kilos, before seeing Mother for Christmas, that is). For as much as Brits like thinking of themselves like a lone continent in the middle of the Atlantic, United Kingdom is, indeed, a few miles from France and is part of the European Union. They’d better put up with that, like it or not.

(Seriously: I do love the Brits and I miss them to bits, but I did meet people who asked me what kind of work visa I was on and anytime I flew from London to Rome, once arrived at passport control, where Italian and EU citizens were invited to go left and the rest of the world right, there was always the usual group of Brits who would choose the longest and slowest queue for the rest of the world. *FACEPAML*)

Why do Americans put such an effort in trying to figure out the Middle East, but they don’t find a way to make their life easier when they step out of the US borders and to make it as easier for their visiting cousins? This is a query, I’m sure, which with all probabilities finds a place among those ever-unanswered ones, such as “Who really killed JFK” and “Why doesn’t anyone notice the resemblance between Superman and Clark Kent”? While waiting for the globalisation to touch Americans’ feet as well, I sought a way to make my stay here easier, looking for tricks to mentally convert those measures that I use the most on a daily basis: Fahrenheit degrees, miles, feet and pounds.


I’m gonna die!

Fahrenheit, that is: my temperature is 96!! Relax, you’re not gonna die. An easy way to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius does exist, although it isn’t rocket science.

To convert Fahrenheit to Celsius

  1. Subtract 30 from the degrees to convert
  2. Divide by 2

Example: today it’s 39°F in Boston:

To convert Celsius to Fahrenheit

  1. Multiply the degrees to convert time 2
  2. Add 30

Example: today it’s 4.5°C in Rome

Miles, that is: ok, but how long was the green mile in simple words? It was 1.6 km long. I did some research on the Internet and I found a range of suggestions that would be quite tedious to whoever is affected by dyscalculia like myself, and which wouldn’t take less than 10 minutes to work out, creating an embarrassing silence.

Unless you’re Rain Man (or simply someone better at math), here is what I found to be the simplest tip.

To convert miles to kilometres

  1. Divide the miles by 5 (tip: divide by 10 and double it)
  2. Subtract the result from the miles you want to convert
  3. Double the result

Example: 15 miles to kilometres

To convert kilometres to miles

  1. Divide the kilometres by 2
  2. Divide the result by 4
  3. Add the result to one-half of the kilometres to be converted

Example: 24 miles in kilometres

If you really are Rain Man, then simply add 60% if you want to convert miles to kilometres, and subtract 40% for the other way around. Personally, just for the sake of simplicity, if they talk to me in miles when I ask for directions, I kindly ask them to give it to me in minutes/walk.

Feet, that is… wait, feet?! Seriously? Yes, they use their feet. We really knew that, but what we didn’t know is how to mentally convert it. While I’m here I want to fully embrace the local culture, just like I did in England, so here is a simple way.

To convert feet to metres

  1. Divide the feet by 3
  2. Subtract 10% from the result

Example: John is 5.9 feet tall (which we’ll round up to 6)
2-0.2=1.80 mt (5.9 feet are 1.79 mt)

To convert metres to feet

  1. Multiply the metres time 3
  2. Add 10%

Example: Paolo is 1.75mt tall

Pounds, that is: have I really gained so much weight? Just like for one’s body temperature in Fahrenheit, pounds as well could give a heart attack to whoever gets too close to an American scale.

To convert pounds to kilogrammes

  1. Divide the pounds by 2
  2. Subtract 10% (Tip: just move the decimal point of one place towards left)

Example: 148lbs in kg
149:2=74.5 (we’ll round that up to 75)
75-7.5=67.5kg (rounded to 68kg)

To convert kilos in pounds

  1. Double the kilos you want to convert
  2. Take all the digits BUT the last one
  3. Add this to the previous result

Example: 68 kg in lbs
13(first two digits of the result)+136=149lbs

Conversion table

Conversion table

I should also mention that often Americans like to use terms of comparison quite picturesque; you might hear that someone’s heart is as big as Texas (Texas and Nebraska seem to be the two most used states) and that someone’s kidney stone was as big as a school bus. Speaking for myself, I can say that my laziness is as big as Sardinia and that I possess the math skills of a FIAT 127, thus I leave the conversions to Alexa, who shares the flat with me and Jeremy.

Even if Alexa doesn’t know yet who Rome’s mayor is.

Who’s Rome’s mayor?

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