Published on May 24th, 2014 | by Isabelle Karamooz, Founder of FQM


Imperial vs metric systems – a quick guide for expatriates

I have been living in the United States for several years now, but I still refer to temperatures in degrees Celsius, to weights in kilograms and to distances in meters and kilometers. To be honest, it’s just extremely difficult to give up a measurement system you have been using your entire life, and I really do not want to give it up!

If I need one more reason to stay with the metric system, it is that France is its inventor !

The metric system has extended throughout the world since the eighteenth century and very few countries still officially use imperial units. Even English people support the metric system, while still  indulging in the imperial system: road signs are labeled in miles and beer is sold in pints!

Imperial and Metric Systemes

Photo by Live Work Travel USA – Imperial vs Metric Systems

France adopted the metric system in 1799. It was legalized in America in 1866 and is now widely used in science, sports, medicine and the military. However, the imperial system is mostly used for everyday life.

When you live in a foreign country, you must learn a new language, use a different currency, and adopt new rules. This can be quite a challenge for new expatriates to use a new unit of measure because they usually think in the metric system and are suddenly faced with a completely different set of references. And it really takes time to get used to this system.

In the metric system temperatures, water boils at 100 ° C and freezes at 0. Easy to remember, right? In Fahrenheit, it is 212 ° and 32 °, respectively. Much more random, you have to agree.

For weights, a detail to remember is that a pound or lb is equivalent to about half a kilo (0.45 kg) and one ounce to 0.30 grams. But even with that, understanding measurements for cooking is still a challenge !

Another challenge, and perhaps one of the most difficult, is the measurement of volumes! Americans speak in ounces, inches, gallons and cups whereas in the metric system, it is a question of milliliters to liters with a logical progression of 10 increments to the next level. In the United States, you will also speak in inches (2.5 cm), feet (30 cm) and miles (1.6 km).

The next time you need to convert metric and imperial units of temperature, weight, length, area and volume, do not forget to print this map made ​​for expatriates and put it on your fridge and in your wallet!


About the Author

was born in the royal city of Versailles, France and have lived in the United States since 1996. After earning a Bachelor's degree in History from the University of California Berkeley and studying for a Master program in education at the University of Southern California, she went on to teach French to aspiring UNLV and CSN students in Nevada. When she is not teaching, she is writing, interviewing people in a wide range of circumstances, pitching story ideas to writers and editors, taking pictures, traveling, painting or trying delicious foods.

4 Responses to Imperial vs metric systems – a quick guide for expatriates

  1. aurora says:

    Very interesting. Moi aussi, je continue avec les Celcius et le km…

  2. Sylvie TUAILLON says:

    Excellent article… Difficile de me cantonner dans le système impérial qui me démarquerait des autres… qui délimiterait, me réduirait et me restreindrait face au reste du monde.
    A l’école aux U.S.A. les étudiants apprennent les deux systèmes, c’est déjà ça !!! Et dixit mon enfant : il ne faut pas essayer les conversions, cela ne mène nulle part. Je vais photocopier le tableau des conversions pour avoir une bonne idée globale. Et continuer de découper les feuilles de papier blanc version américaine, pour pouvoir les intégrer dans mes pochettes ou classeurs Européens…

  3. laforet says:

    ce qui est hallucinant c’est la grande bretagne, pays d’europe, membre de ‘lunion et qui une fois de plus a obtenu une derogation de Bruxelle pour continuer a utiliser un truc débile et a ne pas se conformer aux lois en vigeurs

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