This article is in: English. It is for my American friends and learners of French, to invite them to set up their smartphone weather app to Celsius, in order to understand better our relation to weather and temperature in France and Europe.
You know how to speak about the weather in French. I’m sure that you can read and use numbers in French quite well too. But when you’re in a conversation with a French person, can you juggle easily with Celsius and Fahrenheit? With miles and kilometers? Two systems of measurements, is like two different ways of viewing and understanding the world. In this article I share with you a simple trick, to help you become used to Celsius everyday. Enjoy reading and share if you like it!
“It’s 70 degrees today. With this light breeze, it’s almost a little chilly!” said my student John. I shake my head, caught off guard for a moment. 70 degrees, isn’t that the temperature that I select when I set my electric kettle to make sencha tea? I can see a smattering of New York City skyscrapers through the window behind him. It’s a beautiful spring day in Manhattan, and the thermometer reads 70°. In Celsius, that’s about 24 degrees.
In English class at school in France, we learned how to talk about the weather and how to count. Yes, we can count up to a million and more but…
When you have a conversation, what do these numbers mean when you and the other person have two different units of measure in mind? You have to convert and translate to arrive at a common answer! The Metric units of measure are a vital but often overlooked aspect of study in the typical French language class. But, they’re necessary for developing a true understanding of French and European culture.
In France, they don’t understand Fahrenheit. They think in Celsius. In other words, for the French 18 degrees is a temperature that would call for nothing more than a light sweater. Want to make some macaroons? First item of business, preheat the oven to 160 degrees. Of course! You can’t have your oven too hot for baking something as delicate as macaroons.
Obviously this includes others units of measure as well. Kilometers, instead of miles, kilograms, instead of pounds, and meters and centimeters instead of feet and inches. I am 171 centimeters tall. And you?
Maybe you don’t realize the extent to which using different units of measure can create a gap between our respective world views. But then again, maybe you do! For my part, I became aware of it in two stages: firstly, through conversation in French with my American students on my website, and secondly, through my experience living on the East coast of the United States for more than a year. When I learn a language, I feel it’s as important to absorb the culture as it is to study vocabulary or do grammar drills. This is why I think it’s important that I can use Fahrenheit with ease – and that you as a learner of French, can do the same with Celsius.
At least for the average person, it is hard to mentally do the equation. Unfortunately, even though I’m a fan of the Rubik’s Cube, this doesn’t help me a lot with unit conversion. This is actually what a conversation with my American friend John would look like, if I tried to take the path of mental math calculation.
Léa: “Salut John!”
John : “Quelle chaleur” (it’s hot today)
Léa : “It is. With space-time-dilation-gives-me-the-time-to-mentally-do-the-math-(35°Cx9/5+32=95°F)-so-to-keep-the-conversation-flowing] it being 95°F all afternoon you can imagine that my beets looked pretty sad and wilty today in the vegetable garden!”
The conversation goes on.
John: “It’s snowing here as you know. It was 23°F yesterday. Do you think the snow will last?”
Léa, mentally thinking: Bah! So my friend is asking my weather forecast opinion on how long the snow will last depending on his Fahrenheit temperature. Space-time dilation again. Oh, yes, 23°F – that’s minus 5 Celsius – it will last for sure. Be careful with the ice on the road!
Have you seen the movie Interstellar? So, you see what space-time dilation I’m mentioning.
My review on converting Fahrenheit to Celsius mentally: ✭✩✩✩✩ 1 star out of 5.
You’ve got to feel it
Now we know that it is not easy to convert measure units mentally. If you want to feel what it’s like to live in a world of metric units, just start by setting up your weather app to Celsius! Look at your weather app several times per day to learn faster. It will help you understand better how people in France and Europe see the world. This will help you have more natural conversations. Imagine if everyone one did it? It would be good for the transatlantic relations and for the unity of all people and all in all, good for world peace!
Set up your smartphone and be bold! Why not do the same with kilometres, mètres and kilos!
A Final Note – It reciprocates!
American learners of French should definitely consider getting used to the metric units. On the other hand, I think it is fair that French learners should get used to the United States Customary System. To encourage this mutual effort, I also wrote an article for my fellow French friends who learn English. Read it and share it to your French friends! Soyez Americain. Mettez votre appli météo en Fahrenheit aujourd’hui ! Read in French >>