I was recently thinking about temperature. What would it take for me to understand Celsius so that I don't have to convert it mentally? Is 27 degrees in Celsius warm or cool? It is easy to talk about temperature in Fahrenheit, and I think I have memories of feelings or even specific things associated with different numbers:
- 100 degrees: This is like baking in an oven. I remember the way it felt when I was a teenager walking across the deck to the back of my mother's house. I remember seeing someone jogging near The Varsity in Athens, Georgia, when it was above 100, wondering how the human body can even do that.
- 90 degrees: Typical Georgia heat -- summers are often around 90. I think about people loudly saying "90 degrees!" as a complaint or a warning. In my head I see the sun shining through pine trees and hear cicadas.
- 80 degrees: Just warm, potentially hot if you're active in the sun. I think about people in New England suffering without air conditioning.
- 70 degrees: Along with 72 being "room temperature," this is a pleasant temperature. You always want it to be 70 degrees.
- 60 degrees: This can feel cool, but it can also be warm, like a fall day in Georgia. However, when I experienced 60 degrees in April in New York, it was the most wonderful and amazing temperature ever. Reaching this temperature for the first time in months inspired a surge in outdoor exercise and picnicking; it was as exciting as the Fourth of July.
- 50 degrees: Always a little cool. This would mean I was definitely putting on a jacket when I was going to school.
- 40 degrees: Comfortable or cold, depending on the conditions. I remember my father talking about how people hunting outdoors would find this miserably cold if there was humidity and they weren't dressed properly. However, I also remember my evening walks in New York where I found this to be the most perfect, comfortable outdoor temperature when wearing a jacket since I had become acclimated to cooler weather.
- 30 degrees: Always cold, but you can dress for it. I remember being miserable on the playground because my legs were cold if it was in the 30s. You might see your breath.
- 20 degrees: This is really cold for Georgia, and you have to really bundle up.
- 10 degrees: The only reference point is this is around the temperature at which my nose hairs freeze for every breath I take. I remember walking to my college dining hall in New York for breakfast when this was a typical temperature for the winter before it warmed up later in the day.
- 0 degrees: I think I remember being a kid (here in Georgia) when the schools shut down. 0 degrees is a real weather event here. I once walked to work when it was 7 degrees and was proud of myself for dressing appropriately -- with my frozen nose hairs being my only discomfort -- but the heat inside my office couldn't really keep up.
- Minus 20 degrees: I don't remember if it was minus 20 or minus 25, but I experienced this in New York for one or two days, and it was just unbelievable.
All these memories are associated with Fahrenheit numbers. Growing up, I heard weather forecasts talk about temperatures such as "low 70s" or "mid 60s", so I don't really know what to do with the Celsius numbers mentally. I consider it a challenge to create some reference points in my head, such as 22 (room temperature) and 37 (body temperature), but I can't help but think, "OK, so what is 80 degrees?" Thus I can only really "translate" this foreign language in my head.
I was recently only thinking of temperature, but these mental reference points exist in my mind for other measurements, such as one cup being a measuring cup or a carton of milk at school. Unsurprisingly, I see a gallon jug of milk when I think about gallons. I can see one foot as a ruler, six feet as a tall person, ten feet as a basketball goal, seventeen feet as a car or truck, or 200 feet as a certain gravel driveway. My clearest mental image of metric volume measurement is a two-liter bottle of soda, and I think about liters being similar to quarts. When I think about meters, I have to think about a yardstick since those are similar in length.
I have grown up hearing about Fahrenheit and seeing foot rulers, yardsticks, one-gallon jugs, and five-pound bags of sugar. I do wonder how the United States might convert to the metric system in a way that people were comfortable with it. Would the dairy industry sell milk in 2-, 3-, or 4-liter containers? Would discount stores stop selling foot rulers? What length is a ruler in the rest of the world anyway? Can police radar units change a simple setting to display speed in km/h? Should I tell my son the temperature in Fahrenheit and Celsius, or would that just confuse him forever? Will I always need two sets of wrenches?