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Mama Deb
mamadeb
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December 2010
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Mama Deb [userpic]
*Headdesk*

One of the agents just asked me, and I am not making this up, "How many centimeters are in a meter?"

She's European.

This tops the two times I've been asked when the next leap year was. Barely. (Although one did ask for a formula. Me: "Can you divide the year by four?"

Comments

Centuries, and that's the point. You learned the metric system, and the whole decimal thing was explicit, and touted as its defining feature and its advantage over the 'usual' system. You probably also learned quite a bit about the USAn standard system, and undoubtedly know how many inches there are in a yard, and how many fluid ounces in a peck; but I'm sure there are many otherwise functional USAns who need to ask, because they never learned the system, any more than they learned English (and they probably didn't pay attention in class when it was taught, because they already knew it).

To a European, cm and m are the usual measures, and if they weren't paying attention in school they probably never gave it any thought. That much is a cm, and that much is a m, and from here to, oh, about there is a km, and precisely how many of each go into the others, and how curious it is that they all contain the word 'metre', it never occured to them to wonder.

It can get even better: I don't know about the various parts of Europe, but in Australia nobody says 'mililitre'; ml is always pronounced 'mill'. If someone asked me how many ml there were in a l, they may not even know that 'ml' is an abbreviation for 'mililitre', and that 'mili-' means 1/1000. To many Ozzies, I'm sure, ml means about what 'ounce' does to USAns.

But, see. This person was born and educated in Europe. Which is why it's surprising. It's something one would think she'd know in her bones, the way I know inches and feet and yards. The way I still translate "meter" as "a bit more than a yard, and close enough for most cases" in my head.