Sunday, 17 February 2013

In for a Euro, in for a Pound

There are many adjustments an international student must make when settling into a new country. Using a different language, sorting out the modes of transportation, what to wear, what to eat, and where to buy necessities. But then there is the conversion factor to contend with in answering some very basic day-to-day questions, especially for those coming from the USA.
For example, how much does it weigh? Nothing like buying meat or cheese and being asked “how many grams would you like?” when you have no clue what a gram looks like. You can ask the grocer to just heap it on the scale until you say “stop,” and dodge that bullet. But then at the gym, the cardio machines want you to program in your weight in kilos and there is not a scale in sight. What to do? Ask a handy weight-lifter to pick you up and guess how many kilos you weigh? The good news, the numbers in kilos are about half those in pounds. On the other hand, clothing and shoe sizes all run in high double digits. So while your weight may be cut by half, your clothing and shoe size will quadruple!
Or, how far away is it? Yes, I do realize most of the world uses the metric system when it comes to distances, but in the US, the UK and Canada it is still miles. Having run more than a few 10K races, I do know that 10K is six miles. As a starting point for distance calculations, the math gets a bit fuzzy, but it will do in a pinch.  But alas, going from feet to meters, you cannot simply do a rough estimate by simply putting one foot in front of the other!
And how warm (or, more frequently, how cold!) is it? The math gets even fuzzier when converting Celsius to Fahrenheit in your head. Doubling the number and then adding 32 is not a bad ball-park figure. (That is, is until it goes below zero!) Better to just get used to thinking in Celsius and getting used to single digit temperatures that are much better in reality than they sound in Fahrenheit!
Finally, there is the matter of how much does it cost? Much depends on where you are coming from and the fluxuating currency conversion rates. Your best bet is to just think in Euros and stop converting the actual price into your own currency. (This is especially true with gasoline, where you must convert liters to gallons and dollars to Euros, guaranteed to make your head explode!) As to the relative cost, I have yet to meet an Aussie or a Brit who does not gush about how very cheap everything is here, or an American who does not grumble about how very dear. But even Americans comment with pleasure about the very inexpensive but very good quality wine, beer, cheese, bread, and chocolate – you know, basic necessities! And saving money on transportation costs while getting loads of free exercise by riding a bike, priceless in any currency!

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