How I moved to America and was tortured to count everything in pounds and gallons
At first there was meat. I looked at the price tag - cheap, and smiled. After the price were letters l and b. That's it - $ 5.99 lb.
I asked for two, and the seller began his manipulations: put on disposable gloves, took out a piece of meat from the display case, threw it on the scales, entered the code, grabbed the printed sticker and slapped his sleeve. Then he wrapped the purchase in wax paper, in wrapping, tore off a long strip and, wrapped around the bundle, grabbed it with a sticker torn off the sleeve, then handed it to me.
Do you know how it is when you wait for a heavy hand, but it lays down twice easier? The hand jumped up. I weighed the meat in my hand and thought: "Well, I was stabbed for the first time in America."
Later I found out what lb is. This is from the Latin "libra pound", or pound. Why do they use libra, and not pound, when they write price tags, I still do not know.
453 gram, about half a kilo. Welcome to the rough world. I grew up in a metric universe divisible by ten, where everything is clear and logical. I used millimeters, centimeters, and I avoided decimeters, because decimeter is an outcast, not needed by anyone except a math teacher. The meter inspired respect, the kilometer was a test, three kilometers were equal to seven and a half laps around the stadium in the rain. Who would have thought that somewhere on the other side of the earth, people measure distance in their feet, and volume in cups?
Shopping at first resembled exercises for general erudition. In addition to pounds, ounces came to the fore, to heighten the fun turned out to be dry and liquid. What to do with an ounce, equal to 28 grams, I still will not take to sense. Neither multiply it nor divide it.
From units of volume, like a teaspoon or cup, breathed homely comfort. Then there was a pint, equal to two cups, and a quart, in which two pints. Gallon and barrel sounded proud and sad, like a list of fallen warriors. The good news was that eggs were sold in dozens, not dozens.
It soon became clear that in America it was the first month, and only then the day. Thank you, damn, even a year left in its place. I moved my lips, saying to myself: “January, the fourth, two thousand and ten,” and filled out the form, and when I read, I stopped for a moment to understand where the month is. Well, if the second digit of the date turned out to be more than twelve, then it was immediately clear that this is the day. “February twenty-second” sounded like a quote from the Bible.
It took some time to stop putting the last name in front of the first name. Corrupted forms, lost time. Kolya Sulima, but not Sulima Kolya.
- How much do you weigh?
- I think about ninety.
- Ninety what ?!
- And, damn it, pounds, pounds ... one hundred eighty eight!
There were no more than “one hundred and ninety-three centimeters”, they stayed at home where the pancakes were, and instead of them came six or four, short as an order.
Every American knows in which direction the directions of the world are, as if he had a compass in his head. A hundred times I was at a dead end when I was given instructions by telephone: “Drive along Laurel Street, then to the right and a mile and a half to the west.” Yes, where is the west? Or should I look for which side of the moss in the trees grows ?! Even a banal fight in the area in the region among Americans has a geographic base: the Westside hates and chimites the Eastside, they reciprocate.
How much gas does your car use? Simple question. Any motorist will answer: twelve in the city, eight on the highway, and with a clear conscience will fall asleep again. What about 30 mpg? Look what the f ** k is: first I translate gallons into liters, then miles into kilometers and put them in the memory of the calculator, then I divide the first into the second.
But this is not the end of madness, because I need a hundred kilometers! I patiently multiply the total by one hundred and get what our driver will answer without hesitation in any kind of alcoholic intoxication. While I am counting, my interlocutor already regrets that he asked, I have crimson cheeks from the strain, and everyone is embarrassed.
One person, who lived in the seventeenth century, somehow mixed water, ice and salt, and measured the freezing point of the mixture. This temperature, he took for zero and probably laughed, imagining how everyone would wrestle with: what for was it salt ?! His last name was Fahrenheit.
Fahrenheit was lucky enough to die a long time ago. If he was alive, people who spoke with an accent would have come to him and killed him with reinforcing bars. Then he burned his house and danced on the ashes. According to my calculations, the average emigrant spends a third of his life in a dream and a quarter - transferring Fahrenheit to Celsius.
Watch your hands: I take Fahrenheit, subtract thirty from it, and divide the remainder by two, get the usual approximate result. This is easy to do while it is warm outside, but as soon as the temperature begins to fall, arithmetic is no longer simple. From 15 degrees Fahrenheit, I subtract thirty and get minus 15, and what should I do with them? They say they should also be divided into two. Seven and a half degrees of frost? Well at least in California is never below zero.
And all the British. They invented a unique system of measures, with units like “poppy seed”. Poppy seed - a length equal to a quarter of barley grain, which is also the length. Is there a line, a finger, a hand, and a nail (didn’t they shave them, did they?) The Wikipedia article on English units confused me. It was written there that poppy seed is about a quarter of barley. How is it about?
There was a lot of interesting things there. For example, a unit of area that one ox can plow in a year. The quality of the land, the size of the ox - are known only to the Englishman, who measured it all. It was probably the same spherical wave in a vacuum.
In 1824, the “English” units were converted into “imperial” ones. Extra modesty in the UK never suffered, and especially in the middle of the nineteenth century. As far as I can tell, in the course of the conversion, some of the units were renamed, some were abolished, and finally they became entangled. A pound came out at about half a kilogram, and a ton — about two thousand pounds.
People clearly did not have enough holiday. To make life less bland, the imperial system of measures fits perfectly.
The British came up with left-hand traffic. In the list of countries still using left-hand traffic, only Great Britain, Japan and the Commonwealth of Australia remained from developed countries. The rest of the list is similar to a quote from pirate novels by Raphael Sabatini. From it, I learned about the existence in the world of Christmas Islands, Cocos Islands and the state of Montserrat. The Swedes - and they went to the right side as much in 1964, but not proud of Brit.
Today is our twenty-first century. People invented space, plastic surgery and Nicki Minaj. However, shoe sizes in America and the UK are still calculated in barley grains. It blows from this some thousand-ton Anglo-Saxon stubbornness.
I can understand the sea units. Most of us encounter the sea only while riding a pedal catamaran in a city park. Naval people at all times were not easy: a few months, not seeing the shores, in the company of dirty rags, anyone will slowly move their minds. How can you not begin to measure the length of the trees, and the speed - the nodes? In Venichka Yerofeyev in the play “Commander's Steps”, the patients of the mental hospital measured time with bedside tables and stools, for example.
Of course, all this knowledge has been imprinted in man for years, turning into instincts. Nobody in America converts pounds to grams in their minds, everyone knows that its rate is three pints of beer, and in a jar of soda 12 ounces. Vince Vega's famous monologue “Royal with cheese” about a quarter pound hamburger, cheers the audience not only because of Samuel L. Jackson's hilarious faces, but because they have been in McDonalds since childhood, and they have lived in a world of half and quarter.
One should look for positive aspects in everything, as psychoanalysts often say in movies. I have no choice but to look at this balancing act from the point of view of practical use: it trains my brain, alienating Alzheimer. Everything else is nothing more than prejudice.
We are warm at twenty degrees, Americans - at seventy. Nothing special.
The original column is published in Kolya Sulima's blog.
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