Useful Information

This page contains some additional information that did not seem to fit anywhere else but nevertheless struck us as useful.

1. The Metric System

In 1799, France gave the world the metric system, so it's no wonder that it is used in these parts. Though much, much simpler than other systems, it does take some getting used to for people accustomed to deal in inches, feet, miles, and so on. Here are the most commonly used metric units and their US equivalents:


For lengths, the basic unit is the meter (mètre).

Metric Unit US Equivalent
 Millimeter (mm) 0.001 m 0.039 inches
 centimeter (cm) 0.01 m 0.39 inches
 decimeter (dm) 0.1 m 0.328 feet
 meter (m) 1 m 1.094 yards
 dekameter (dam) 10 m 10.94 yards
 hectometer (hm) 100 m 109.44 yards
 kilometer (km)  1,000 m  0.621 miles

For reverse calculations, it is useful to know that:


For areas, the basic unit is the square meter (mètre carré).

Metric Unit US Equivalent
 sq. centimeter (cm2) 0.001 m2 0.152 inches2
 sq. meter (m2) 1 m2 1.196 yards2
 sq. meter (m2) 1 m2 10.764 feet2
 hectare (ha) 10,000 m2 2.47 acres
 sq. kilometer (m2) 1,000,000 m2 0.386 miles2

For reverse calculations, it is useful to know that:

Dry Measures

For dry measures, the basic unit is the cubic meter (mètre cube).

Metric Unit US Equivalent
 cubic centimeter (cm3) 0.000001 m3 0.06 inches3
 cubic decimeter (dm3) 0.001 m3 ( = 1 liter) 0.9083 quarts
 cubic meter (m3) 1 m3 1.309 yards3

For reverse calculations, it is useful to know that:

Liquid Measures

For liquid measures, the basic unit is the liter (litre).

Metric Unit US Equivalent
 Milliliter (ml) 0.001 liters 0.0338 fl. oz.
 centiliter (cl) 0.01 m 0.338 fl. oz.
 deciliter (l) 0.1 liters 0.423 cups
 liter (m) 1 liter 1.057 quarts
 hectoliter (hl) 100 liters 26.417 gallons

For reverse calculations, it is useful to know that:


For weights, the basic unit is the gram (gramme).

Metric Unit US Equivalent
 Milligram (mg) 0.001 g 0.015 grains
 centigram (cg) 0.01 g 0.154 grains
 decigram (dg) 0.1 g 1.543 grains
 gram (g) 1 g 0.035 ounces
 dekagram (dag) 10 g 0.353 ounces
 hectogram (hg) 100 g 0.221 pounds
 kilogram (kg)  1,000 g  2.205 pounds

For reverse calculations, it is useful to know that:

2. Speed and gasoline consumption

One of the most often used conversions is the one from kilometers per hour (kph) to miles per hour (mph) and vice versa. A quick estimate for kph may be obtained by multiplying mph by 10 and dividing the result by 6. Conversely, multiplying kph by 6 and dividing by 10 is a good approximation for mph.

In the United States, gasoline consumption is measured in miles per gallon; in most of Europe, it is measured in liters per 100 kilometers. The conversion is a bit tedious, knowing that there are 1.609 kilometers to the mile and 3.785 liters to the US gallon. A very quick, and nevertheless amazingly accurate shortcut consists in dividing 235 by the number of miles that can be driven per gallon; the result is the number of liters consumed for 100 kilometers driven. Similarly, dividing 235 by the number of liters required to drive 100 kilometers yields the number of miles that one can drive with a gallon of gasoline. In the UK, imperial gallons are used (there are 4.546 liters to an imperial gallon). Simply substitute the number 282 for 235 when dealing with imperial gallons. For example:

3. Temperature

Another frequently used conversion is that from degrees Celsius (C) to degrees Fahrenheit (F) and vice versa. This is also one of the most annoying to perform:

Thus, water freezes at 0 C or 32 F and boils at 100 C or 212 F; normal room temperature is around 20 C or 68 F; normal body temperature for humans is 37 C or 98.6 F, and so. There is actually a third temperature-related scale in France: the one for oven settings. French recipes often give a number from 1 to 10; this corresponds to a setting on the oven. Assuming one believes manufacturers' claims that all ovens follow the same standard, here's how to convert from number to temperature:

Setting Celsius Fahrenheit  Description
1 135 C 275 F  very low
2 150 C 300 F  low
3 160 C 325 F  moderately warm
4 175 C 350 F  warm
5 190 C 375 F  medium
6 200 C 400 F  moderately hot
7 220 C 425 F  hot
8 230 C 450 F  hotter
9 245 C 475 F  very hot
10 260 C 500 F  extremely hot

4. Time and Date

France uses the 24 hour clock (also called "military clock" in some parts) rather than an AM/PM system. For example:

The times of day are called matin (morning), midi (noon), après-midi (afternoon), soir (evening), and minuit (midnight). When listing times with hours and minutes (such as on schedules, for example), the French usually separate the units with an "h" (for "heures"). For example, 9:45 PM would be written as 21h45.

Dates are a never-ending source of confusion: whereas the US use the convention month-day-year, the French (and, indeed, most Europeans) use day-month-year. Therefore, the date 3/2/99 means March 2, 1999 in the United States, but it means February 3, 1999 in France. We experienced this first hand: a date of December 6 on one of our official US papers was incorrectly registered as June 12 by the French administration, and it took us more than a year to straighten out the error! To avoid any kind of ambiguity, it is usually best to write the month name. Using the example of March 2, 1999, the French can write

It may be very important to check this before signing a French contract! Note that the month name is never capitalized unless it is at the beginning of a sentence. In all cases, the year may be written as two or four digits.

5. Clothing and Shoe Sizes

For people from the United States or the United Kingdom, shopping for clothes or shoes in France (as well as in other European countries) can be a baffling experience because a different system is used for sizes. The tables below should help:

Dresses, Sweaters, Shirts Shoes
Europe USA UK Europe USA UK
36 6 8 36 5 3
38 8 10 37 6 4
40 10 12 38 7 5
42 12 14 39 8 6
44 14 16 40 9 7
46 16 18 41 10 8
48 18 20 42 11 9

Shirts Suits Shoes
Europe US/UK Europe US/UK Europe USA UK
36 14 44 34 40 7 6
37 14 1/2 46 36 41 8 7
38 15 48 38 42 9 8
39 15 1/2 50 40 43 10 9
40 16 52 42 44 11 10
41 16 1/2 54 44 45 12 11
42 17 56 46 46 13 12

6. French Festivals and Public Holidays

Throughout the year, there are numerous religious and historical festivals. Some are public holidays (jours fériés), others are simply traditions. The celebration of most of these days inevitably involves some gastronomic element; after all, this is France!

7. Name Days and Birthdays

In the calendar, each day of the year is associated with a particular Saint. It is customary to celebrate the day by wishing Bonne Fête to anyone having the first name of the Saint. A verbal greeting is usually sufficient, though children often receive a card and perhaps a small present.

The practice of celebrating birthdays with a card and a present is a tradition in France. Bon Anniversaire means "Happy Birthday" (the anniversary of the person's birth).

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