Guest Blogger: What Happened To The Metric System? And, Why The Euro Is So Damn Smart

Introducing our latest guest blogger: Bryan Roe

From time to time I invite friends, family and associates to contribute a 'guest blog' to The Digital Tavern. After traveling 1,000's kilometers with Bryan during our recent journey through the South of France, Bryan and I engaged in a number of conversations with regard to our experience abroad. While wine, food, beaches, service and art certainly were highlights of our experience we did lavish on some of the subtle and no so subtle cultural differences between living in the United States and living in Europe. I asked Bryan to blog a bit about the simple day-to-day things we do everyday in our lives: buy things, drive and measurement. I am pleased to post his comments here. Please post your comments and thoughts. Let's keep the dialog going!

How Much Will it Cost to Drive 30000 Meters (30 KM)?

So parking may be frustrating, retail hours are impossible to figure out and there are some main courses that I would rather leave in Provence. But there are three things that I came to admire and appreciate during my travels. Three things that made perfect sense – European money, European highways and European measurements.

The Euro is useful. Plain and simple. I found it extremely convenient to travel with the family from Venezia (Venice) to St Tropez, back to Toscana (Tuscany) and then to Saint Raphael to pick up Allan – all without making a single currency exchange. We won't discuss the conversion from US dollars to the Euro. Uggh.

Also, that 2 euro coin. What a stroke of genius! This coin is enormously useful in a world where almost every purchase exceeds a single primary denomination. Allan and I used the 2 euro coin for everything from tolls and parking meters to baguettes, pain de chocolat's and the occasional tip for service staff. Although the 1 dollar coin was introduced and re-introduced in the USA throughout the years about the only place that I have actually seen it in action in recent times is at Poor Red's in Diamond Springs. (This place, known for their Gold Cadillac's is rumored to be the largest purchaser of Galliano in the US and is also known for leaving change in Susan B. Anthony's. This is probably worth another blog).

My main attraction to the Euro coin is that it simply makes sense. There are denominations of 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents and 20 cents. These are the bronze coins and they increase in size as they increase in value. In addition there are 1 Euro and 2 Euro coins that are a primarily silver and also follow suit with regards to size. (By the way, who thought of the dime? Why is it smaller than the penny?).

Boy, did we take advantage of this. While driving from medieval village to medieval village Allan and I had the chance to visit approximately 34 automated tolls with differing toll amounts. You can only imagine our system of organizing the euro coins in the 307's storage compartment. Quick access – by touch rather than by sight.

On the subject of driving… While I was putting on nearly 4000 KM in the Peaugot 307 I had the opportunity to experience the famous European Autoroutes ad nauseam. Allan and I mainly traveled the A8 which took us parallel to the Cote d'Azur at speeds the exceeded 140 KM per hour. And to think that I was driving moderately slow in comparison to my Autoroute companions.

The primary attraction I have to the European major highways is that people follow rules. Sure, they may be driving at 200 KM per hour while other vehicles, especially the vast number of trucks, are moving at under 80 KM per hour. But they follow the rules. There are three things to remember:

  1. If you are driving slow you should drive in the right lane
  2. If you drive faster than the slower vehicles then most of your driving is conducted in the center lane; and
  3. if you want to pass you move into the left lane and back. Simple, elegant.

What I find in the States is that there are no rules. Passing occurs at any time and in any direction. Dangerous. I have heard that traffic accidents are more frequent in France and Italy than almost anywhere else. However, I wonder if the statistics include collisions in the interior cities. If so, I can see why. Otherwise, the Autoroutes rule. Hands down.

Finally, I need to make a plug for the metric system. While on the A8 on the way back from Toulon Allan and I had a chance to discuss the advantages of a measurement system that makes sense. I could have easily dwelled on the negatives that night. Granted, I was the one behind the wheel while searching in earnest for a parking space that didn't exist. However, I couldn't help but admire the metric system while analyzing traffic signs that were my markers for our way home. Signs such as “Peage 1000m”. In the United States, an equivalent sign would be “Toll Bridge XXXXXft”. Absurd. We wouldn't know what to do. I mean, how many feet are in a mile? I wonder how many Americans can answer this question without going to the internet.

We covered lots of ground. Examples such as driving distances of meters compared to kilometers. We discussed ordering cold cuts in grams and fractions of kilograms. We discussed the fact that freezing was at 0 degrees. Not 32. Everything was making sense. We wondered why the metric system was dismantled in the US. This happened during my generation. I remember that they were trying to teach us this at a young age in elementary school and then all of a sudden the instruction came to an end. I always figured that it was because we were too stubborn to adhere to a new system of measurement. Now looking back Allan and I figure that it was most likely big business. The cost of converting to a new measurement system would certainly overrule the fact that it makes sense. Forget the long-term benefits. Go figure.

Now I am back to fumbling for dollar bills at toll bridges, dodging cars passing me on the right while still wondering how many feet are in a mile.

Bryan Roe
Guest Blogger and Honorary Italian Driver

Photos: Bryan Roe, Guest Blogger (top) Waiting for a fresh midnight kebab while contemplating the Euro currency strategy and benefits; (2) Pouring Provencal wine discussing toll payment strategies; (3) Washing his Euro Peugeot 307 thinking he should enter the Rallye Monte-Carlo 2004; (4) Making his point about the beauty of medieval villages; (5) Logging into his email despite the foreign keyboard layout in France's parking starved city of Toulon; (6) Suffering in San Tropez; 7) Walking the boardwalk in Nice; (bottom) Sometimes you gotta have a glass of Burgundy even though you're in Provence.