Saturday, May 3, 2014

Next time, somebody please pull me away

I've mentioned before that i am on facebook and find it can be entertaining. And a timesuck. And some things i read make my blood boil or make me smile and say, "Awww."

Tonight, as i read something inane, i broke the rule i made for myself some time back, and i read the comments. Now, there are times where reading comments can be helpful because someone will provide an explanation, or as in one person i follow who's a US English grammarian, the comments explain how we are separated by a common language at times with other English speakers. Most of the banter is good-natured.

All too often, however, if someone shares on their wall something they find cute or funny, if i click to look at whatever it is and go on to read the comments, i nearly always wish i hadn't. The comments are chock-a-block full of trolls and people who must lead very small lives.

Anyhow, in a weak moment this evening, i responded to a comment. The comment did irk me, but at the same time i realised the person making the comment failed to understand the principal difference in what he knew as usual and ordinary and what was meant by the graphic shown.

It was an innocent enough graphic, one depicting a chart for (US) gallons, quarts, pints, tablespoons, teaspoons, and cups, and showing equivalent amounts. As i tend to be a bit more left brained about things like this, i work better with a list rather than a pie chart with arrows pointing this way and that. But, it was clever to show it all on something that could be easily printed off and used in the kitchen.

And here's where the problem lay. The top commenter (what does that mean? He has the most numerous on that particular site, or that he's the most popular at the moment because he has more likes and replies than others? but i digress...) as i was saying, the top commenter (TC) asked why wouldn't the US just grow up and go to metric.

I've had occasion to convert recipes, and Mr TC missed the point. It's not just a matter of using metric. Most US recipies don't measure things by weight, but by volume. Well, the meat or fish is usually measured by weight. But the flour, sugar, salt, pepper, and spices are aren't. They're measured by volume. So, if something calls for three cups of flour and one cup of sugar, it's not a matter of saying 1 cup=8 ounces, therefore 3 c=24 oz, or 908 g. Because the US measuring cups measure volume and disregard weight. A cup of cake flour weighs less than a cup of sugar, but you use the same measuring cup in a US recipe; whereas in a metric recipe, it might call for 900 g of flour and 75 g of sugar because it's making the assumption that you're weighing the ingredients.

And, i got sucked in and tried to explain. Volume vs. weighing. Another snarky commenter said, Oh, so you can't use a metric measuring cup then, is that so hard, Megan?

Completely missing the point. I replied the the second commenter that he misunderstood what i had written. Recipes in the US or in older UK and Canadian cookbooks for that matter, don't weigh every ingredient. They use volume instead, a cup of this to three cups of that, and as long as the ratios stay the same, the recipe works. Nothing is weighed, only measured by volume.

And then i could feel the centrifugal force starting to suck me in. It was at the critical moment. I could wait and see what the follow-up was, or say, "Enough!" and move on. I chose the latter and am rather rueing that i said anything at all. Because it seems that people are more interested in beating their chests and saying something inane than they are about learning anything.

I did hesitate for moment, though, and wondered if i ought to relate when i lived in France and had to think in metric. I was somewhat successful, but not really. I needed benchmarks to have things make sense. Height in metric made no sense to me whatever, but in French, someone would say something like, "He's one and a half metres tall." It took me awhile to realize why it was so hard for me to grasp that. After all, one meter is 39 inches, just a tad over 3 feet. Or a yard. And that's when the lightbulb dimmed. We never use yards for vertical measurement. Why, i don't know. We just don't. A man can be six feet tall, but we'd never say he's two yards tall. So saying he's nearly 2 metres tall just doesn't compute in my brain.

I had to cook for myself when i lived there, and would go to a butcher shop and convert the ounces of meat i wanted into grams. I'd ask for 250 grams, and the butcher would say, "oh, this is 248," or "It's 256," and it was always close enough for my needs. After a few months, the butcher asked me why i always asked for a specific amount and then when he'd tell me something that was close but not exact, i always said it was all right?

I explained that in the US, we didn't use metric, but the English system of pounds and ounces. He and a few other butchers who i guess were also curious and paused in their work nodded that they understood that. I said that in the States, i'd ask the butcher for a half pound of meat or quarter pound of meat, and he's weigh it out for me. It wasn't always exact but close enough.

"Ah!" the butcher said, and the other butchers looked at him as recognition came across his face. "So, you must order the weight you want, and they give that to you. More or less."

I nodded, and a few of the other butchers started to smile as if sharing an inside joke.

"So, you don't ask for a specific weight here?" And here i had been so proud of myself for using the metric system. sigh.

"No, you just tell me how many people you're cooking for, and we give you what you need."

"Really?" i asked. This was a new idea to me.

All of the other butchers nodded solemnly. "Okay, i'll do that next time," i said. And i noticed the next time i was in there, sure enough, the customers were ordering for two people, or four people. So, i ordered for one person. Most of the time. On occasion, i'd order "for two people." And here, the butcher would smile with a twinkle in his eye and say, "Oh, do we have a date? Are you cooking for a new beau?"

When i returned to the US, i was glad to get back to pounds and ounces. People were measured in feet, not yards/metres. I could ask for a quarter pound of meat and not have questions about my love life. But some of that eyeing portions stayed with me, and there are times where i ask for a specific piece of meat or fish, knowing it'll be enough for my needs. The deli person dutifully weighs it and tells me the weight. I say it's fine, because it is. I know by looking at it, it's the perfect size, regardless of weight.

In the end, i decided that reliving that pleasant moment in France where finding genunine interest in something mundane we do without thinking can be done in a completely different way someplace else with results every bit as fabulous was reward enough, and didn't need to be marred by silly commenters who only wanted to beat their chests and crow rather than learn anything.


  1. When I ask for 500 gms of Lamb (or whatever), and my butcher gets it spot-on when it hits the scales, he almost explodes with pride.

  2. Some folks don't have dates and eat take out and pizza, yielding immeasurable trolling time. I wonder what they say about the cute kitties getting in boxes. Or better yet, Henri? Have you seen any of those?

  3. I did have a look. 114 liked my initial comment and i clicked on the stream that followed. Lots of people berating me, calling me stupid, etc. A few agreeing with me, some saying that older international recipes don't always weigh everything but also use volume at times. One commenter pointing out, as i had thought but didn't say, that there was a time when everyone remotely European used 'the English system' of measuring. Metric came later.

    Cro, so you order by weight and no one's ever said anything to you about it? Well, perhaps the butcher was having a bit of flirty fun with me. After i stopped ordering by weight and went to number of people, there was always enough.

    Joanne, i've seen a few Henri things, mostly sent as attachments in emails from friends. I'm just going to revert to my previous practice of ignoring the comments. Not worth all that shite.

  4. Don't do Facebook meg
    It's the work of the devil

  5. Your interactions with the butchers sound kind of nice, to me at least. I love shopping at farmers markets for the conversations I get to have with the people who grow my food. :)

    Internet article comment sections always make me lose a bit more faith in people in general.