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You ever have one of those “ah-HA!” moments when you realize something that you hadn’t understood before? And maybe you feel a bit dumb about it, because you should’ve gotten it earlier? But it’s kinda not on you? Only it is, at least a bit? You know what I mean?
I was still noodling on the thing about my height–not dwelling on it, but trying to rephrase it for the book of humourous fiction and personal stories I’m working on–and something about it hit me.
Long-ish time readers of my blog may recall back a couple of Decembers ago when I put up a post about what it’s like having grown up caught between two measurement systems.
In grade school, we had foot-long rulers (and they were wood, no less; kids, ask your parents what wooden rulers were like). They had a 12″ line broken down into smaller measurements along one topside edge, and a 30 cm line broken down into smaller measurements along the other topside edge.
Well, I just realized that using this ruler in grade school, in Canada, in the specific era when I grew up, is key to my confusion about my height at the age of 50.
Here’s the thing: We were told in those grades (and could plainly see) that 30 cm was really close to equalling 12 inches. That has been used as a basic guideline my whole life. Something’s two feet wide, and I need to know it in centimetres instead? Well that’s 2X30=60 cm.
Fifty feet of backyard space? Well that’s 50X30=1500 cm (or more conveniently, 15 metres).
Etc., for about four decades.
So when I was told, at some point (by my then-doctor or whatever official individual) prior to getting my driver’s licence at 16 that I was 180 cm tall, well that’s 180 cm/30 cm per foot=6 ft. tall.
Hey, I’m six feet tall, everybody. Says so right here on my driver’s licence.
It just struck me out of the blue yesterday (the “ah-HA!” moment) that, hold on, 30 centimetres isn’t quite 12 inches. Not quite. It is, in fact, equal to 11.81 inches and change.
Now that little bit, less than a fifth of an inch, doesn’t matter so much in just early grade school. But of course the more often that near-fifth is repeated, the bigger the final difference between cm and inches becomes. If, for instance, you multiply 30 cm it by six, you get 180 cm. But that isn’t six feet. It’s actually a hair over an inch less than six feet.
That, dear reader, is where my misunderstanding of my height comes from: Being taught as a kid that 30 centimetres is near enough (for argument’s sake) to 12 inches, or an imperial foot. It effectively is an imperial foot, we’re told. Hence 180 cm is 6 feet, at least it is to a young grade school kid learning math basics.
But it’s not really that much. And the difference here wound up with someone who’s thought he’s been six feet for the last few decades suddenly learning he’s actually 5′ 11″ (specifically, 5′ 10 and 55/64″, but who’s counting?).
So a big fat thanks to the school system that didn’t enforce to me that tiny differences between imperial (which was theoretically being phased out by that point) and metric (theoretically being phased in by that point, but which still, decades later, hasn’t fully taken hold; see the original post link about growing up caught between those two systems) can add up to notable differences in certain circumstances. And a (smaller) big fat thanks to my younger self, who just took that not-quite-accurate teaching and ran with it for half his life without bothering to apply more detailed math to an everyday measurement I had been mistakenly believing all this time.
So now I can finally put this thing to bed. I now know, and can totally accept, that I’m 5′ 11″.
At least, I’m that in thick socks.