Metric & imperial distances

Most of us have stared at a handy miles-to-kilometers converter right under our noses on our car dashboards (Photo by Unknown)
Most of us have stared at a handy miles-to-kilometers converter right under our noses on our car dashboards

Miles and kilometers, feet and meters, and so on

OK, the Brits has split the difference on measurements.

Road signs still use miles and yards (and speed limits are in miles per hour), but otherwise most measurements are supposed to be in metric.

Let's start big and go smaller.

Converting kilometers and miles

Km Miles
1km 0.62mi
2km 1.24mi
3km 1.86mi
4km 2.46mi
5km 3.11mi
6km 3.37mi
7km 4.35mi
8km 4.97mi
9km 5.59mi
10km 6.21mi
50km 31.07mi
100km 62.14mi
Miles Km
1mi 1.61km
2mi 3.22km
3mi 4.83km
4mi 6.44km
5mi 8.05km
6mi 9.66km
7mi 11.27km
8mi 12.88km
9mi 14.48km
10mi 16.09km
50mi 80.47km
100mi 160.93km

At least this converThis conversion is easy enough to do in your head. A kilometer (km) is equal to 0.62 miles, and a mile is 1.61 km.

OK so it's not THAT easy. Still, doing a rough calc in your head isn't that hard. For kilometers to miles, just break it into two bits: 50% plus 10% (which totals 60%, or 0.60), then round up a smidge for that extra 2% (the 0.02).

That sounds more complicated than it is: Say you're looking to convert 80 km. OK, so to get 50% you just cut that in half, which is 40. Tuck that away in a crevice of your cerebellum for a moment.

Now take 10% of the original 80—which is 8—then add that to the 40 and you get 48. Round up "a smidge" to cover that extra 2% and you get 50. That means 80 km is roughly 50 miles (actually, it's 49.6, so close enough).

Here, I'll make it easy for you with the table to the right.

Frankly, you'll rarely ever need to convert the other way, unless you want to say to someone in Europe something along the lines of "I live 20 miles outside of Boston," only put it in kilometers terms so he understands where your suburb is. No biggie. Ten miles is about 16 kilometers, so tell him you live 32 km from Boston. (This is assuming, of course, he has more than a vague sense of where Boston is in the first place.) That cheat sheet is to the right.

The yardstick by which meters are measured

Thank heavens for the yardstick. You can point with it, you can rap people in the knuckles with it, you can even measure stuff with it, so long as the stuff in question is less than three feet long.

And it's also about one meter long, so just picture a yardstick and you know what a meter looks like. Well, roughly.

Cm Inches
1cm 0.4in
2cm 0.8in
3cm 1.2in
4cm 1.6in
5cm 2in
6cm 2.4in
7cm 2.8in
8cm 3.2in
9cm 3.6in
10cm 3.9in
11cm 4.3in
12cm 4.7in
Inches Cm
1in 2.54cm
2in 5.08cm
3in 7.63cm
4in 10.16cm
5in 12.70cm
6in 15.24cm
7in 17.78cm
8in 20.32cm
9in 22.86cm
10in 25.40cm
11in 27.94cm
12in 30.48cm

Actually, 1 meter is 3.3 feet—a bit longer than a yard. So 10 meters is equal to 33 feet, or 11 yards, which is enough for a first down (only they play soccer in Europe, so that little joke wouldn't work).

100 meters is 330 feet (or 110 yards), 1,000 meters is 3,300 feet (or 1,100 yards).

One thousand meters is also 1 kilometer, which is 0.62 miles; see above.

Give a man an inch, he'll take about two and half centimeters

I can't think of a time when I've had to use inches or centimeters in any discussion in Europe, much less needed to convert between the two, but just to be thorough:

One inch is equal to 2.54 centimeters (make it two and a half).

One cm is 0.4 inches.

That means 12 inches is 30.48 cm (just pretend it's 30). We call that "a foot"—and so do the Brits—but contiental Europeans don’t have a separate word for something of that length; they'd just say "30 centimeters" or maybe "a third of a meter."

Then again, since they don’t really eat hot dogs, I guess they don't need a term for foot-long.