Conversion Submersion

Euros and meters and kilos, oh my!!!

Knowing that we were going to have to learn an entirely new weights and measurement system when we moved, we thought we’d get ahead of the game and set our cars and phones to Celsius about 2 months ahead of our departure. We were so proud of ourselves. Ha! Ha! Ha!! That was just the tip of the iceberg.

I’ll start with money. The official bank to bank conversion rate of the US dollar and the euro, as of March 5, 2020, was €1 = $1.12, which means the dollar is weaker against the euro. When we buy things here with a credit card we oftentimes get the option to select whether we want to pay in US dollars or euros on handheld credit card machines. If so, we NEVER pay in US dollars because it always costs more, sometimes as much as 13% more (we’ve seen it as high as €1 = $1.25). The reason is that vendors tack on a foreign transaction fee and they have the option to set their own conversion rate. It’s better to have the credit card company convert the purchase to US dollars on the back end.

The other fun thing is that euro banknotes are more colorful than US banknotes and each euro banknote is a slightly different size. They are also transparent when you hold them up to the light. Interestingly (per Wikipedia), the inspiration for the € symbol came from the Greek epsilon (Є), a reference to the cradle of European civilization (and the first letter of the word Europe), crossed by two parallel lines to ‘certify’ the stability of the euro. Who knew?!

Here’s a good example I found on the Internet of the twenties from each currency to demonstrate the differences in size and look. The €20 doesn’t fit neatly into our wallets. It’s too “tall.” This means I like to spend those as fast as possible.

Image result for comparing a US banknotes to Euro banknotes

The lowest banknote denomination is €5. The €1 and €2 denominations are coins. This means you are typically carrying around a LOT of heavy change, which is actually helpful because you need it to feed parking meters. Bank notes come in €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500. However, the €200 and €500 are rarely used. Coins come in €2 and €1 as mentioned before as well as 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c and 1c denominations.

For those unfamiliar with the euro currency, this is what it looks like…

Image result for euro currency
Image result for euro currency definition

Because this money is very new to me, looks so different and is so colorful, it doesn’t really feel like money. It kinda reminds me of Monopoly so when I use it, it feels like I’m using play money. Won is not happy about this…

Here’s the funny thing about trying to adjust to the metric system, some conversions are higher than the Imperial system and some are lower. For example, your weight. I love the metric system because my weight is way lower than what I’m typically used to seeing on the scale. It’s like less than half!! Woohoo!!! To convert kilograms to pounds, multiply the kilogram measurement by 2.2. As an example, Sweet Pea is 8.3 kgs. To convert, we multiply 8.3 by 2.2 and get 18.298 pounds. Won and I both just switched our Google Fit apps to read kilograms instead of pounds since purchasing a bathroom scale that only uses kilograms. Now, I don’t mind weighing myself so much.

And speaking of kilograms, we recently joined a health club. Won went to pick up some dumb bells and grabbed two 25 kilogram weights thinking they were 25 pounds each and nearly pulled his arms out of his sockets! They were actually 55 pounds each. (Ha!! You should have seen him try to cover that up…it was hilarious!) I’m no different and am having to adjust my actions too. I’m learning to set machines that work out my arms to 5 or 7.5 kgs (11 to 16.5 lbs), which is plenty heavy for me. I plan to keep my arms in their sockets.

As for my height? I’m used to saying I’m 5’3″. Now, I’m only 1.6. Talk about feeling short. Alternately, I can feel like a giant if I convert that to centimeters. Now I’m 160 and feel like King Kong!

All the driving directions and signs, of course, are in kilometers. At first, we felt like we were getting everywhere super fast! “Exit the freeway in 500 kilometers.” We had no idea how far that was, but it was 500 so it had to be really far and then suddenly we’re at the exit!! Wow! 1 mile is equal to 1.609 kilometers. So in that last example, 500 meters equals a 1/3 of a mile. We were zipping around Portugal and feeling like we were using warp speed.

And filling up the car with fuel is another interesting experience. We’re used to putting 12 to 13 gallons of gas in the tank. Here the measurement is liters so putting 10 liters in the tank seemed like a pretty good amount. It barely got us a 1/4 of a tank!! We quickly learned that there are 3.785 liters to 1 gallon. In New Jersey, where gas prices are pretty low, it would cost about $35.00 to fill the tank. Here, a liter of premium gas can range from €1,59 to €1,75 depending on location. Now filling up the tank can cost us about €85 and with the conversion rate it comes to $96. Egad. Good thing we can walk to get food. [I’m pretty sure my European friends smiled when they saw I finally used the correct number format for the euro amounts above, but I have to say, I don’t think I’ll ever adjust to using a comma instead of a period for fractions. I’ll do my best to convert, but remember…patience is a virtue.]

Even buying sheets and blankets for the beds was a challenge! All the measurements are in centimeters which meant we had to first buy a measuring tape to determine the appropriate sizes and there are a lot of size options here! With the tape measure in hand, do you think we got it right? Nope. We were buying sheets and blankets and returning them at an alarming rate. Even pillow sizes are complicated. We now have one pillow case that is way too big and one that is way too small for the same sized pillows in the second bedroom. We gave up. You are now officially forewarned before you show up and stay with us…

The temperature thing is tricky too. Even though we set our cars and phones to read Celsius, we keep cheating and switching back to Fahrenheit to understand what it means. When we first got here we would just look outside. If it was sunny and not a cloud in the sky we’d think, great, it’s going to be warm. No. It would be chilly. Or, we’d look outside and see that it was overcast and gloomy. Better put on a light weight coat or sweater and within 30 seconds of leaving we’d be peeling off those layers because it was hot and humid. So I am constantly switching back and forth between Celsius and Fahrenheit to be sure I know what to expect. (Won is more disciplined. He never cheats. He even set his Google navigation to Portuguese which means I have no idea where we’re going. Ever.) I think I might need a full year in Portugal to experience the full spectrum of temperature ranges before I will instinctively know what 13 or 28 means. Personally, I love it when it is 72 degrees outside. Now I have to start changing that in my head to 22.222. Well, at least it is an easy number to remember!

The other major adjustment has to do with cooking. Our oven controls are in Celsius. The first time I used the oven, I set the temperature to 250 (the oven doesn’t go much higher than that, which should have been my first clue), but 250 seemed low to me. 250 degrees Celsius is 482 degrees Fahrenheit. The outcome was pretty much what you are thinking. Needless to say, we’ve quickly adjusted and ask Google or Alexa to confirm our conversion math, otherwise we’d be eating burned food all the time!

Another ‘fun’ thing about cooking is that all the recipes I have saved on my phone are from the US, and all the food weights on packaging and on the measuring cups I purchase here use the metric system. This means I’m having to constantly convert, which isn’t as easy you think and the conversions aren’t exactly clean numbers. Liquids are in liters, pans sizes are in centimeters, cups are measured in grams, and of course the temperature is in Celsius as mentioned above. This means cooking is sometimes more of a guessing game and hoping for the best. Thankfully a teaspoon and tablespoon are still the same.

Even buying a pair of shoes takes an adjustment. We both needed to buy new gym shoes. My typical size is 8.5, but now I’m a 41 or 42. It’s hard to feel feminine when you have to request a size 41. My Dad always used to tease me and tell me that I’d be a lot taller if God hadn’t turned so much of me under to make feet. He was right!

Until we become pros at knowing how much things weigh, how far away they are, how hot they are, or how big, we’re going to try to avoid burning down the house, missing our exits, and pulling out our arms. In the meantime, it’s ‘Hey Google, please convert…’

From Portugal with love,


Published by Beth Thomas-Kim

After working in corporate America for companies like Mattel, Nestlé, and Johnson & Johnson, I retired and moved to Portugal in January of 2020 with my husband Won and our 12-year old wire fox terrier, Sweet Pea. We now live in Monte Estoril, a lovely seaside town just outside Lisbon. We spend our days happily exploring this beautiful country and learning about its fascinating history, engaging culture, warm and welcoming people, delicious food and wine, and stunning architecture. This blog was started primarily as a way to keep family and friends updated on our transition from the US to Portugal. Now, my subscribers include people from all over the world. Enjoy!

13 thoughts on “Conversion Submersion

  1. In a few months you’ll look back on this particular challenge and say “Oh yeah. That was a bit of a hassle at first. But it’s all good now.”


    1. I’m counting on it!! We are already adjusting to kilometers during driving and we HAD to figure out Celcius when using the oven, for health reasons. LOLOL! Every day we learn just a bit more, which helps us become more comfortable and confident. 😘


  2. Another great and interesting chapter in your relocation. All of the required conversions make my head spin. I am much too old to even think about it. I am happy for you that the healthcare seems to be a plus. I am looking forward to the next chapter. Love, Aunt Dianna


  3. Beth, Won, So happy to to see you guys having a blast. Won tells me that he has not played a round of golf since you guys got there. Just tell him that everything is in Meters there so his drives will be much shorter than he expects. Love from us here in Chester. Ron & Meeka


    1. Hi Ron and Meeka! So nice to hear from you. Yes, we’ve been having a great time since moving here and we are hoping to get back to the fun once we are collectively past this awful global pandemic. I’ve shared your comment with Won and he smiled. We hope you and your family stay safe and come through this terrible time in good health. Take care.


  4. Very entertaining! Canada uses metric, but we are in a weird hybrid mode. For me, baking measurements, oven temperatures, my height and weight are Imperial, whereas temperature, car speed, distances are in metric.


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