A Yankee’s Guide to Decoding Celsius

For an American, moving abroad means math. Constant math.

For some reason, the U.S. clings to an overly-complicated system of measurements. Meanwhile, almost everyone else has moved on to the logical, easy world of the metric system for weights and measures and the Celsius scale for temperature.

While adopting the metric system took some getting used to, I was able to adapt fairly quickly. The real stickler for me, however, was switching to Celsius temperatures. For some reason, my mind could not wrap itself around those low, low temperatures and make much sense of them. How could 32 degrees be hot??

There are some mathematical tricks to converting temperatures from Celsius to Fahrenheit. If doing quick math in your head is your kind of thing, the formula is:

T (F°) = T (C°) x 1.8 + 32

That’s an annoying amount of math to have to do if I’m just trying to figure out if I should bring a scarf with me. Plus, when you’re constantly converting from one system to another, you’re less adopting the system and more working around it. And, really, weather shouldn’t be this complicated.

So, my advice is to throw out the equation and just keep in mind the following very simple guidelines:

(If you need at least a couple points of reference, remember that 0°C = 32°F and 28°C = 82°F.)

Below 0°C: Freezing. Literally.

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What to wear: Heavy coat, hat, winter scarf, gloves.

How to complain about the weather: Hug yourself tightly and exclaim: <<Il fait trop froid!>>

0°C-10°C: Cold


What to wear: Heavy coat, hat, scarf, gloves.

How to complain about the weather: Raise your eyebrows and say: <<Il fait froid, aujourd’hui.>>

10°C-20°C: Cool.


What to wear: Medium-weight jacket, scarf.

How to talk about the weather: Nod your head while saying: <<Il fait frais, non?>>

20°C-30°C: Pleasant.

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What to wear: Short sleeves. Lightweight jacket and scarf that you can remove as the day heats up. The closer to 30°, the more summery your clothing should be.

How to talk about the weather: If it’s sunny, smile approvingly while exclaiming: <<Il fait beau, aujourd’hui!>>

30°C-40°C: Hot


What to wear: Shorts or lightweight trousers, sandals, short sleeves. Or better yet, put on your swimming suit and get yourself to the nearest refreshing body of water.

How to complain about the weather: Roll your eyes and shake your head while saying in an exasperated voice: <<Il fait chaud. Trop chaud.>>

40°C+: You may as well be walking on the surface of the sun.


What to wear: As little as possible.

How to talk about the weather: There are no words. This is simply too hot.

Important Note: In southern Europe, the sun here is really strong—much stronger than in most of the U.S. Therefore, it’s important to note not just the air temperature, but also gage how sunny it is. An overcast 23-degree day could require a light jacket, whereas a sunny day at the same temperature can get quite toasty.

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A native of Chicago, Emily is a professional writer and communications specialist living in Provence. An avid traveler, she has explored 30 countries on six continents. She holds a degree in English from the University of Illinois. Emily, her husband, and their four children moved to the lavender fields, vineyards, and olive groves of Provence in 2017.

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