French Measurements

French measurements are based off the metric system, which is the international standard for measurements. If you’re moving to France from the United States, forget about feet, inches, pounds, or degrees Fahrenheit because they are not used in France.

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Learning French units of measures will help you in many ways, such as driving in France, home cooking or even ordering beer.

Distances

French measurements for distances

The main advantage of the metric system is that a measurement in a specific unit is either a multiple or a fraction of another measurement unit. One can easily switch between kilometers and meters using the following unit conversion table.

Unit conversion table for distances

Another easy way to switch between units is to know the meaning of the prefixes.

prefixmeaning
kilo1,000
hecto100
deca10
deci1/10
centi1/100
milli1/1,000
Numeral prefix meanings

Distances conversion to miles and yards

French use kilometers and meters to evaluate distances while decameters and hectometers are rarely used.

One kilometer is a little over half a mile.

1 kilometer (km) = 0.62 miles (mi)

Traffic signs in France show distances in kilometers.

Distances are displayed in kilometers in France

In France, the speed limit is defined in kilometers per hour and it’s written as km/h.

La vitesse est limitée à 130 km/h sur l’autoroute.
Speed limit is 80 mph on freeways.

Meters are easy for Americans to get used to because one meter is very close to one yard.

1 meter (m) = 1.09 yards (yd)

French traffic signs show smaller distances in meters.

When asking for directions in France, people will answer with distances in meters or kilometers.

Allez tout droit pendant 200 mètres et tournez à droite.
Go straight for 200 meters and make a right.

Good to know
In France, people never talk about distances in number of blocks because French cities are not grid-planned.

Temperatures

French measurements for temperatures

French use degrees Celsius for temperatures rather than degree Fahrenheit. Celsius are written as °C.

Temperatures conversion to Fahrenheit

To convert degrees Celsius into degrees Fahrenheit, multiply the number of Celsius by 1.8 and then add 32.

1 degree Celsius (°C)
=
( °C*1.08 + 32) degrees Fahrenheit (°F)

Check out the two following weather forecast maps for early December. The one on the left show the weather forecast for France in celsius degrees while the map on the right show the same temperatures converted into fahrenheit degrees.

France weather forecast in degrees Celsius
France weather forecast in degrees Fahrenheit

Temperatures you should know

There are a few basic temperatures that you should know when living in France and the most useful one is probably the human body temperature.

  • normal body temperature – 37°C (98.6°F)
  • low-grade fever – 37.5°C to 38°C (99.5°F to 100.4°F)
  • moderate-grade fever – 38.1°C to 39°C (100.6°F to 102.2°F)
  • high-grade fever – 39.1°C to 41°C (102.4°F to 105.8°F)

Degree Celsius is based on water temperature and this is why two easy temperatures to remember are the freezing point of water at 0°C (32°F) and the boiling point of water at 100°C (212°F).

A comfortable room temperature runs around 20°C (68°F).

If you’re cooking or baking, learn the regular oven settings in degrees Celsius.

  • very slow -120°C (250°F)
  • moderate – 180°C (350°F)
  • hot – 200°C – (400°F)
  • very hot – 230°C – (450°F)
  • extremely hot – 260°C (500°F)

Lengths

French measurements for lengths

French use meters, decimeters, centimeters and millimeters to calculate lengths. The following table makes it easy to convert between the length units.

Unit conversion table for lengths

Lengths conversion to inches and feet

It helps to compare centimeters to inches visually to get a good mental representation.

Centimeters to inches comparison

One centimeter is approximately a little over a third of an inch.

1 centimeter (cm) = 0.39 inches (in)

A meter being approximately the same as a yard, it’s roughly equivalent to three feet and a quarter.

1 meter (m) = 3.28 feet (ft)

Common lengths you should know

Whereas bed sizes in the U.S. are defined with names such as king, queen or twin, bed sizes in France are described by their width and length in centimeters.

Bed size
in
the U.S.
Bed size
in France
Queen (60″x80″)160x200cm
King (76″x80″)200x200cm
Cal King (72″x84″)180x200cm
Olympic queen (66″x80″)160x200cm
Full XL (54″x80″)140x200cm
Full (54″x75″)140x190cm
Twin XL (38″x80″)90x200cm
Twin (38″x75″)90x190cm
Small single (30″x75″)70x190cm or 80x190cm
Bed size equivalence between United States and France

Unless you’re shopping for a bed or a mattress, bed sizes are described with only the width in French.

La première chambre a un lit en 160, la deuxième a un lit en 140 et la troisième a deux lits en 90.
The first bedroom has one queen bed, the second one has one full bed and the third one has two twin beds.

Another length that is worth knowing is people’s height. As a reference, a 6-foot tall person measures 1.80 m in France.

Do you know how to tell your size in French?

Je mesure un mètre cinquante-cinq.
I’m five feet one inches tall.

Je mesure 1,55 m.
I’m 5’1″.

Notice how the decimal point is replaced with a comma in French. Read How to write numbers in French to learn more about French numbers.

Weights

French measurements for weights

French use kilograms and grams to measure weights. The following table makes it easy to convert between kilograms and grams.

Smaller weighs are measured in decigrams, centigrams and milligrams.

Weights conversion to ounces and pounds

One ounce is equivalent to 28 grams and you can use the following formula to convert from grams to ounces.

1 gram (g) = 0.04 ounces (oz)

One kilograms weighs a little bit over two pounds.

1 kilogram (kg) = 2.20 pounds (lb)

In France, prices for fresh produce are by the kilogram (prix au kg).

Weights in French recipes

Whereas American recipes call for volumes measured in cups and spoons, French recipes indicate the quantity of dry ingredients by weight. It’s a good idea to buy an electronic kitchen scale if you plan on trying French recipes.

Let’s compare the list of ingredients to make brownies.

  • 222 g de chocolat noir – 9 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 268 g de beurre demi-sel – 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
  • 5 œufs – 5 eggs
  • 250 g de sucre en poudre – 1 ⅓ cups superfine sugar
  • 25 g de farine – 3 tablespoons pastry flour

It will probably be tough at first to switch from using cups to using a scale. I personally find weighing ingredients more convenient than cups as it leaves less room for error.

Weights you should know

In the same way that you should probably know your own height in centimeters, you should probably calculate your own weight in kilograms.

Je pèse 52 kg.
I weigh 115 pounds.

Another common fact to know is that one liter of water weighs one kilogram.

Did you know?
The weight of a baguette is not the same everywhere in France. In Paris, It’s usually around 250 g (9 oz).

Liquids

French measurements for liquids

French use liters, centiliters and milliliters to measure liquids. The following table makes it easy to convert between liters and milliliters.

Liquids conversion to fluid ounces and gallons

In France, gas prices at the pump are displayed per liter (prix au litre). One liter is approximately a quarter gallon.

1 liter (L) = 0.26 gallons (gal)

One fluid ounce is about 30 milliliters. Use this formula to convert milliliters to fluid ounces.

1 milliliter (ml)
=
0.03 fluid ounces (fl oz)

Liquids in French recipes

French cooking measurements for liquids are: liter, centiliter and milliliter. Occasionally, some recipes will call for “un verre” (one drinking glass) of liquid, “une cuillère à soupe” (tablespoon) or “une cuillère à café” (tea spoon).

Beer sizes

When ordering beer in France, you need to specify which size of glass you want. The most common size is called “un demi” and it’s equivalent to 25 cl. “Demi” means half in French and 25 cl is half the size of a French pint, called “une pinte”. A French pint (50 cl) is slightly bigger than an American pint (16 fl oz or 47.3 cl). When you want a smaller glass, order a “galopin” instead, which is 12.5 cl or half a “demi”.

Areas

French measurements for areas

French use square meters, square kilometers and hectares to measure areas.

When looking for a rental place in France, you’ll have to make sense of surfaces written in square meters, not in square footage. The notation for square meters is m2.

1 square meter (m2)
=
10.76 square feet (ft2)

Larger spaces are measured in square kilometers (km2) rather than square miles.

1 square kilometer (km2)
=
0.39 square miles (mi2)

Hectares are the preferred unit for very large areas.

1 hectare (10,000m2) = 2.47 acres

In France, the square meterage of a home only includes the space that is considered inhabitable. Practically speaking, this means that areas that are less than 1.80 m (6 ft) in height are not included in the square meterage of a place.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the metric system. French also have a different way of writing numbers than Americans and you can read How to write numbers in French for details.

Nathalie Nahmani

About Nathalie Nahmani

Nathalie is the creator of ma French Life. She moved back to France after living in Los Angeles for 20 years. She writes practical articles to help expats in France. Nathalie lives with her family in the French Alps near Grenoble.

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