Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Densest Object in the World

Today it is time for a cautionary tale about a little detail that might trip you up as you toggle between numbers in French and English.
Once upon a time, shortly after I moved to France for good to live with the man I would later marry, the postman delivered a little blue envelope to our house. It contained a blue, handwritten square of paper with the following information on it:
I arrived: March 31, 2005 at 11:30pm
I weigh: 3,650 kg
I measure: 52 cm
You may visit me on Sunday, April 9, between 9am and noon.
There was no signature. It was some kind of party invitation, but who would have a party on a Sunday morning?
And who would couch the invitation as a riddle?
I had never heard of anything that dense.
Was it an asteroid?
Surely I would have heard of an asteroid landing near our village. It would have made a big hole, too.
Besides, only quarks and stuff are dense like that. You can’t even see them.
This is ridiculous, I thought.
No one is going to come to their party.
I tossed the invitation on the table and forgot about it until my husband came home. “Any mail?” he asked.
“Just this stupid riddle,” I said, handing him the blue piece of paper. As I passed it to him, I noticed there was something on the back of it. It was a picture of a newborn baby, whose birth his parents and grandparents were very happy to announce.
“Ah, Fred had his baby,” Julien said, tossing the birth announcement back on the table. “I guess we should buy them a present. What do you mean, riddle?”
And that is why you should never forget that the French use commas where Americans use decimal points, and vice versa.

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