Counting on one hand


Its the little things that catch you out in a foreign country and yesterday I discovered a  difference between the west and China that caught me unawares.

I went to the market to buy food for the weekend, and after getting meat, fish and vegetables I wanted some fruit.  There is one particular fruit stall I tend to patronise, but the usual market lady wasn’t there, her stall was being manned by an old lady who seemed hard of hearing. Having selected a pineapple and some strawberries I thought I would also buy a couple of rather delicious looking nectarines. In my best chinese I asked for two of them.  The old dear couldn’t seem to understand what I was saying and kept repeating the chinese version of “eh? what’s that, speak up…?” . So I pointed at the nectarines and held up my hand showing my thumb and forfinger to indicate I wanted two of them.

At this she beamed with delight and started counting nectarines into a bag, when she had got past three I realised there had been some kind of misunderstanding – I tried saying ‘ok that’s plenty’ but she kept smiling and nodding, and I ended up with eight of them!

Now I’ve discovered that in China fingers are used differently to indicate numbers.  They count up to 10 on one hand.  I had inadvertently signalled the number 8.

I’ve got the hang of their system now, and that mistake won’t happen again.  In the mean time its nectarines at every meal.

About herschelian

Recently moved to Beijing from London - its all new to me! Trying to learn Chinese, and what makes this city tick.
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4 Responses to Counting on one hand

  1. John Rollason says:

    I love nectarines, so the more the merrier! In SA fingers are used by the locals standing at the side of the road to indicate to taxi drivers their desired destination.

  2. Sheila Taylor says:

    Jo – I do love you! You write such interesting things.

  3. Dan says:

    At least you didn’t inadvertently insult her! I should think mis-translations of hand gestures must be the cause of unintentional offence the world over!

  4. marj says:

    Counting by hand looks quite complicated Jo, hope the nectarines were juicy and delicious, could eat one now!

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