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.