Saturday, June 27, 2009

Number Signals

A little known fact about Chinese culture is that there are hand signals for numbers. Almost like sign language, each number has its own signal. From one to five, the signs are almost the same as we would count on our fingers in the West. The only difference is that some numbers start with the pinkie, not the forefinger. Over time, I think all four of us have fallen into the habit of doing this as well.

For numbers from six to ten, there are specific motions that show each number. Six is like the sign language "y," while seven is made by touching the thumb to the first and middle fingers. Eight is like holding up a gun, except you don't point at the person you are talking to, and nine is shown by putting your forefinger halfway up. Ten has three different signals that can be used: (1) making a fist, (2) crossing the first and middle fingers, and (3) using your two forefingers to make the character for ten (十, shí). The third signal is the most common out of these three.

Out of all the numbers, the most common is probably six. People here seem to have a reflex that makes their hands naturally form liù whenever they hear the number called. People in the US are going to be totally confused (or maybe think we are deaf) when they see us making these same signs for the numbers. I guess we will have to teach our new found habit to the rest of the world!



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