How to Count With Your Fingers in Different Languages (Video)

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Photo: Erik R. Trinidad

If you’ve ever seen Quentin Taratino’s WWII film Inglorious Bastards, you know the importance of getting your hand gestures correct when counting with your fingers. (If you haven’t seen it — and hopefully this won’t give too much away — let’s just say that it could be a life or death situation knowing that Brits and Americans signify the number three with the index, middle, and ring finger, while Germans use the thumb, index finger, and middle.)

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Body language, particularly hand gestures, are often the neglected forms of communication when learning a foreign language for travel. Different cultures express their numbers differently. For example, the Maasai touch their index finger to their thumb while the rest of the fingers are curled in to signify three — as I learned from Maasai guide Pashiet from Campi ya Kanzi in Kenya:

Video: Anne-Cecile Blanchot and Erik R. Trinidad, TheGlobalTrip on YouTube

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In Japanese, signifying the number three is the opposite of the European German way, with the thumb, index and middle fingers folded inwards:

Video: KaxyzKoi on YouTube

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According to a YouTube video posted by CupcakeAvenue, Arabic sign language uses the index, middle, and ring fingers to signify the number three — as Americans do — however, when you extend your thumb, index, and middle fingers out as you would mean three in Germany, it actually signifies the letter eight:

Video: CupcakeAvenue on YouTube

So the next time you’re traveling overseas and need three kilograms of something, make sure you know how to talk with your fingers — or else you might be getting more than you asked for.