If you've been in China long enough, you've probably noticed that special hand gestures are used to express the numbers from one to ten.
Why is that? China has many different dialects and sometimes it can be confusing for people from different regions to understand one another. Furthermore, a lot of words sound very similar in Chinese. For example the word for the number four, si, sounds very similar to ten, shi. Therefore, using hand signs can be very useful to clear up confusion when bargaining or doing business.
So let's take a look at what these simple gestures are and how to form them. We've provided the characters and pinyin prononciations of each number as well.
1. One (一, 'yī')
Extend your index finger.
2. Two (二, 'èr' or 两, 'liǎng')
Extend both your index finger and middle finger.
3. Three (三, 'sān')
Extend your index finger, middle finger and ring finger.
4. Four (四, 'sì')
Extend your all four of your fingers (index, middle, ring and pinky).
5. Five (五, 'wǔ')
Extend all of your fingers plus your thumb.
6. Six (六, 'liù')
Make a "hang loose" sign: extend your pinky to one side and your thumb in the opposite direction. Fold your index, middle and ring fingers down against your palm.
7. Seven (七, 'qī')
All fingertips touch, or just the tips of the index finger, middle finger and thumb. Malaysian and/or Singaporean Chinese might interpret this as the number five. Locals of Guangdong and Hong Kong will interpret this as the number eight. This is the most common way. However, there is an alternative way where the thumb is extended, and the index and middle finger are also extended.
8. Eight (八, 'bā')
Point and extend your index finger in the air, and also extend your thumb, so that you make an "L" shape. Some people from other regions (Malaysian or Singaporean Chinese or people from Taiwan, Guangdong or Hong Kong) might interpret this as the number seven.
9. Nine (九, 'jiǔ')
Curl your index finger. Other fingers can be closed like a fist.
10. Ten (十, 'shí')
Make a fist. (Though this can also be interpreted as "zero").
An alternative way is to take both index fingers of each hand and then cross them like the character for ten: "十”:
So there you have it! Keep these in mind as they might come in handy next time you go to the supermarket.