How to count on fingers in China

Globalization and so on. You fly somewhere and don’t want to bring with you any dictionary – everywhere it’s possible to communicate in English. Well, maybe not all locals will understand you, but still – if not the first one, then the second one. But even if there is none who knows any English – you still can explain what you need on fingers. Especially if it’s about money or numbers.

So, here you go… China. And you are at the local market for the first time…

The seller says you something like “dzeoukwayi” and surely you don’t understand what it means. It’s obvious that a kilo of mandarins can’t cost more than 10 yuan in south of China, so you ask to show you the price on fingers. You show one finger, then two, then five, then ten – to explain to the seller how you can understand him.

And…tadam!!! The seller shows you a squiggle from his fingers and repeat “dzeoukwayi-dzeoukwayi”. God, why are you so dumb? Can’t you show me on fingers?

So, you start over again to show him different numbers of fingers to give him to understand what should he do. But the seller with his eyes full of understanding what you want from him continues to shake that squiggle in front of your face.

Aaassshhhh!!! You start to show all possible finger combination from the beginning: one finger, two fingers, three fingers… with comment in English. Nope, doesn’t work. Neither fingers, no English.

After minute or two the seller realizes that you are too stupid to understand him and go to the next shop to get a calculator and types the price there.


Next time after hearing “sankwayi” you ask another seller to show you the price on fingers and – o miracle! – he shows you three fingers without any hesitation. Awesome! Why that first one was so weird?

But then the next seller tells you “shikwayi” with one index finger beating against another one and basically starts to behave as the first seller.

And… then you get an idea… And ask someone who has lived in China longer than you…

And you find out that it is so true that nothing is in the way it’s supposed to be in China. Even counting on fingers.

They count in the same way up to five (but they show it with back of hand to the person) but then they are two lazy to use second hand. So, they show 6-10 with one hand as well (only 10 require second hand and only at the south) using some weird figures.

So, now some pictures explaining how to translate Chinese figures to the “normal language”.

6 in Mandarin

7 in Mandarin

Plus, people from the north and central China show 7 as a “pinch” with thumb, index and middle fingers.

8 in Mandarin

9 in Mandarin

10 in Mandarin

10 in Mandarin

If you need to show double-digit number, then the first figure are shown with back of hand and second one – with your palm faced the person whom you show it.

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