Monday, 1 March 2010

When you ask for TWO and get EIGHT

Once, when my mother was visiting me in Beijing together with my mother-in-law, we went shopping. We always went shopping of course, but once we went shopping for tea. It was their last day of their stay in Beijing and the demand for different kind of green teas and jasmine teas in pretty little gift boxes was high. I was the tour guide and had to translate - but could not handle both mothers at the same time. So my mother, not shy, went ahead and ordered two more red boxes of a nice Dragon Well green tea. And to make sure the Chinese sales girl understood her right, she made the gesture with her two fingers - the Western way :

The Chinese sales girl got very excited and asked her collegue for help and they packed tea in boxes, and boxes and boxes ... meanwhile I turned around and saw my confused mother trying to stop the girls and behind the counter I saw happy busy working sales girls.

I understood right away, what had happened, when I heard my mother saying : No, TWO, TWO !

The Western gesture for TWO is the Chinese gesture for EIGHT !

You must know the following :
Chinese use one hand, five fingers only, to count to 10. And especially when shopping in the grocery markets they use their fingers.

And counting to ten the Chinese way goes like this:

Chinese figure gestures
Chinese characters for 1 to 10 and pinyin writing

Below alternative gestures for 10 :

So, my Mum had ordered EIGHT boxes of tea, thinking she had asked for only TWO. Well, she did ask for two, in her English - but with the Western gesture for two which is the Chinese gesture for eight.


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