There’s a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” where a British spy outs himself simply by ordering a drink.
Without giving too much away, the spy, undercover as a German officer, orders another round of whiskey, telling the bartender, “Drei Gläser” (three glasses) and holding three fingers up — his index, middle, and ring finger.
Suddenly, the jig is up. The British spy realises he has been outed as an imposter, and the entire bar erupts in a firefight.
A true German would have ordered “three” with the index, middle finger, and thumb extended. This is the common way that most Western Europeans (such as Germans, Austrians, Belgians, Italians, the Swiss, the Spanish, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the French, and Scandinavians) count with their fingers, and it also extends to how they order drinks, according to a 2009 study from the University of Alberta-Augustana.
When counting, the thumb is always the first digit and represents number one, followed by the index finger (2), middle finger (3), ring finger (4), and finally the pinky finger (5).
English speaking countries such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom typically count with the index finger as the first digit and end with the thumb to represent five.
So if you were to hold up an index finger in Western Europe to represent one, they might misunderstand and think you actually meant two. Though you probably wouldn’t be murdered like the spy in “Inglourious Basterds,” you might have to pay for two beers instead of just the one.
Moral of the story: The next time you’re in Germany, order your drinks the Western European way and avoid a potentially fatal mistake.
The scene in “Inglourious Basterds” starts at the 10:50 mark:
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