Question about Inglourious Basterds (spoilers)

I just saw it tonight and I thought it was the most kick ass piece of cinema to grace the screen this summer.
Anyway I’ll leave a big space here for those who haven’t seen the movie.

When the allied spies go into the bar to meet with Bridget von Hammersmark, the SS guy orders scotch and tells the bartender to bring four glasses. But then the British spy tells him to bring only three. This apparently is a dead giveaway (even though their behavior had already been highly suspect) that they are spies.
What I’d like to know is what was it about this particular gesture that gave him away? Bridget offered a brief explanation when she was in the operating room, but because of her accent I didn’t catch it.

The Brit ordered three glasses of whiskey, and held his three fingers up. However, apparently Germans use their thumb, index and middle finger to indicate the number three. After this mistake, it’s obvious that he is not a native of Germany.

Germans apparently use the thumb and the first two fingers to say three. He used three fingers and no thumb.

btw is this true in real life?

Yep, I watched the movie in Holland, but there were a lot of Germans in the theatre, they all laughed when the spy ordered the glasses.

I know a German woman who counts to three with her thumb. She told me it looked strange to her when Americans used their ring finger to count to three. This was about 5 years ago.

As I mentioned in the other thread about this film, yes - that was a dead giveaway. I noticed it immediately.

Every American learns this the hard way in a crowded, loud German bar…you raise your hand like a good American and want two more beers, so you sort of make a peace symbol/victory sign and smile, thinking you ordered two more beers. Sure enough, THREE beers show up.

Germans count the thumb as ONE, with each additional finger as two, three etc.
So to order three beers, you use your thumb, plus pointer and middle finger together.

It only takes one time to pay for three drinks instead of two to learn this quickly.

So this is like a ‘rule of thumb’ when drinking?! :wink:

Just to clarify that: of course you use four fingers without the thumb for number four, it doesn’t work otherwise. But the gesture was highly noticeable. Drew an “oh-oh” from me.

As a German, I am immensly happy that I watched the original version and not a dub, the use of different languages was done really well.
The British guy’s accent was also believable as being good enough that he thought he could get away with it, but not quite enough for passing.

Despite not being a German speaker, I know enough German and have heard it enough that I recognized his British-accented German pretty quickly. I couldn’t distinguish between ‘Frankfurt’ and ‘Munich’, though that was probably because I wasn’t listening for differences there. I was listening for the British guy’s German.

The playing they do with languages makes me want to watch it again so I can catch it. I missed it a little when they switched from French to Italian.

And to think the whole thing might have been avoided if one of the German basterds had said to British temporary basterd “hey, you’re accent is odd, you might want to have a story for that…”

In the other Basterds thread somebody pointed out that he should’ve just claimed his father was a diplomat and he grew up abroad. I suppose he could also have claimed to be Swiss-German (would that’ve covered up the accent enough?).

It was a noticeable British accent, so the diplomat excuse was the only way to go (except for choosing an underling uniform and shutting the hell up).
Swiss wouldn’t have worked just like the Tyrolean that he claimed iirc.

As long as the question has been asked and answered, a true story from back in the Iranian hostage days…they were trying to sneak many Americans out of Iran and two Americans went to the airport, with faked German passports.

The Iranian guard at checkpoint looked at the passport and noticed that one guy had his name, with a middle initial! I think the name on the passport was something like “Johann A. Schmidt”.
(Big mistake, as German passports don’t allow initials, even for a middle name - it has to be your full name.)

The guard flat out said, “German passports don’t have initials for names.”
The American was a quick thinker. and whispered, “My parents stupidly named me Adolf, and I have special permission to use my initial instead of that name.”
The Iranian guard let him through and he was able to get out of Iran. I read this story in Time Magazine a few months after the crisis had ended.

I find this hard to believe. I do not think that American specifically count a certain way. I also believe that they are not taught to count in school, in fact, they are discouraged from counting with their fingers.

That said, I, an American, count three by holding up my thumb and and my index and middle finger like Germans. (I count 1 with index, 2 with index and middle, 3 with thumb, index, and middle, and 4 with index, middle, ring, and pinkie. All these numbers are with palm facing person I am talking to.)

I asked my mother how she counts three, she held up index, middle, and ring finger like the British guy in the movie. (She counts 1 with index, 2 with index and middle, 3 with index, middle, and ring, 4 with index, middle, ring, and pinkie. All these numbers were done with back of her hand facing the person she is talking too.)

My sister counts three with thumb, index, and middle finger. (She counts 1 with thumb, 2 with thumb and index, 3 with thumb, middle and index, four with index, middle, ring and pinkie. All was done with palm facing person she was talking too.)

That said, I find it hard to read into counting of fingers among Americans. However, British to German counting of three is possible. Assuming the characters assumed the British guy had a British accent, then you can read into that.
Or maybe it is referring to how people order in a bar. They may use different ways but that may be getting involved in bar culture.
That said, my family never goes to bars, so maybe we are an anomaly.

Any thoughts?

I don’t think it was so much they knew he was british it’s that they knew he wasn’t german since no German would use 3 fingers and not a thumb.

BiggestFish, welcome to the Straight Dope Message Boards, we’re glad to have you with us. Just want to note that the prior post in this thread was back in August, so it’s not clear whether the people who posted back then will want to revive this. Nothin’ to worry about, I just wanted you to be aware.