Numeral Notions Around the World

If you’ve read some of our business etiquette blogs, or if you’ve been lucky enough to travel the world, you may have noticed that numbers sometimes have significant meanings around the world. A little while ago we published a blog about color connotations (link) around the world. In this blog we’ll tell you a little about what different numbers signify in different parts of the world.


Many cultures have superstitions about the groupings of things. In Russia, they believe that all odd numbers are unlucky, so if you’re giving a gift like flowers or chocolates, make sure it’s an even number.


In many Christian cultures, the number three represents the holy trinity. There is also an old adage saying “all good things come in threes.”  Many western cultures believe this to be a lucky number.


If you find a four leaf clover in Ireland or Germany, you’ve got luck on your side, but if you’re speaking Chinese, watch out. The number four is pronounced “Shi” and is the same as the word for “death.” This number is considered unlucky in many Asian cultures, and many hotels and buildings will skip the fourth floor.


The seventh month of the lunar calendar is the “ghost” month, where the gates to hell open and spirits come to visit the living. Although it’s not particularly unlucky, seven is considered spiritually and ghostly. Seven is also spiritual for Christian cultures, as it is said that God created the world in six days and on the seventh day, he rested.


In Japan and some other Asian cultures, the number eight is thought to symbolize prosperity and wealth. The kanji for eight is pronounced “hachi,” which is the same as the character meaning wealth and prosperity. Because of this, many stores will price their products ending in .98 or .88.


Again, the pronunciation makes a number take on new meaning. “Ku,” the pronunciation of the Kanji symbol for 9, is the same as the word for torture or suffering. Nine is considered unlucky in many Asian cultures.  In Nordic countries however, they continue to hold some beliefs left over from Norse mythology, including the belief the nine is considered lucky.


Friday the 13th is a worrisome day in America and many western cultures, where people expect to have a bad day before it even starts. Many hotels don’t have a 13th floor as its thought to bring bad luck. One American franchise has cashed in on this superstition with over twelve horror movies, a TV show, comic books and more. This belief actually stems from the bible, as there were thirteen people at the last supper. There are also traditionally thirteen members in a witch coven. However, if you’re traveling to Naples, 13 is considered lucky as it is the number of St. Anthony, the Saint of Naples.


In Afghanistan, the number 39 translates to “dead cow,” which happens to also be slang for a pimp, or a procurer of prostitutes. If you’re doing business in Afghanistan, make sure your business card doesn’t have this number on it, or they may get the wrong idea.


Westerners know this as Satan’s number. The Bible refers to 666 as “the number of the beast” and many films and stories have revolved around this, expanding upon the belief. There is actually a word for the fear of this number: Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia. Try saying that six-hundred-and-sixty-six times fast.

Here at Lionbridge onDemand, we can help with the translation and localization of hundreds of languages - but we can't help if you scare off a potential client by accidentally implying you want to torture them. Keep up to date with your cultural dos and don'ts by checking out our daily blog posts, where we will continue to inform you about technology, language, and all things international. Ta-ta for now!