Student - 14 september 2017

Licking the index finger

I was having a group discussion with my ACT team. We were struggling with a calculation when a Dutch teammate said: ‘If we can't figure it out, we can just do this.’ Then he quickly licked his index finger and lifted it up in the air, as if he was pointing at the ceiling.

Illustration Henk van Ruitenbeek

Seeing that the other international student in our group and I were both quite confused, he explained what he meant. The gesture of licking the index finger and raising it in the air means ‘making a rough estimation’. It has to do with the typical windy weather in the Netherlands. In the past, when the Dutch wanted to know which direction the wind was blowing from, they would lick their index fingers and raise them. The wet finger would feel coldest and dry fastest on the side the wind was coming from, and so a rough estimation of the wind direction could be made. Over time, the meaning of this action extended beyond estimating the wind direction to any kind of ‘guesstimation’.

The gesture of licking and raising the index finger has to do with the windy Dutch weather

Of course wind direction in The Netherlands is no longer measured in this way nowadays, either due to the huge uncertainty of this method or the widespread use of wind vanes. But it's still an interesting example of how even a small gesture can have a deep bond with a country, its climate and its people.

Yinci Yan, Master's student of Forest and Nature Conservation, from China

Have you had an interesting encounter with Dutch culture? Send your anecdote (in 250 to 350 words) to and earn 25 euros and a jar of Dutch sweets.The editors reserve the right to shorten and edit the contributions before publication.

NL: Nattevingerwerk

Het ACT-groepje van Yinci Yan uit China zat te worstelen met een berekening. Op zeker moment stond een Nederlands groepslid op, likte aan zijn wijsvinger, stak die in de lucht en zei: ‘We kunnen altijd nog dit doen.’ Verbijsterde blikken vielen hem ten deel. Hij moest uitleggen dat een natte vinger in de lucht steken een primitieve manier is om de windrichting te bepalen en tegenwoordig zoiets betekent als ‘giswerk’. Yinci vond het zeer interessant. Ze denkt dat het winderige weer in Nederland iets met het ontstaan van dit wonderlijke gebaar te maken heeft.