Colours and Cultural Differences

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Have you ever considered that something as simple and natural as colours can be perceived differently across cultural lines? Isabelle Fontaine looks at some cultural differences.

We are surrounded by many colours – often, we are not aware of certain values that we associate with them. If we compare the meaning of a colour in our culture to its meaning somewhere else, we can find some surprising facts. For marketing, this means that depending on your target market, the colours should be carefully chosen and checked, but unfortunately, things have gone wrong quite a few times in the past, when a product has been introduced to a new market – wrong colour choices can have catastrophic consequences…  You would not want to advertise a fresh, new product with a colour that symbolises mourning in that specific culture, would you? Here are some examples of colours and their meanings in different cultures.

The colour of the sky and the ocean, blue is generally seen as being soothing. In Christianity, it is connected to Christ.  It symbolises immortality in China, whereas it is the colour of mourning in Iran.

In Europe, green is the traditional colour of nature, spring and new life. Also in politics, environmental protection is often associated with the green party. In Ireland, it is the colour of Catholics. In the US, however, it is linked to money (with “greenback” being a colloquial expression for a dollar bill), whereas in the Islamic World, it symbolises hope, since the cloak of the Prophet Muhammad was green.

Generally related to autumn and harvest in Europe and, more specifically, to Halloween in the US, this colour is often associated with Protestants in Ireland, and in international sports events, it often represents the Netherlands because of their royal family (House of Orange).

In Europe, the colour red is used for signs to draw attention to something, e.g. danger (speed limits or stop signs) and it is also well-known to every shopping lover – in sale signs. In China, however, red is the lucky colour which symbolises joy and happiness as well as vitality.

In Europe, white is the traditional colour of bridal dresses, whereas in Japan and China it is the colour of grief.

In Europe, this colour is used for both hazards and happiness, but in Egypt it is connected to mourning. Whereas it symbolises courage in Japan, it can be connected to cowardice in Europe and the US.

by Isabelle Fontaine. Isabelle is currently finishing her postgraduate studies in Intercultural Business Communication in the UK. She is German and has a translation and interpreting background and also speaks French and Italian. Isabelle is experienced in tutoring and has worked in the tourism industry. She loves travelling and exploring cultures and countries.

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