Colours in different cultures

By Felicia Bratu

Some time ago, before the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, I heard a joke about colours: somebody informed USA officials that the Russians were thinking of painting the entire moon red to show their supremacy in space. Everyone was expecting to see the Americans getting angry over this, but instead they were very calm about it. “Ok, no problem, let them paint the moon red.” To which they added “We’ll just write Coca-Cola on top of it and everybody will know who the best is…”

Same colour, two different meanings: red is perceived as the colour of communism and Russia used to be a communist country, but red is also the colour of Coca-Cola, which is a very well-known symbol of the United States.

Colours are important in communications. Feelings, ideas, and emotions can be expressed with colours. When designing websites or brochures for International markets, colours are crucial. Not paying attention to them could result in expensive and often embarrassing problems… And you would want to make sure your website or advertisement campaign will be well received in the countries you target. Just think of the impact you’d have by wearing all red to cheer for one of Detroit Red Wings’ rivals… You wouldn’t want to be there… You’d be detested by the entire audience. The same could happen with your website. Make sure your website has the right colour when entering into different markets. The wrong colour could transform the best designed website and best ad promotion into a nightmare.

In May of this year, a few large corporations with International websites had changed the colour of their Chinese home pages to black to pay respect to all Chinese people affected by the Sichuan earthquake. Although white is the colour of mourning in China, this was still a very touching gesture to pay respect to the more than 60,000 people who had died.

In 1999, Crayola changed the “indian red” colour name to “chestnut” in response to educators who felt some children wrongly perceived the crayon colour was intended to represent the skin colour of Native Americans. The name originated from a reddish-brown pigment found near India commonly used in fine artist oil paint.

During its 1994 launch campaign, one of the well-known European mobile phone companies – Orange – had to change its ads in Northern Ireland. “The future’s bright, the future’s Orange.” This was because in the North the term Orange suggests the Orange Order. The implied message is that the future is bright, the future is Protestant, loyalist…

Here are a few things about colours you might find useful:

Red:

Red is the colour of love in most cultures: Chinese brides wear red for their wedding, and red roses are the most common gift for St. Valentine’s Day.

Red is also the colour of communism – the flags of China and Vietnam are red. The Former Soviet Union’s flag used to be red too. The army of the Soviet Union was known as the “Red Army”.

In Christianity, green and red are associated with Christmas. There is an Easter tradition to colour eggs red – red in this case represents the blood of Christ.

Satan is also most of the time represented by the colour red in icons and popular culture. On the other hand, Santa Claus wears red and white for Christmas.

In China, red paper and red envelopes are frequently used to wrap gifts of money. Though, on the negative side, obituaries are traditionally written in red ink, and to write someone’s name in red signals that you are either cutting them out of your life, or that they have died.

Red is also used to indicate emergency and warnings. Red is the colour for all Stop signs around the World. However, the first Stop sign had black letters on a white background until 1924 when white was replaced with yellow. It wasn’t until 954 that all stop signs became white and red.

Green:

In North America, because of the colour of the United States dollar bill, green is the colour of wealth and money. Also, the colour green is always associated with nature.

In my native country, Romania, people with green eyes are seen as very deceptive people. In some of Shakespeare’s plays, envy is associated with the colour green.

Green is considered the traditional colour of Islam. It is also the national colour of Egypt. But don’t create packaging or mail packages in green: It’s not well-received.

In some Asian cultures the colour green is often used as a symbol of sickness.

Green is a symbol of Ireland; green is a strong trend in the Irish holiday St. Patrick’s Day.

White:

While Westerns see white as the colour of purity and innocence, in some Asian cultures ( China, Vietnam, and Korea), white is the colour of death and mourning.

In India, people wear white after the death of a family member.

White is the traditional colour of bridal dresses in Western cultures. A woman wearing white will be seen as a bride on a Western website, and as a person in mourning on an Eastern website.

White is also the colour of snow and winter. Some associate snow with Christmas, forgetting that countries from the Southern hemisphere don’t have snow during Christmas time.

A white pigeon is an international sign of peace; a white flag is an international sign of surrender.

Blue:

Iran: mourning

China: immortality; workers’ uniforms; blue-coloured gifts are associated with death

Hinduism: the colour of Krishna

Egypt: dark blue is a colour of mourning.

Black:

Black is the colour of mourning in Western cultures;

Black is also the most common colour used for clothing for formal occasions; black is also worn by priests.

In the Japanese culture, until the nineteenth century, some women used to dye their teeth black because it was thought that black teeth would make a woman look beautiful.

Orange:

The colours orange and black are the colours of Halloween because orange is the colour of pumpkins and black is the colour of night and darkness.

Orange is the national colour of the Netherlands, referring to the royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau.

Orange is the brand used by France Telecom for its mobile network operator and Internet service provider subsidiaries.

 

Sources


On August 12, 2010, posted in: Cross-Cultural Articles by