Have you ever had the blues, or felt green with envy, or been so angry you saw red? Or maybe you’ve been tickled pink by a golden opportunity that came out of the blue? Color plays such an integral role in our lives that it even shapes the way we describe our moods.
The way different cultures see and describe the meaning of color varies dramatically around the world. For instance, the Bassa people in Liberia only have two words for classifying colors (ziza for red/orange/yellow and hui for green/blue/purple), while the Inuit reportedly have 17 different words for white alone, which are modified by different snow conditions.
Here’s a more in-depth look at what different colors mean and the symbolism of colors across the globe.
Blue is considered the safest color choice around the world, since it has many positive associations. In North America and Europe blue represents trust, security, and authority, and is considered to be soothing and peaceful. But it can also represent depression, loneliness, and sadness (hence having “the blues”).
In some countries, blue symbolizes healing and evil repellence. Blue eye-shaped amulets, believed to protect against the evil eye, are common sights in Turkey, Greece, Iran, Afghanistan, and Albania. In Eastern cultures, blue symbolizes immortality, while in Ukraine it denotes good health. In Hinduism blue is strongly associated with Krishna, who embodies love and divine joy.
In Western cultures green represents luck, nature, freshness, spring, environmental awareness, wealth, inexperience, and jealousy (the “green-eyed monster”). Of course, green is an emblematic color for Ireland, which earned its nickname “The Emerald Isle” from its lush green landscapes.
Green has traditionally been forbidden in Indonesia, whereas in Mexico it’s a national color that stands for independence. In the Middle East green represents fertility, luck, and wealth, and it’s considered the traditional color of Islam. In Eastern cultures green symbolizes youth, fertility, and new life, but it can also mean infidelity. In fact, in China, green hats are taboo for men because it signals that their wives have committed adultery!
Red symbolizes excitement, energy, passion, action, love, and danger in Western cultures. It’s also associated with communism and revolution in countries like Russia. In Asian cultures red is a very important color — it symbolizes good luck, joy, prosperity, celebration, happiness, and a long life. Because it’s such an auspicious color, brides often wear red on their wedding day and red envelopes containing money are given out during holidays and special occasions.
In India red is associated with purity, sensuality, and spirituality. On the other hand, some countries in Africa associate red with death, and in Nigeria it represents aggression and vitality. It’s considered a lucky charm in Egypt and symbolizes good fortune and courage in Iran.
In Western cultures, yellow is associated with happiness, cheeriness, optimism, warmth (as the color of sunlight), joy, and hope, as well as caution and cowardice. In Germany, yellow represents envy, but in Egypt, it conveys happiness and good fortune.
Orange represents autumn, harvest, warmth, and visibility in Western cultures. In Hinduism saffron (a soft orange color) is considered auspicious and sacred. In the Netherlands orange is the color of the Dutch Royal family, while it represents sexuality and fertility in Colombia. In Eastern cultures orange symbolizes love, happiness, humility, and good health. Buddhist monks’ robes are often orange.
Purple is often associated with royalty, wealth, spirituality, and nobility around the world. Historically in Japan only the highest ranked Buddhist monks wore purple robes. Purple is also associated with piety and faith, and in Catholicism, penitence. However, in Brazil and Thailand purple is the color of mourning. It’s also a color of honor — the Purple Heart is the oldest military award still given to US military members.
In Western cultures, white symbolizes purity, elegance, peace, and cleanliness; brides traditionally wear white dresses at their weddings. But in China, Korea, and some other Asian countries white represents death, mourning, and bad luck, and is traditionally worn at funerals. In Peru, white is associated with angels, good health, and time.
In many cultures black symbolizes sophistication and formality, but it also represents death, evil, mourning, magic, fierceness, illness, bad luck, and mystery. In the Middle East black can represent both rebirth and mourning. In Africa it symbolizes age, maturity, and masculinity.
As companies become more global, it can be beneficial to understand the cross-cultural meanings of colors. By knowing the symbolism of different colors around the world you’ll be able to speak to your audience in a way that’s both culturally appropriate and effective.
Explore more colorful international photos below in our Colors Around the World lightbox »
Top image: Chinese Lanterns by Toa55
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