You’ve probably heard of semiotics, right? It’s a science of meaning, which might sound a bit confusing. A clearer way to explain this is that different things have different contexts throughout the world. It’s quite obvious when it comes to languages. A word that describes a holy being in one language stands for a fishing rod in another one (by the way, you guessed right, the word is angel). But things can get much more complicated than that. And these differences are exactly what might cost you quite a bit of cash on your way abroad. So, what to take into account when expanding overseas?
You’re green with envy – or are you?
The meaning of colors differs significantly within various cultures. There are several aspects responsible for that – religion, local traditions and even the typical natural environment. So when designing your new website, think not just about the UX and visibility, but also about how it might make your new customers feel. Just a few examples.
Using blue should cause you no troubles in most of the Western countries. However, be careful about the idioms and possible unintended secondary meanings – even in English we feel blue, tell blue jokes and call the ‘blues’ when we see something suspicious. In some Balkan countries and Middle East, blue historically represents protection against dark forces. And for Hindus, blue is tightly connected to Krishna, the carrier of love and joy.
Source: Turkey Tribune
Green is for Western countries, quite expectedly, associated with nature and environment. This seemingly harmless color might, however, get you in some serious troubles. Green is strongly connected to religion in the Muslim countries and should be used with caution. In China, wearing a green hat stands for being cheated on by one’s wife. And in Indonesia, green color had been strongly forbidden for quite some time and is scarcely used nowadays.
You can make no mistake using yellow to express joy and happiness in most of the European countries. Just be careful in Germany – their idiom “Gelb vor Neid sein” literally means “to be yellow with envy”. For Asian countries, yellow is considered the most beautiful and noble color, often used for religious purposes.
Red is perhaps the most tricky of the colors. In most of the western countries, red symbolizes both love and danger. In Russia and several Asian countries, red is often associated with the local communist regime. And in Africa, using red would be a no-no as it oftentimes stands for aggression and even death.
Cats in Sacks and Little Ducks Blowing
Do you remember us writing about different words people use for the @ symbol? Well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Animals play irreplaceable role in the way people speak all over the world. The problem is, the role differs substantially from culture to culture.
Want to make your customers know they’re not buying a pig in a poke? That might make sense in English, but in Poland you want to go for kota w worku, literally a cat in a sack. In Arabic countries, the expression goes يشتري سمك في ماء – buying a fish in water. And in China, you want to convince your customers they’re not 隔山买老牛 – buying a cow that is in another mountain.
Using idioms can, generally speaking, strengthen your authenticity and help you great deal when earning the trust of the locals. However, misusing them can make all your other localization efforts go in vein. So do so wisely, otherwise you’re new customers are going to accuse you of Blowing little ducks (in Latvian Pūst pīlītes – talking nonsense). Apart from that, many cultures consider some of the animals being sacred. Keep that in mind before you launch your new beef steak campaign in India.
Source: Three Little Ducks Bellerive
Give the finger, give the thumb
Visual symbols a tough nut to crack. Everybody knows by now that using swastika in India doesn’t symbolize Nazi propaganda, but rather divinity and spirituality. It’s all very well, but when it comes to hand gestures, things get even trickier.
You want to encourage your customers by giving them thumbs up? Feel free to do so in western Europe and in the United States. In Russia, however, such a gesture suggests the very thumb to be shoved into the rear end of the recipient and will not be perceived politely. Even more confusion comes when negotiating with Japanese – while you raise your fist signalizing 0, a Japanese person uses the same gesture to show 5.
Source: Gaijinpod Blog
And the OK sign? Perfectly OK in most of the countries. But show that to a Brazilian or Mediterranean person and you’re calling them homosexual without wanting to. And Japanese? For them, the OK sign stands for money.
The world of signs is a tricky one. If you want to go through your international expansion without accidentally giving somebody the finger, let’s get in touch!