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Universal Gifts! What’s Offensive?

We should learn from the mistakes of others!
In 2015 a UK government minister presented the Mayor of Taipei city, Ko Wen-Je, with a watch, unaware of the serious cultural gaffe she had made. Who could know that this gift represents a negative symbol in Chinese culture, and why should a gift with such big meaning in one country be offensive to another? Culture differences play a great role here. Let’s learn something from this story.
Asia Concentrate-柯P-watchphoto credit: BBC News


While planning an international event, the give-away can be a disaster if the giver doesn’t study up on the recipients in advance. To keep things simple, we can avoid taboos by considering 3 aspects – colour, number and flower.


GREEN - a lucky color in most western cultures, yet in China it means disgrace - giving a Chinese man a green hat indicates his wife is cheating on him.

BROWN is deemed as a mourning colour in India.

YELLOW is considered to be sacred, auspicious and royal in the east, whereas it symbolizes cowardice or caution in the west, and is used to warn of hazards or hazardous material.

BLUE is the colour of mourning in Iran and Mexico, and Korea. However, in the west, it is a symbol of masculinity, conservatism and trust.

RED is an intense colour in western cultures, with meanings including love, passion, danger, anger and warning. In India it is the color of purity, fertility, love and beauty. In South Africa, red is the colour of mourning.

Reference: http://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com/cultural-color.html


The number 13 is seen as unlucky in most western countries, with the exception of Italy, where it is seen as lucky. There are many possible origins to this accepted meaning – 13 people around the table at Jesus Christ’s last supper; the arrest of the Knights Templar on Friday 13 October 1307; and the year with 13 moons was considered unfortunate, as it caused problems for the monks in charge of calendars.

The number 4 means bitterness and death for the Chinese and Japanese cultures, because of its pronunciation, which is similar to the pronunciation of death. However, double it and the outcome is positive … ! The pronunciation sounds the same as the word for wealth and the second character in the word father.


WHITE LILY is the symbol of death or ill omen in British countries. Yet, to Romans, it was a symbol of beauty and hope, and Persian people think it is the expression of innocence and virginity.

TULIPS in Turkey were seen as a symbol of abundance and indulgence during the Ottoman empire, but today, they are associated with love and romance, and even charity.

ORCHID epresented fertility in ancient Greece, but in modern times represent romance and seduction.

LOTUS is rated highly in most countries, including China, India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Egypt and Japan.

CHRYSANTHEMUM is one of Japan’s royal family flowers, and a symbol that represents longevity and rejuvenation, but in Spain, Italy and Latin American, is considered a symbol of death only used in the cemetery.

Next time, when you prepare give-aways for an event, be sure you know who your attendees are so that you don’t make any cultural faux pas.



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