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I am a localization manager/translator and intercultural consultant living in Berlin (Germany), passionate about languages, cultures, diversity management, dancing and good movies.  

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Sunday, March 6, 2016

The color of nostalgia is... Cultural differences in color psychology, featuring green fairies, pink cakes, and kawaii hair

Months ago I read somewhere that Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was accustomed to write while using green ink instead of the more traditional black one, because to him green represented hope.
Probably it is not any longer possible to know with 100% certainty whether this piece of information is accurate or not, and yet it would be wonderful if it would be true.

Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido.
(Love is so short, forgetting is so long)

by Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto
better known as Pablo Neruda [1904-1973]

Colors, both natural and artificial ones, are everywhere around us.
We speak and communicate through colors all the time, not only visually while choosing specific nuances for our clothes, accessories, cars, commodities and goods, but also metaphorically through idiomatic expressions.

[Retro ink bottles by Iroshizuku in different colors...
just as stylish and elegant as expensive perfume bottles would be
Image source: Writer's Bloc]

Green is, for example, the color of hope, relax, peace, nature, harmony, luck and youth.
And at the same time is the color of jealousy, greed, bitterness, hard feelings as well.

[Color Meanings & Symbolism: Green
What do you consider surprising and what plain natural?]

Fields can be green. Leaves can be green. Valleys can be green. Rivers can be green. Mountains can be green.
Banknotes can be green. Jobs can be green, and years can be green too. 
My favorite apples, the Granny Smith ones, are green, and green tea from China and Japan is considered absolutely healthy.

Green is the color of a lot of fantasy creatures like dragons, leprechauns, fairies. How about Shrek, the Grinch, the famous green eggs of Dr. Seuss, Green Lantern, the Green Goblin and Hulk?

[Green fairy is a charming way to call... Absinthe
Please don't say I didn't warn you]

With the green card, one can become US-citizen. Or one can be green with envy. One can decide to change her life and go green. Or maybe someone else got green light for a new project. And so on...

And yet, in Italy "essere al verde" (literally, being on green) would mean that one is just broke.

We often tend to underestimate the importance and the meaning of colors, how they influence us and our behavior in private and public places, which kind of impact they have on us on so many levels: emotional, visual, physiological, psychological and, last but not least, cultural too.

[For sure not Vegan and not gluten-free, 
and yet visually gorgeous and very tempting...
how about a piece of this multi-layer pastel pink cake, anyone?]

On the other hand, graphic designers, fashion designers, advertisers and other marketing specialists are very well aware of how powerful color psychology and symbolism are and which huge amount of information colors carry with them and deliver to us - often unconsciously - every time that we see a dress or a pair of shoes, a packaging, a website, a new logo, every type of product, a certain building, a drink or a gourmet recipe, a book cover, a place, a decoration, an unusual or a very classical hair color.

Gentlemen prefer blondes and marry brunettes, right?
It may be. Sure enough, I get asked or paid compliments about my kawaii hair - it doesn't matter if they are currently blue, indigo or purple - every week. Because they are not how most people expect hair to look like.

[A movie poster just as flamboyant as the musical itself: 
Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (USA 1955) by Richard Sales
from Anita Loos' book But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes]

How do we react to colors? How do colors make us feel? How do we perceive them and how do we want to be perceived, while using some colors? Are we always aware of this?
What do we tend to associate with a specific nuance? Is this association culture-based or just personal, because of our history as individuals?
Which products are we willing to buy, depending on how they look like and which colors they display, and in which combination? What do we think, when the color of a product seems not to match too well with the related slogan or a situation?

Colors are strongly characterized from a cultural point of view and, even in ages of globalization and web 2.0, they still convey different meanings in different cultures for different occasions.  
On the surface, they can look the same, because of the massive branding campaigns of big corporations and thanks to the large diffusion of certain movies and other entertainment products worldwide, and yet from a deep and emotional perspective, the differences - and related surprises - can be absolutely relevant.

[Colors & entertainment products...
What do the colors of the Teletubbies stand for?]

Depending on the culture, symbols, rituals, social events, products etc. can be associated with different colors. Just think about mourning and wedding rituals, cabs and most types of public transport, telephone booths, gender-specific colors according to different cultures, and so on.
   
[What do colors mean in different cultures?
Infographic Colours in Culture]

Here you can find a list of meanings well known in Western countries for different basic colors, available online:

Red = aggressiveness, passion, strength, and vitality
Pink = femininity, innocence, softness and health.
Orange = fun, cheeriness, and warm exuberance.
Yellow = positivity, sunshine, and cowardice.
Green = tranquility, health, and freshness.
Blue = authority, dignity, security and faithfulness.
Purple = sophistication, spirituality, costliness, royalty and mystery.
Brown = utility, earthiness, woodsy-ness and subtle richness.
Gray = somberness, authority, practicality and a corporate mentality.
Black = seriousness, distinctiveness, boldness and being classic.

One can for sure have fun while having a look at the following infographic:

[Colors tell it all:
Infographic Colors by Culture or...
how different colors meanings can be]

Going back now to Pablo Neruda's beautiful quote...
Which color could represent melancholy and nostalgia, in your opinion?
Should one say that she is feeling blue? That she is seeing everything black? How about purple or even brown, instead?

Tags: Colors, Intercultural communication, Color symbolism, Color psychology, Purple, Green, Pablo Neruda, Quotes, Idiomatic expressions about colors

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