The Meaning of Flowers: Cultural Traditions in Giving Flowers



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Now that spring is here and flowers are in bloom all over the northern hemisphere, it reminded us of the powerful gift of giving flowers to brighten someone’s day. But which flowers do you give for which occasion? And do roses have a different meaning in Germany versus, say, Korea? We asked our e-Tutors to share with us some traditions for giving flowers in their culture to see what differences we could find.

We discovered that simple cultural differences in giving flowers can make all the difference. Take the potted plant. In Brazil, it makes a great gift at dinner parties so the anfitrião (host) or anfitriã (hostess) won’t have to scramble for a vase.

In Japan, however, you should never give a sick person a potted plant. A potted plant takes root, and the Japanese expression for “taking root” is 根付く, pronounced “nezuku.” The problem here is that there is a homonym “nezuku” (written 寝付く), which means “staying in bed.” So if you want to wish a patient a speedy recovery and getting out of bed soon, you wouldn’t want to give them a potted plant as the word association brings a bad image with it.

Let’s look at some other cultural differences in giving flowers that could save you some embarrassment.

Color

The color or flowers has great significance in certain cultures.

In the Arab world, white and light-colored flowers are usually presented on birth, engagement and marriage and to young women. 

In Germany, white flowers are funeral flowers. (If you give white flowers to your German mother-in-law you may inadvertently give a message you did not mean to send!) Red means love, so it’s best not to give red flowers on a first date. Yellow and orange flowers signify mean joy of life, blue means freedom, and pink conveys sweeter emotions or intimacy.

In Italy, the colors of flowers all have distinct meanings as well. A floreale tribute with yellow tulips and generally the color yellow is related to betrayal, but also a symbol of luxury, glory and success. A bouquet of orange flowers is a floral tribute that is always appreciated for birthdays or anniversaries. Orange is a color that symbolizes joy and happiness, and accomplishment of successful endeavor. A bunch of pink flowers is the symbol of youth and expresses a love that is newborn. Pink flowers are associated with a happy event like a wedding and also represent admiration. A dark red flower symbolizes perseverance, continuity and immortality. The color purple expresses sentiments of modesty, generosity an humility. It is the symbol of an insurmountable shyness. A lilac colored flower represents a sincere love without any expectations, something one would offer to friends. Light blue flowers are ideal for a wedding and as a gift of flowers in the springtime. Turquoise is a shade that symbolizes achievement for those who are involved with the arts or sciences and is suitable for celebrating degrees and diplomas. Gifts of seasonal greenery or plants in general symbolize hope or a danger escaped end also represent joy and optimism.

Funerals

In the Arab world, it isn’t appropriate to send or give flowers at funerals.

In both Korea and Brazil, the flower most associated with funerals is a white chrysanthemum. In Vietnam, it’s a tuberose.

In Greece, carnations associated with funerals. But the carnation in Greece has another function: carnations are the flower of μπουζούκια (bouzoukia). A μπουζούκια is a venue with Greek live music and dance where people break plates, throw carnations to the singers and each other. Since carnations have a strong association with both funerals and μπουζούκια, you should never give them in Greece as a typical gift.

Gender

In Brazil, men usually don’t get flowers. Women give each other yellow, pink or white flowers.

If a woman wants to send flowers to a man in the Arab world as an expression of thanks, she should send them in his wife’s name.

Giving flowers to a man is not that unusual in Italy. For a man, it is advisable to select flowers that aren’t too fragile, in bright colors (pink, yellow, orange) and with a crown of a distinct design (like a tulip).

Number

The number of flowers you give can have significance in different cultures as well. In Brazil, a single flower is given in romantic situations (before or after a dinner date).

In Greece and Eastern European cultures, it customary to give an odd number of flowers. Especially roses: in Greece, when you give roses by themselves, not in a mixed flower bouquet, make sure they are an odd numbers of roses.

Roses

Roses might be the most meaningful flower across the globe, but what meaning that is depends on where you are.

In Vietnam, if you give someone a single rose, it is saying that you are in love with that person. In Brazil, instead of a single rose, it’s 12 roses that symbolize passion. In Italy, a bunch of red roses famously represents an expression of an ardent and passionate love, but also a strong desire for victory.

In Korea, however, roses have a less romantic association: on your 20th birthday, you will get 20 red roses.

In Catalonia, roses are given on April 23 to commemorate its patron saint, Sant Jordi. The day is also known as the Feast of Saint George. According to the legend, a rose grew from the blood of a dragon killed by Sant Jordi (Saint George). The tradition of giving roses to loved ones goes back to the nineteenth century. In 1995, UNESCO introduced World Book Day on the same date. Since then, the tradition started to include books as well as roses. It’s a day that celebrates romance, literature and of course, flowers. The day is not only celebrated in Catalonia but it has spread to the rest of Spain.

Lily of the Valley

In France, le muguet (Lily of the Valley) is the symbol of springtime, and it is a custom to give a bouquet of muguet to bestow good luck upon someone, dating back to to Renaissance king Charles IX (1550-1574). May 1st was une fête de l’amour (a celebration of love) where lords went into the forest and crafted des couronnes de feuillages et de fleurs (crowns of foliage and flowers) to offer them to their friends or personne bien-aimée (beloved one). People also organized “bals du muguet” (Lily of the Valley balls) where young girls would dress in white and young men decorated their boutonnière (buttonhole) with a sprig of Lily of the Valley.

Want to say it with more than flowers? Start learning any of these languages today with our online language courses