Signs and symbols in different cultures
Thread poster: Heinrich Pesch

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:48
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Nov 8, 2006

This subject came up, when I translated English instructions and noticed, that the signs and symbols used may not work properly in the source culture.

I would like to hear you opinion and if you have encountered the same problem.

There are different symbols for the words "Do not" or "That's wrong" and for the opposite: "Do this" or "That's ok".

What would be appropriate signs for these messages in your culture.

In one exemple drawings were marked with a hook (like a letter 'v' but the right arm longer. This should mean: Ok, right thing.
The opposite was marked with a cross like an 'X', which should say: "no, not like that!".
People told me, that they would interprete these symbols to the opposite.

Now in an other document in an other culture they use the open outstretched palm as a sign for "No, forbidden!"

I wonder what would be the signs und symbols you would use in your culture.

And perhaps you know of a publication dealing with this problem?




Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:48
Turkish to English
+ ...
Outstretched palm rude in Greece Nov 8, 2006

I believe that the outstretched palm is the rudest sign you can make in Greece!
These are obviously points that require to be localised for each target culture.


Local time: 07:48
Member (2003)
English to Danish
+ ...
In Denmark... Nov 8, 2006

...I would think that a green 'v'-sign and a red cross would be appropriate signs for 'OK' and 'Don't' respectively.

The palm of the hand would probably be interpreted more along the lines of: 'Do not enter'.

I haven't encountered any problems in this respect, though.

[Edited at 2006-11-08 08:28]


Erik Hansson  Identity Verified
Member (2002)
+ ...
In Sweden Nov 8, 2006

Thanks Heinrich for introducing this topic.

It's interesting what you wrote about the hook and the cross. In Sweden, at least at school, a hook with its right arm a little bit longer is for something wrong, and a capital R is for right. Although not used at school, a cross can be understood as "chosen alternative", i.e. correct, because all forms you have to fill in in Sweden should be completed with crosses and not with hooks.

However, since software and computer technology has become everybody's property, I'm not sure anylonger if a hook is automatically understood as "incorrect", as you have lots of hooks in the settings in software etc., meaning "OK", "correct choice" and so on.

Symbol "Thumb up" is OK, but a ring formed by the thumb and the ring finger, or with thumb and the longest finger might in some countries be understood as very obscene, i.e. the part of the body where the back changes its name.

There are indeed many pitfalls just in symbols and gestures. See here for more about cultural awareness:

Kind regards


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:48
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Thats the case also in Finland Nov 8, 2006

Thanks Erik for the link!
In Finland teachers use the hook also for marking wrong answers, and right answers get a sign like "%". Thats why I tested this first on my wife and later on other translators. The majority believes, that the hook and cross can easily be misunderstood.
Interesting, that in Danmark things are different? I'm waiting for more answers, especially from non-european countries.



Maria Dimitrova  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:48
Member (2011)
Bulgarian to English
+ ...
An interesting case in Bulgaria Nov 9, 2006

The example I will give is related to non-verbal communication, but I still think it is relevant to the topic. We, Bulgarians, are probably the only one nation that shake our heads for "Yes" and nod for a "No" answer. It was very funny when I was in the US and e.g., when going to the coffee shop and asked whether I want cream and sugar, I never got any, even though I said "Yes" /at the same time shaking my head/.


Paul Dixon  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:48
Portuguese to English
+ ...
In Brazil Nov 12, 2006

In Brazil, teachers usually mark "correct" with a letter C with a long lower arm (from certo = correct), and "wrong" with either a cross or the letter "E" (errado = wrong).

The outstretched palm presents no problem here, it is usually construed as "No entry".


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Signs and symbols in different cultures

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