In the United States, we’re used to giving specific flowers for specific reasons. A dozen red roses on Valentine’s Day is a statement of love. Poinsettias are iconic to the Christmas season. Daffodils represent new growth and a fresh start. However, those same flowers that you know and love may have very different meanings in other cultures, and be given for entirely different reasons. Let’s take a closer look at flower gifting in various cultures around the world.
Here in the US, we’re accustomed to giving almost any flower we would like as a funeral arrangement. However, in other cultures, that can be very bad. For instance, in most Arab nations, you do not send flowers for the dead at all. In Brazil, you only send chrysanthemums. In Greece, you would send carnations (but because carnations are associated with both death and live performers, they are never given as a standard flower gift).
In some countries, flowers are only given to women. In others, flowers can be given to men, but only for specific reasons. For instance, in Brazil, men almost never receive flowers for any reason. However, in Italy, men regularly receive flowers, but they should be more masculine (not delicate, and of a strong, robust constitution and a non-feminine color).
Most of us don’t put much thought into the color of flowers. Red roses symbolize romantic love, and we’re content with that. However, that’s not the extent of the meaning of flower colors, and they can be radically different in other cultures.
For instance, in Italy, the color yellow is associated with betrayal, and yellow flowers are almost never given as gifts because of that. However, yellow is also the color of success, so flower gifting with yellow-themed arrangements for a success-related instance might be acceptable.
Germans associate white flowers with death, and white arrangements are usually only presented at funerals. However, in the Arab world, white is associated with birth, engagement and marriage.
In Asian nations, red flowers are considered lucky, but in others, they describe romantic interest, or passion. In yet other countries, red flowers (particularly roses) indicate the desire to achieve victory over someone. With that being said, Koreans don’t attach much meaning to red roses at all, and give both men and women a bouquet of 20 red roses on their 20th birthday.
We’ve touched on only a handful of the ways that flower meanings can vary across different cultures. Some of these considerations actually extend beyond the type and color of flower, or the event you’re commemorating, all the way to the way the flowers are presented to the recipient. For instance, in Asian nations, you would rarely gift a potted plant, as it symbolizes constraint and being bound in place. Interestingly, that doesn’t apply across the board, as a potted, twisted bamboo arrangement is considered good luck.
Ultimately, if you intend to gift flowers to someone from another culture, do your research and make sure that your gift is actually expressing the sentiment that you want.