Beware. Be Very Ware: Neither West Nor East Monolithic


There’s an interesting piece by Chinese born graphic designer Yang Liu (sometimes spelled Liu Young) now appearing in emails and blogs everywhere. You can find the whole message by googling Liu Young and it is on many blogs including http://journeytothai.blogspot.com/2008/02/asian-and-western-culture-by-liu-young.html but it is not on her own website http://www.yangliudesign.com/ I give just one example here.

Apparently the images in this message are taken from an exhibition called Ost Trifft West (“East Meets West”) she made at the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs in May-June 2007 and express visually the differences between east and west. At first sight it looks very interesting and very clever, but if you have not yet mastered intercultural differences then I recommend that you beware. Be very ware!

Yang lives in Germany and this clearly colors her perception of European culture. In the visual reproduced here you see that punctuality in China is not so precise, while in Europe, it is much more rigid. Actually this may be true in Germany but it is certainly not true in southern Europe or South America.

And this underscores an important point: neither the west nor the east is monolithic. There are some things that tend to be similar, but to group all westerners into one category is very misleading. There are huge differences even between countries that are neighbors – like France and Germany – never mind places that are further apart. And Asia, too, is not as uniform as people expect. Just going small distances can often mean quite visible changes in culture. Just try driving over the causeway from Singapore into Malaysia or even crossing the Øresundsbron between southern Sweden and Denmark.

So these images are more useful as a starting point for discussion of cultural differences than a practical guide for travelers, unless, of course, you are headed for Germany. But for all other purposes never forget that even short distances bring evident differences in culture.

From a communications perspective, though, there is another lesson in Ms Yang’s work: it is an excellent example of a simple viral message. Her images have spread across the globe and lead the curious to check out her portfolio, which is actually quite interesting. People in need of a logo could do worse than give her a call.

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