Colour and Color; the unique differences that travelling can show you


Whilst it is obvious that as you travel through different countries you can observe the differences in culture, language and people.  Sometimes these begin to blur and start to become the same, some much odder differences then begin to shine through.

In the UK we sometimes like to think that we are different.  Like most countries do.  We have our identity, our pride and our faults.  The media makes us appear that we are unique in our problems and our issues.  Our thoughts on the Iraq war, the economy, and immigration appear to be our own.  But quite obviously this is not the case.  Every country you visit shares the exact same views.  But there are more things that seem very different but are in fact the same.

Take colour for example.

In Europe and North America there is a desire for people to have a good tan.  I do not say this out of jealousy as for me to tan takes about six months of travelling, but in many of the publications and advertisements you see it's about having a nice tan - a Mediterranean look perhaps.  The shops are full of tanning lotions, sun-blocks that can give you that bronze look and even tablets that claim to make you go darker quicker.

When you travel to Asia it's a completely different story; or is it?  Yes there are sun blocks and lotions, but not to help you tan, but to help you look white.  There are hundreds of different brands of whitening and bleaching agents to help get that West Factor.  In fact it can be incredibly difficult to purchase face wash or shower gel that does not contain 'whitening agents'.  I for one do not need any help to get more whiter.

But yet, with a 10,000 mile gap, one side of the world wants to look like the other - and vice versa.

What does this all come down to, and is Asia different to the west in its reasonings? 

In most of Asia you were perceived to be poor if you had a tan.  This is because you would be someone who works out in the fields and rice paddies.  Someone of wealth would never work outside.  

The same is for those on the other side of the world.  For us, wealth is shown through vacations you take abroad, coming back with a great tan whilst those who cannot afford to travel still have their indigenous skin colour.

This belief has transitioned over time and whilst it could have faded out it is driven further with the help from marketing and advertisers in Asia like Nivea, for example, whom will scream from the roof tops with their flash advertising about how great it is to have pure white skin, whilst on the other side of the world Nivea will scream how it's all about having that bronze glow.

A friend of mine, who whilst not being born in Asia was of Asian decent felt the need to follow this trend.  She often tried to whiten her skin, wore false contacts to colour her eyes.  All this to be different.  She needn't had to.  She was beautiful, intelligent and smart and just needed to be reminded of that.  I have another friend who is English that tries so hard to be brown.  Absorbing every ounce of sunlight that is available to them or using tanning salons.  Two people trying so hard to be the other.

Whilst everyone is not trying to be like the other or trying to be different this is one of the things that makes me realise how we are all the same.  We all share the same dreams and desires, go through the same problems and turmoil.  Yet on other smaller bizarre things we can be very different.

Take Color for example.

I take for granted the luxury I have of being a native English speaker.  I don't have the difficult challenges of learning it as second language - but yet speaking English to another English speaker can be quite different.  

A close American friend often asks me to say certain words in English as they are pronounced so different to her own and we both mock each other for our own vernacular and the way we spell things.  The way I use trolley (to denote shopping cart), chips (instead of fries), cinema (for movie theatre),  petrol (instead of gas), and Autumn (instead of fall). 

The same differences are here in Australia too.  I have learnt through my new friends words that made no sense to me before - but do now.  Thongs (for flip-flops), Doona (for duvet) and Bottleshop (off-licence / liquor store).  But more bizarrely for me is the term CBD (central business district).  Three letters that I thought would not be seen again after my high school geography coursework on the small town of Wombwell in England.  "Are you going to the CBD later?"  is often used in conjunction with the more recognised "Are you going into town?".

I don't think I've been blind in the past to the obvious differences in language.  Like many British I have been frustrated when the spellchecker switches to "American English" all the time.  I think it's that I've never needed to think about it that much until I began travelling.  Often using English words in Asian countries can be confusing to those that live there and you have to switch to American English instead as it's most commonly taught in schools and beamed to the TV sets of homes through imported episodes of Friends, NCIS and How I Met Your Mother.  Even today I for one still find myself using words like mall, cab, subway but I'm still far from calling flip flops thongs!

Of course there are many more significant (and important) differences and similarities that you do observe when travelling, and far too serious a topic for me to comment and invite debate, but it was colour and color that really stood out the most for me.

So which is the correct spelling?  Well it's in fact "Color", which was the original Latin spelling - the UK took the Old French spelling which itself is derived from Gaulish, Frankish and Latin.


  1. like the insights on tanning and whitening... it is nuts. I have the freckles from years of trying to tan when I was a kid to prove it! haha. But the big picture is that despite all the surface differences we think exist in the world, underneath everyone wants the same thing. They all want to be liked, friends, to be happy, that sort of thing never changes. Traveling is wisdom

  2. Always reading your updates Dave, they're all so interesting!

    Hope you're having a wicked time buddy and keep them coming!

  3. Thanks Nemo and Dave for the comments on one of my random thoughts I've had :)


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