The more I travel, the more I seem to run into symbols and flags that mean something in one area but mean something entirely different somewhere else. Sometimes I see symbols that are a little confusing and realize there are some differences when I take time to look really closely. Nevertheless, our world if full of symbols and flags are a major way in which we as people recognize nations, governments, organizations and cultures.
Here are some of the more confusing flags and symbols I’ve encountered:
The City of Cusco and LGBT flags
Being a United States citizen and living up to the common expectation of being rather globally uncultured, I’m walking around Cusco, Peru just amazed at the great amount of acceptance the city and region of Cusco openly display for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gendered. I remember thinking, “that seems like a welcoming gesture that I had not really expected to see in Peru” and went on about my business. Come to find out, I had mistakenly recognized the flag of the City of Cusco for the flag of the LGBT community. Wow did I feel like an idiot! Come to find out, the people of the Cusco region have been dealing with this issue for quite some time now. A symbol they see as an ancient symbol of their heritage is more often than not seen as a symbol for the LGBT community by travelers and tourists from other countries although there are some slight differences in the flags if you look closely. This has caused some big problems in the region and businesses have had to decide whether they want to fly the Flag of Cusco anymore as some have found that would-be patrons have avoided their businesses by mistakenly assuming their business catered specifically to LGTB people. And, I’m sure other businesses have benefited with more business from the LGBT and LGBT-accepting communities from flying the Flag of Cusco. Either way, I was certainly not educated enough to notice the differences in the flags right away and I assume most people would make the same mistake that I made. Now you know.
The Ireland and Ivory Coast national flags
This one tripped me up during the last world cup. Honestly, I had never seen the Ivory Coast flag before so I can remember being a little confused when the national flags were used on the TV during the world cup to list the teams who were playing. I remember thinking, “since when is Japan playing Ireland” when I saw the Japanese and Ivory Coast flags next to each other. So, after continuing to watch to see what the situation was, I actually learned something from watching television. And boy do the Ireland and Ivory Coast flags look similar! The only real difference is the order of the colors. The Irish flag from left to right is green, white and orange while the Ivory Coast flag has the opposite color arrangement.
The Peruvian and Saint-Tropez flags
There are few things more impressive than seeing that massive Peruvian flag flying over its capital in Lima. But I did notice during my trip to France that the Saint-Tropez flag is virtually indistinguishable from the Peruvian national flag. Now, the Peruvian flag does have a couple variations, but the official flag is simply two red vertical columns on either side of a white column. Very simple, very pretty and to be quite honest, seeing it flying in France along the French Riviera struck me as strange. Then I “went and got me some education” and realized the symbol is pretty much the same for both of these beautiful places.
The Romanian and Chad national flags
One flies in Africa, the other in eastern Europe. Much like the Irish and Ivory Coast flags, the national flags of Chad and Romania are almost indistinguishable from one another. The only real difference is that the Chad national flag has more of an indigo colored “blue” while the Romanian flag has a much brighter shade of blue. I’ve not yet been to either country but have trips planned to both so I look forward to finally seeing a flag and knowing why it’s there instead of being clueless about its origins. I hope you won’t make that mistake either. The flags are similar but have just enough difference to make telling them apart simple enough.
The New Zealand and Australian national flags
These aren’t exactly hard to tell apart, but the fact that they are often seen in close proximity with each other can be a bit confusing. One day you’re sitting in Brisbane, Australia sipping on beer with Australian national flags flying all around and the next day you’re in Auckland, New Zealand munching on your hokey pokey ice cream while a very similar flag waves in the wind overhead. The whole thing can be a blur and that’s why I am featuring the New Zealand and Australian national flags on my list of confusing symbols you may see while you travel.
The Mali and Guinea national flags
Two other countries that are near each other and have surprisingly similar flags are the African nations of Guinea and Mali. Mali is larger than Guinea and is landlocked. Guinea borders six other countries and the Atlantic Ocean. These flags, like the Irish and Ivory Coast (a country that borders both Guinea and Mali) are simply mirror images of each other. I’m not sure if anyone would be upset if you mistake one country’s flag for the other, but in the spirit of cultural awareness, it’s always good to visit a country prepared for whatever may come your way.
The El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras national flags
These have some unique and distinguishing characteristics that set them apart, but these countries, like New Zealand and Australia are all located so close together that they’re essentially bordering each other so in the blur that is often traveling from country to country, it’s easy to get them confused. Luckily, if you look close enough the El Salvadorian and Nicaraguan flags have their names written in the emblem at the middle of their respective flags. That could come in handy if you’re country hopping in Central America and forget whose rain forest you happen to be in at the time.
The India and Niger national flags
The likelihood of you seeing these two flags anywhere near each other outside of the diplomatic section in a major capital city, is probably pretty small. Niger is a north central African nation and India is itself a massive country jutting out into both the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Officially called the Republic of Niger, this African nation’s flag is strikingly similar to the Indian flag. You can see the resemblance in the photo I’ve provided here. I don’t think you’ll have much of a hard time telling them apart in the future though because India plays such a prominent role in worldwide politics that I would imagine its flag is more recognizable than ever before. I am eager to visit both of these countries.
The Thailand and Costa Rica national flags
These two throw me for a loop every time. Of course the two nations are on opposite sides of the globe from each other, but unless you memorize the color scheme for each, getting them confused is a pretty easy thing to do. These two are essentially inverted versions of each other. It makes me wonder who designed these flags and if they are somehow related in origin or meaning. You know me, I’ll be up researching that all night. Thailand and Costa Rica are both major travel destinations so you’ll want to be sure to notice the differences in the flags and maybe even do what I do and get a flag badge for each country you visit to sew on your backpack.
So there are my favorite more confusing flags you will probably see as a traveler. I have to admit that there are many more flags that may confuse you as well but these are the ones I consider essential to know. I hope you find the article interesting and informative and wish you well on your many travels.
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