"Romanians are smart" campaign and the problem of similar flags

The website Romanians are smart has an interesting and noble objective: change the results associated with “Romanians are…” on Google into something more positive.

If you go to Google and type “Romanians are” in and wait for the autocorrect to kick in and you’ll see for yourself how racist the current results are.

The site encourages users of different languages to click on a link that enters the term “Romanians are smart” into Google (in their language), hopefully moving the more positive search term further up Google’s list of autocorrect options.

On the homepage there are links in English, French and Romanian. These languages are also complimented by flags. Romanian has a Romanian flag and English gets the United States treatment. But as for French, it appears the site has the wrong flag.

Romanians are smart

Light blue on top, white in the middle and red on the bottom — the flag used for French is far more similar to Luxembourg’s flag than that of France’s.

France
France
Luxembourg
Luxembourg

French is spoken in both France and Luxembourg

However, the flag used could also be seen as the Dutch flag — could this flag choice confuse a Dutch user thinking they were accessing content in Dutch?

Netherlands
Netherlands
Luxembourg
Luxembourg

The Netherlands and Luxembourg share an almost
identical flag but share no common language

Obviously this is probably just a simple design oversight — the French flag is simply upside down. But it still demonstrates the problem with using flags to represent languages.

Coincidently, the nature of this site highlights another case of near-identical flags: that of Romania and Chad.

Romania
Chad

Can you tell which is the Romanian flag and which is the Chadian?

Romania also shares a very similar flag with its neighbour Moldova — the main difference being the presence of the ensign in the centre and different proportions.

Romania
Romania
Moldova
Moldova

Romanian and Moldavian languages are mutually intelligible and extremely similar

But compare Moldova to Andorra’s flag and again they are very similar:

Moldova
Moldova
Romania
Andorra

Catalan is the official language of Andorra

There are many more examples of national flags being almost identical or very similar: Indonesia and Monaco; Slovakia and Slovenia. There are some interesting articles on Wikipedia and Wikia that cover the topic in more depth.

The fact that flags can be identical or very similar again shows that relying on flags to represent languages can be very problematic. In fact the same issue also goes for country selection in general. At large sizes these flags can be confusing: but what about at an icon level?

The famfamfam icon set is a free set of flag icons that are very popular around the web. They work especially well at small size. But as the examples below show, many flags look even more similar when reduced in size, increasing the chances of possible confusion. Furthermore, many of these countries share geographic areas:

Romania
Chad
Moldova
Andorra

Netherlands
Luxembourg
Paraguay
Croatia

Mali
Guinea
Cameroon

El Salvador
Honduras
Nicaragua
Argentina

Jordan
Kuwait
Sudan
United Arab Emirates

England
Georgia
Faroe Islands

United States of America
Malaysia
Liberia
Puerto Rico

Indonesia
Monaco
Poland
Singapore

Australia
New Zealand
Falkland Islands

Adding country name labels is a simple and effective way to prevent confusion with flags — as is organising alphabetically or by geographic region.

But for languages, geographic regions don’t necessarily apply — and nor do flags, as both transcend geographic and national boundaries.

5 thoughts on “"Romanians are smart" campaign and the problem of similar flags”

  1. “However, the flag used could also be seen as the Dutch flag — could this flag choice confuse a Dutch user thinking they were accessing content in Dutch?”

    To answer your question; probably not. But I do catch myself mistaking a Luxembourgish for a Dutch one.

    However I did not realise that flags are such a big problem. I guess because I mostly see the Dutch and English flags. I’ll start using text!

  2. To answer the question “However, the flag used could also be seen as the Dutch flag — could this flag choice confuse a Dutch user thinking they were accessing content in Dutch?”

    I would say, “No” if the users had known about the flag of Luxembourg. In this case, I believe many Dutch know about Luexembourg’s flag. Although both flags are similar, they have different blue colour. However, mistake can happen when someone is not aware of it.

    1. Actually, websites do not always use the correct colour for flags, often they add effects and stuff (like shine for whatever reason and shadow) that change the colour of the flag. I’ve seen Dutch flags on Dutch websites that look like Luxembourgian flags, as such, it can be quite hard to actually know which one is which. Also, the red on that site isn’t quite the right colour.

  3. The colors are different because they are representing the Bohemian and Moravian heritages through the rulers coat of arms..the blue is light blue…nothing to do with the Netherlands and Belgium would be related to Germany? The three are Benelux countries BE Belgium NE Netherlands and Lux etc…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *