Over the course of thousands of years, human beings wrote down their stories and we got the Bible and the Qu'ran. Eventually, we also got Shakespeare and Cervantes and, following on their heels, hundreds and thousands and millions of novels and novellas and plays and, eventually, films and TV shows.
But we never lost the ability to tell stories through the verbal tradition, and that's precisely what sayings and proverbs are: The short-hand for a culture's story. From those small things that we say to one another, in expressions that only members of a culture know so intimately that they're just part of the language the way that a tree is part of a forest, a listener can learn a little bit about a country's history (and its culture).
All of that brings us to CultureWizard's most recent Featured Question which asked "What is your favorite proverb or traditional saying that is unique to your home country or culture?"
The answers were as diverse as our users, with proverbs coming in from all continents and dozens of countries.
Some sayings and ideas were universal. Many had some version of "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone," though Venezuela's was arguably among the most poetic ('Armadillo telling a tortoise, 'You have a shell!'"). Also universal were proverbs about humanity's push to always keep on fighting, even in adverse situations. My favorite variation of this is the Japanese proverb that a user listed which says, "Fall down seven times, get up eight."
Simple while painting a powerful image. And, also, a fantastic motto to live by!
Other proverbs, though, said a little more about individual cultures. One user from Brazil, for instance, gave us the proverb of "The rush is the perfection's enemy." Coming from a country like Brazil, where relationships are key and where time is fluid relative to other countries, this is very telling of Brazilians' taste for perfection and, dare one say it, sophistication even at the expense of quick results. This is not to say that Brazilians are not driven by results (everyone is driven by results), but rather that the quality of the results are more important in Brazil than results for the sake of results!
We see this same sentiment with Jogo Bonito, that Brazilian style of soccer which values dazzling skill moves and light touches over the crass simplicity of running from one end of the field to another quickly.
Proverbs can betray even more than preferences, though. They teach history. One user gave us the uniquely Spanish saying of, "More was lost in Cuba, but they came back whistling." If you don't know the history of Spain, this could be construed as a vague reference to a vacation gone awry, but really it's a reference to Spain's loss of Cuba in 1898, which continues to hold a powerful place in the Spanish historical memory, for it was the moment in which Spain absolutely stopped being an imperial power. For a country that once dominated half the known world, that would be a pretty jarring moment. The saying itself is used for people who are being cry-babies, by pointing out to them that there are bigger problems in the world (the loss of Cuba) but even so, people get over it (the soldiers came back whistling).
To follow on Spain's history, a saying that's well known in Peru (and even as far away as France) is to say that something is "worth a Peru," in reference to the wealth that the conquest of Peru gave to Spain. The saying is now used to point out the value of something, and could be used, for instance, to say that an individual is very valuable to an organization.
Looking to the sayings from the United States, we saw several about never giving up and putting in effort, all of which point to the fact that the U.S. is very much an internal control culture, wherein individuals believe that they have the key to push forward their own narratives.
Finland, which has a very egalitarian culture, gave us one of my personal favorite quotes, which is "management by perkele." Perkele is a Finnish word for devil but it is considered profanity. To quote Elja, the user who gave us this saying, this is meant to decry a more authoritarian management style which is "not so anymore, fortunately!" Egalitarian people are typically not fans of top-down management.
There were several sayings and if you have CultureWizard, I encourage you to look through them (and add some of your favorites!). The real take-away for us, though, isn't so much that there are differences (of course there are differences, CultureWizard exists to bridge those differences!) but rather how many of those sayings, regardless of culture, were similar.