International Proverbs: Simple Truths

In each country, proverbs and sayings provide insights into simple truths and beliefs of the people. In this section, some learners of English share the meanings of proverbs from their own countries.

Japanese Proverb about Practicality and Beauty

In English: Dumplings are better than cherry blossoms


“Hanami” means going to see the cherry blossoms. The cherry blossom is the Japanese national flower, so these trees are planted in many places; for example, in parks, at Shinto shrines, at hospitals, in the streets and at schools. It is a custom in Japan, from the end of March to the beginning of April, when the blossoms are in full bloom, for

Japanese people like to go to see the cherry blossoms. On holidays, they go with their family or friends to places which are famous for their cherry blossoms. Also, after work, they go with their colleagues at work to see them at night. At that time, some people drink sake, an alcoholic drink made of rice, and sing songs.

However, some people go to see the flowers; but they really go only to eat and drink. These people say, “Dumplings are better than cherry blossoms.” This is a proverb. It means that cherry blossoms can’t satisfy our hunger, but dumplings can; so practicality is better than beauty.

Keiko Ichibashi from Japan

German Proverb about Satisfaction


In German: Der Spatz in der Hand ist besser als die Taube auf dem Dach.

In English: A sparrow in the hand is better than a dove on your roof.

This German proverb means that it is better to be satisfied with a small success that is sure than to dream of more challenging solutions which might never come true. It represents German realism and cautiousness as well as our reliability. This stands in extreme contrast to the American way of “can-do-spirit and their “think big” mentality.

Ulrike Gahn from Germany

Venezuelan Proverb about Being Cautious

In English: Don’t keep all your eggs in the same basket.

This proverb means that you must not keep your money in the same place or invest in only one asset because if there is any problem, you will lose everything.

This proverb showed how true it is when in 1994 the main banks of Venezuela crashed. Many people recovered their savings, but others lost all their money. Some committed suicide.

Since then, Venezuelans don’t trust in banks and distribute their savings in several financial institutions. Some people who usually spend their money on useless gadgets use that bank failure as an excuse for their behavior.

Augusto Siches from Venezuela

Brazilian Proverb about Satisfaction

In English: It’s better to have one bird in your hand than two flying.

I think that this proverb can explain the way Brazilians act. They are not overly ambitious and it is not easy for them to gain material things. Because it’s not easy to have things, we try to keep what we have because it’s the only guaranteed thing. Brazilians don’t like to risk what they have.

Maybe it’s better to just dream of having more, and just keep what you have. They say it’s better to keep your feet on the floor or be realistic and not take risks.

Stella Tupinamba from Brazil

Taiwanese Proverb about Lazy or Bumbling People


In English: A cow which is dragged to Beijing is still a cow.

The cow in this Taiwanese proverb indicates a person with a bad habit can’t change his behavior, even if the surroundings are different. It is often used when someone can’t bear what another person is doing or when someone is always making mistakes. His actions give those people around him a bias.

This proverb also means that a person is too lazy to do what he should do. Only when others scold him will he start to do part of his job. Otherwise, he will always fool around and do nothing.

Rudy Chen from Taiwan

Angolan Proverb about Trouble

In Kimbundo:Wa lenga, wa jantala.

In English: Whoever runs can get a dinner.

It means that in some difficult situations, it is better to run away from trouble. Otherwise, you can be killed and life will stop right there. It shows that there is a history of a savage colonial dictatorship which gave power to all white men while black men—the owners, the natives—in the country had no rights. At that time, a white man had the right to kill an Angolan black man whenever he wanted to.

Later in a situation where white men had cars and black men had to go on foot in the countryside, some whites used to kill people without any reason, so blacks used to run away into the bushes whenever they heard the sound of a car engine to be safe. This situation lasted from 1482 to 1975, or 493 years of running away. Too much time not to learn.

Lourenzço Domingos Martins from Angola

French Proverb about Getting Up Early

In English: The future belongs to the man who rises early.

In France, a proverb about work can be translated this way. This shows that in France work is an important value and particularly when you get up very early. It means also that people who get up late are lazy and won’t have a good career.

Christine Leprince from France

French Proverb about Punishing Children


In English: The one who loves in a good way will punish well.

That means that when you are parents, for example, you have to punish your children when they do something bad.

Christine Leprince from France

Russian Proverbs about Work

In Russia, a lot of proverbs about work, like these two.

In English: The person who gets up early receives everything from God.

It means that work is the only way to reach your goals.

Inna Ignatovich from Russia

In English: Water doesn’t run under a lying stone.

It means that only hard work and patience can create a miracle.

Inna Ignatovich from Russia

Russian Proverbs about Friendship


These proverbs tells us about the value of friendship in Russia. Friendship has a very important meaning in our culture. We have a lot of proverbs, songs, and books about friendship.

In English: An old friend is much better than two new ones.

It means you should especially value an old friend.

In English: You don’t need to have 100 rubles, but you need to have 100 friends.

It means that friends give you support and encouragement which you can’t buy.

Inna Ignatovich from Russia

Taiwanese Proverb about Work

In English: When the sun rises, start working; when the sun sets, stop working.

The meaning here is similar to the saying in English, “The early bird gets the worm.” We have this proverb because since we have had a community, we have worked on the farm. The farmers followed the rotation of the sun. Also, they didn’t have light bulbs, so they couldn’t work at night. They thought the light could fill their spirit with energy. Thus they got the best work during the day.

Keng-Sheng Chang from Taiwan

Taiwanese Proverb about Learning

In English: A journey of a thousand miles is better than studying a thousand books.

It tells us that learning knowledge is not the only way to study, but we also learn from experience by going all around the world to see different cultures, people, and languages. Books only teach us basic things; the important thing is how you use the knowledge you learn. I think it encourages people to learn new things and create new things, not just study books to get promotions. The reason is a long time ago we wanted to get rich or become politicians. We had to pass a test to become a mayor. However, I think this proverb is still useful now.

Keng-Sheng Chang from Taiwan

Korean Proverb about Work

In English: No pain, no gain.

In our country, everybody believes it. It’s true. For example, if somebody makes money without striving, many people complain.

Chan-Ik Park from Korea

Korean Proverb about Cooperation


In English: If you stay together, you will live. If you separate from other people, you will die.

It was said by the first president in Korea. It emphasizes cooperation. This proverb is used in many Korean companies. I like this proverb.

Chan-Ik Park from Korea

Korean Proverb about Work

In English: Strike the iron while it’s hot.

Koreans often hasten work without any special reason. This proverb says most Koreans like ‘bbal-li, bbal-li’ behavior. “Bbal-li’ means ‘ ‘hurry.’ We say this when we have to wait, even if it is not urgent. During our reconstruction after the Korean War, everybody had to save time, so he or she could earn more than others could. That kind of hard experience made ‘bbal-li, bbal-li’ behavior. The merit is that we can usually do more than others do in the same amount of time. The demerit is we often miss out on life.

A direct translation says, “Draw out a bull’s horn at a stretch.”

Ickchan Lee from Korea

German Proverb about Children’s Behavior and Character

In English: The apple doesn’t fall far away from the trunk.

In German: Der Äpfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm.

This means that children always behave like their parents, and a child’s character can easily be traced to it’s parents character. Heritage determines most of us. This proverb denies individualism.

Ulrike Gahn from Germany

German Proverb about Procrastination

In German: Was Du heute besorgen kannst, das verschiebe nicht auf Morgen.

In English: What you can do today, don’t postpone until tomorrow.

This proverb reflects a German notion that working is very hard. They like to get things done and then focus and move on to the next thing to do. They don’t like to postpone work. It is better to get work done as soon as possible to get it out of the way. Germans like to get as much as possible accomplished in a day. They think that things you postpone until tomorrow you might never get done.

Kerstin Blankenburg from Germany