Amazon Canada got into some trouble recently when it was found that a vendor was using its web service to sell doormats decorated with the Indian flag.  India's external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was alerted to the matter by vigilant Twitter users, who consider this usage an insult to their national flag.

The Minister demanded removal of the product and an apology from Amazon, on pain of declaring Amazon executives persona non grata in India. 

Insulting the flag is an illegal act in India, punishable by fines or imprisonment.

Amazon's India vice-president, Amit Agarwal, expressed regret over the inadvertent insult.  It was noted that the item was no longer for sale on the web service.  The vendor, which sells doormats decorated with other nations' flags, had apparently removed it voluntarily.

The incident illustrates some interesting points.  First, Amazon India is in stiff competition with Flipkart, a local service.  So, some of the ire directed at the company may have been motivated by patriotism.

Second, designers of goods need to be aware of differences in expectations between cultures.  Whereas a doormat featuring a Canadian flag might seem innocuous to natives of the Great White North, Indians are more sensitive about wiping their feet on a significant national symbol, albeit a machine-washable one.

Indian-flag---story-size 647 081515021254

By Indian Flag [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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