Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Year in Wacky Signs

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Do your friends walk 20 meters in front of you when you're taking pictures of signs? Do they whisper under their breath, "Oh God, Chris is taking another picture of a sign."? Do they make gestures--signs of their own in fact--that mean they think you're a bit wacky? Do they often say you need therapy? Well, then I feel for you. They just don't understand us. Signs are relics and artefacts of our various and beautiful cultures. Signs are important. OK, I'm wacky.

Here are 20 of my favorite signs of 2010 (but of course they're still there if you want to go and take your own picture--it'll last longer).

Let's start with this sign at the servants' entrance to Chatsworth House in the Peak District (England). I know what it means, but "hoot"? This is what an owl does, right? Or I suppose one good give (or not give) a hoot about something. One could be a hoot as well. And "dead" slow is hardly possible. Come on.

The "Wish Column" is wonderful: it sounds like a place you'd go to make wishes come true. A mecca of sorts for desperate people with all sorts of ailments. The special thing about this column in the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul is, however, that it exudes a rusty (I think, but I hardly research this stuff) fluid from the place worn down by all the desperate people making their wishes. I wish the people who named this column had chosen some other exuding word besides "Sweating". The Weeping Column sounds fantastic to me. 

This sign at the airport in Edinburgh is ridiculous. How can you keep a door closed at all times? The purpose of a door is to permit entrance to, and exit from, a room. Opening and shutting is pretty much all a door is good for. A door kept shut "at all times" is called a wall. Come on. 

Apparently, on Malta they have a problem with horse bathing--or I suppose the appropriate place to bathe your horse. The problem with this sign is that the only people who'd consider bathing a horse on Malta would be old fellows who are more familiar with the rules than anyone. Why would they have to be told? And then of course the sign is funny. Do horses really bathe? How do they hold the soap?

"No dog bathing!" What do people have against clean animals? OK, there is a trough next to this sign with running water, but who in his right mind would dip his hand into a murky trough of water in the mountains of South Tryol and take a big swig? If you drink anything from this, you'd drink from the water running into the trough--not from the trough itself. (THIS JUST IN! One of my German readers has just told me the story behind this sign. It seems that dog poop causes a disease in the cows who drink from the troughs. So this sign gets an A+ after all.)

Staying with German for a moment. This sign is a bit hard to read (especially if you don't speak German). My German readers will see why this sign has probably been vandalized many times. The word "urgemütlich" means quaint and cozy in a rustic and old-fashioned way. It's a less common word than "ungemütlich," which means cold and sterile and uncomfortable. Most Germans would read the sign wrong, and my friends who got to the sign before I did (because I was taking pictures, not because I was less fit), were already calling it a hoot.

Back to the UK for the next sign. In spring 2010 I was in London every other weekend. I had lots of time to take walks from Canary Wharf into the city. I love walking. The Thames Path is a great way to discover London. With a few exceptions, the entire bank on both sides of the Thames should be accessible. Due to construction, however, occasionally you'll have to veer off the beaten path and dip into the ugly reality of modern London. Towering above the architecture of centuries past, there are the ill-conceived buildings of the '60s and the controversial eye-sores of the present.
On one of my detours, I discovered Hopton's Almshouses, right in the middle of an area being ruined with modern apartment buidings. It's comforting to know that these places are maintained, that someone is trying to keep London from becoming a jungle of highrise, glass buildings. That someone cares. Thanks to The Right Reverend, the Bishop of Woolrich. I guess you're a pretty swell guy. If you read this, kudos to you.

And I guess we should be glad that someone cares enough to start a Poo Project in the Cairngorm mountains in the Scottish Highlands. When you look at this sign, what is your first reaction? You want to go down those steps and see what the "Poo Disposal Point" looks like, don't you? You're a curious person, and you have to go anyway. Well, it's not that sort of disposal point. This is where you bring your poo after you've been camping in the mountains for a week. Yep, for your information, this is the place to bring it after you've carried it around with you all week.

The Asians are known for their conviviality and their politeness; unfortunately they are also known for their grammatically humorous signs. Inserting the word "We" would have made this sign correct. As is, the makers of the sign at the Bangkok airport are telling the readers of the sign, with the imperative "APOLOGIZE," to apologize. Before you go to the trouble to make a sign, shouldn't you ask a native speaker if your wording is right? The maker of the sign might have meant "APOLOGIES".

Let's take a look a couple more Asian signs . . .

Here's one from Bangkok. It's the saddest sign of the bunch. This confession is hardly appropriate in a restaurant. It's too intimate. You might admit this to a friend, but telling the world that "we" (whoever this is) are never close? Nah. Again, you pay for a neon sign to be made, you pay for it to be hung in a central place in your restaurant, but you don't ask a native speaker if the words are correct? I'm pretty sure the makers of this sign meant to say "We're never closed."

I'd like to think this sign is a clever play on words based on the idea of respect: if you're going to throw rubbish at something, don't throw it at our beach. If we throw the rubbish "at" the dust bin, though, the rubbish will ultimately fall onto the beach, won't it? To be fair to the authorities at Kuta Beach on Bali, a few of these signs were actually correct: "in" dust bin.

I'm giving this sign to you from the Crich Tramway Village Museum in the Peak District (England) to encourage you to always ring your gong. Such a positive message.

But if you're a menstruating woman, you need to stay out of the temples on Bali. First of all, "strictly"! How hard is it to look up that word? You're putting it on a really funny sign, a picture of which wacky folks like me will send around the world. Come on. Secondly, how would they know? I'd be willing to bet that most women roll their eyes at this. Terimakasih to you too.

My first instinct when I see a misspelled word on a sign is to fix it. It's rare, though, that I have paint or a large red marker in my backpack. The Germans are more resourceful. They love to alter their signs to make them dirty.

The original sign says Careful Danger of Falling! Please do not climb onto the railing! The net is only to keep birds out.

The attempted revision/vandalism: Careful Danger of Falling! Please don't climb onto the breasts. (star of David)! The net is only to keep people from screwing! The vandalism is neither complete nor successful, but we understand the intention of the revisionist.

Autumn 2010 was a time of protest in London. The sheer number of signs in this wild protest march was impressive. After I led the FREE BURMA march down the wrong road, we cut across St. James's Park and followed this one to Westminster. Groups of protesters would stand still for a couple of minutes, letting the group in front of them get about a hundred meters further, then they'd all run as fast as they could--shouting and whistling--to catch up. I don't know what this was supposed to mean, but it was exciting to watch.

OK, this is definitely the least exciting sign: the name of a town along the Mosel. I've included it because it brings back memories of when I first started waiting tables in Nashville. Piesport is where Piesporter Reisling comes from. Way back when, we called it Piss Poor Reisling. Thanks for the memories, Piesport! Oh, and sorry (but you really weren't very good)!

In case any of you are having problems with a stalker, I know where he lives. Send me an email, and I'll let you know. No one should have to put up with this type of harassment. It affects every aspect of your life. I'll do what I can to help you.

I take pictures of interesting McDonalds signs in places like Salzburg and Innsbruck--obvious attempts on the part of the corporate devil to fit in and not ruin the Urgemütlichkeit of the city. It's more realistic, however, to think that the local government required the corporate devil to fit in. Here's a picture of the Starbucks sign in Ubud, Bali (Indonesia). I wonder why Starbucks couldn't use their trademark green?

Signs, signs, everywhere signs. I love them, can't get enough of them. There were so many more in 2010, but showing them would make me look obsessed. Which I'm not. I'm really not. I promise.

Hey, pretty IMBO reader, if you liked this post, you will LOVE The Ten Worst Air Passengers of 2010! I promise. 

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. His fiction and creative non-fiction have appeared in numerous places both online and in print, from the dark tones of A-Minor Magazine to the inspirational pages of the best-selling non-fiction series Chicken Soup for the Soul.