4 years, 9 months ago
When Scotland introduced the smoking ban there was a bit of an attempt to make smokers feel less pariah-like. City businesses set up little outdoor booths for their unrepentant staff, sandboxes appeared on streets and Glasgow Airport planted a hedge. I mention this, not to alert you to the kindly ways of Airport Authorities, but because that hedge was also home to one of the most feeble warning signs I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing – ‘Don’t Pick The Hedge’. Sadly I don’t have a pick, but it was there and it was printed and laminated and mounted on a small stick. And although I have never in my life, ever, wanted to pick a hedge, when I saw that sign there was nothing I wanted to do more.
That’s the thing about signs, they’re either stupid and bring out the worst in people or they’re pathetic and completely fail to alert you to imminent and alarming danger.
The worst signs for bringing out our less admirable qualities have to be Place Names. For some of us it’s not enough to take a selfie next to the amusing (usually only in translation) name, we have to take the sign itself. There are cities and towns all over the world where sign stealing is such an issue deterrents have been set up to catch light-fingered visitors in the act. ‘Condom’ in SW France is a top spot for sign stealers (in fairness most visitors do restrict themselves to the traditional awkward snap). The residents of the pretty town may affect nonchalance over its name – it’s not called le préservatif after all – but it hasn’t stopped them installing cameras over any and every official sign.
The tiny village of ‘Dull’ in Scotland suffers too, as does ‘Ogre’ in Latvia, ‘Pity Me’ in Co. Durham and ‘Bastard’ in Norway. But the woes of replacing a few bits of metal and ticking off tourists seem trivial compared to the major crisis faced by the Mayor of Batman, Turkey in 2008. Whipped into a frenzy of outrage by the use of his city’s name in the Batman movie franchise, Mayor Huseyin Kalkan threatened to sue director Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros blaming ‘Batman Begins’ et al for a rise in suicides in the city.
Perhaps Batman movies should carry a hazard sign when they’re screened in Batman. My money would be on the style of sign favoured on popular Australian surfing beaches, the one with the pictogram of the shark and the cautionary legend ‘Surfing At Your Risk’.
Really, you need to be told there might be sharks swimming about in open Australian water? This is the country that gives us Stone Fish: fish that look like stones and kill you stone dead in 4 minutes. If I heard that Pterodactyls had been sighted in Australia I wouldn’t even be slightly surprised.
Shark Hazard signs pale into insignificance compared to the Alligator Warnings posted in Florida swamps. ‘Alligators – Swim With Caution’ …. Swim only in designated areas ……Be watchful for alligators….Report approaching alligators to a Lifeguard ….. Never feed alligators. To be honest anyone who needs those warnings about alligators should probably just dive right in and get it over with. It’s a swamp and alligators have many teeth and one thing on their mind – eating, anything edible. But I’d be delighted to hear from anyone whose first thought on being approached by an alligator in a Florida swamp was ‘must report that to a Lifeguard’.
King Continent for understated ‘careful now’ hazard signs has to be Europe. Sometime in the mid-20th century, the Vienna Convention standardised all road signs to make them slightly less threatening than Church Coffee Morning posters. So, although there are hundreds of deer related road deaths and accidents every year and upwards of 40,000 deer are killed annually in the UK alone, the merry leaping and prancing pictogram beasts designed to warn us of this, are clearly not the ones involved in the carnage.
Give me Canada’s stomping, enraged moose facing down a crumpled car of cowering motorists any day.
European level crossings without barriers or warning lights are quietly suggested by the pictogram of a sleepy, ambling locomotive with a cheery plume of smoke and an average speed of 3km per hour, so nothing to worry about really. And grounding hazards for lorries get a deconstructed ‘Very Hungry Caterpillar’ – how those stranded drivers must chuckle.
But take away the restrictions and all bets are off when it comes to expressing cultural nuances in the medium of signs. The gentle island of South Uist politely informs you ‘Otter’s Crossing’. France peppers its hard shoulders with large, black cut-outs of coffin shaped people and fatality statistics. America puts you on guard with warnings of ‘Wild Hogs’ (not mid-life crisis bikers on Harleys I don’t think). And in Spain, because an accident victim has to stay by the side of the road till a coroner arrives, they don’t even need signs.
Let’s end on a cheerier note. This washroom sign at Sydney University, Australia advises students on the hazards of misusing the toilet. Makes you think: if you’re cowering on a toilet in a locked cubicle you’ve probably got more to worry you than a potential plumbing crisis.
Featured image from juiceboxdotcom