Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Every traveler knows that when you're away from home even your own language can be foreign, but when the sign says what it means, does it mean what it says?

Take Poland, for example; the road signs there are very straightforward. All you do is: Right turn towards immediate outside. 

Easy. A friend of mine also has a photograph of this gem: GO SOOTHINGLY IN THE SNOW AS THERE LURK THE SKI DEMONS. He said that after that, things went from bad to warsaw.

In the Slavija Hotel in Belgrade I once found the following sign on the door of the elevator:

1. To move the cabin, push button of wishing floor
2. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press the number of the wishing floor
3. Button retaining a pressed position shows received command for visiting starter.
photograph: Joe Mabel

On the door of my room was this equally impressive sign:

Let us know about any unficiency as well as leaking on the service. Our utmost will improve it.

The Slavs showed a more hospitable attitude than the Romanians. The sign on the lift in my hotel there was pretty blunt:

The lift is being fixed for the next days. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.

Just ask my wife. They are not quite as ruthless in Prague. They have their own state tourist agency, Cedok. Their front window once proudly displayed this sign:

Take one of our horse-driven city tours - we can guarantee no miscarriages.

Perfect. So we went full term right across the city. Could be the birth of a whole new tourist industry. But Eastern Europe is a tricky place for vacations. Even if you avoid ski demons and try not to be unbearable, a nasty shock awaits you on the Soviet cruise liners that ply the Black Sea. This sign was seen on one of the cabin doors:

Helpsavering apperata in emergings behold many whistles! Associate the stringing apparata about the bosoms and meet behind, flee then to the indifferent lifesaveringshippen obediencing the instructs of the vessel!
a Russian cruise ship

But let's stop picking on Eastern Europe. There's this famous sign once seen on the front door of a cathedral in Sevilla in Spain, urging restraint:

It is forbidden to enter a woman, even a foreigner if dressed as a man.

That just about rules out most fetishes in the dictionary. Public morals are also of great concern in Cairo. This sign was found over the entrance to a nightclub:

Unaccompanied ladies not admitted unless with husband or similar.

What is similar to a husband? No ladies, don't answer that. We're better not knowing.

Foreign restaurants are the best source for this sort of unintentional humour. I saw a sign in a New Delhi establishment that seemed a little blunt to me:

Please do not commit nuisance on floor!
Go outside and commit!

In Nepal I was tempted with Patched Eggs, Welsh Rabid and even Hambugger. And how about this appetising menu I found in Moraira in Spain:

Crumbled Eggs with Tomato

Goose Barnacles
Natural Fish Knife (piece)
Gordon Blu
Thigh Lambskin

Pineapple Worst
Special Ice from the House
Frost Pie
photograph: yohan euan

Europeans, at least, have an excuse. It's not their language. What could you say about the KFC outlet in the UK who once advertised: OPEN SEVEN DAYS A WEEK EXCLUDING SUNDAYS

Even that faded in comparison to this tourist booklet's description of the Queen Elizabeth the First hunting lodge in Epping Forest: ' ... while in later years, too worn to ride, the Queen and her favourites waited for dear after dear to come within range of their crossbars.'

It's easy to laugh. But what would a Japanese - or even a Romanian - make of these directions found in the mens washroom of a Sydney hotel: 'Shake excess water from hands, push button to start, rub hands rapidly under air outlet and wipe them on front of shirt.'

It's best to ignore the signs and just look for local knowledge, just as I did when I was lost in Innsbruck. I knew the man in the tourist agency could help me because the sign in the window said: INGLISH SPOCKEN HERE.

Do you have a funny foreign sign you'd like to share? If you do, you could also win a free eBook of OPIUM. I spent a week in the jungle in the Golden Triangle and chased aging Corsican gangsters around Vientiane while researching it.

It's the first in a five book series about the growth of the drug trade in South East Asia, from opium sacks thrown in the back of Cessnas to hundreds of kilos of refined heroin hidden in trawlers and military cargo planes.

See you at the end of the week for Friday night drinks!

                                          amazon kindle edition


  1. What a good laugh for the morning. Thank you! I know my daughter could add to the list. I'll have to contact her. She got lost in Italy when her party was dismounting a bus and she didn't get off fast enough. Whoops.

  2. This is great Colin! Funny stuff--reminds me of this site my teenage son likes to check out called funny engrish or something along those lines.
    I like that 'you will be unbearable' line!

  3. Absolutely wonderful post. I needed a laugh!

  4. Very funny, Colin. Here is one I saw in a hotel in Ecuador. It was still there three years later when I visited again.

    Dear Mr. Passenger Foreigner, do not launder garments in the sink. You will dampen the story.

  5. That was pretty great. I have tears in my eyes from laughing so hard.

  6. You are a funny man today!

    My husband and I have traveled in Europe, but not the eastern countries.

    On one of our trips, we had to change trains in Innsbruck on our way to Salzburg from Rome. We drug our heavy luggage down the stairs, ran under the tracks and waited for the elevator to take us up to track on the other side. We waited. And waited. No elevator.

    Suddenly a man yells out to us "Lift kaput, lift kaput!"

    My husband looked over to me with a funny expression, "What?"

    I said, "Oh no, that's what my grandfather who was German would say to us when we were little when something was broken, kaput."

    You should of seen my husband's face when he realized he was going to have to lug those bags up those stairs. Priceless, but he wasn't laughing back then. lol (it wasn't a sign but a funny story.)

    Thank you for sharing those crazy memories Colin.

  7. Love this, Colin. I shared on Facebook.

    Sometimes the sign does make sense but in a twisted, weird-culture kind of way. During a family reunion in Kentucky, the hotel staff included a handful of tattered (but clean) strips of cloth in the bathroom with the sign: USE THESE, NOT NEW TOWELS TO CLEAN GUNS.

  8. So funny! Only meant to take a short break, see what everyone was doing on FB, until I spotted this link. Had to come read it! Perfect mood lifter on a busy day. ~Nita

  9. I love your collection of English tourist instruction mishaps in other countries. I've often noticed them myself while traveling, and sometimes I would tell the owner, but often I thought to myself that the main thing is to appreciate their effort.

    And then I'm touring a museum in the U.S. with my mother-in-law and they don't even have guide booklets available in other languages, such as French for her, which isn't even that exotic.

  10. Saw this at the tube pool in a theme park in Bangkok

    "Hole is wet, enter smoothly"