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
Natural Fish Knife (piece)
Special Ice from the House
|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!