Every time I travel to Europe, I am consistently amused by the warning signs I encounter (as far as entertainment value, they rank up there with Italian television, which is no small feat. TV shows in Italy make no sense and often include dance interludes with women in tiny dresses. Chauvinism has never been more hilarious).
In the U.S., most of our cautionary signs are simple, and printed in English. They say something to the effect of how walking on the lawn when you aren’t supposed to is unlawful, and will cost you money, and that’s really sufficient to get us to not do something. Money is a great motivator in my homeland.
But Europeans are a varied and complicated bunch. In Italy, I’ve noticed most warning signs don’t threaten fines or unlawfulness. I assume this is because most Italians don’t care about that sort of nonsense (I realize I’m generalizing here. I’m speaking from a lifetime of having lived with a group of Italians who don’t care about that sort of thing). Instead, if there’re a sign prohibiting you from doing something, it usually carries a grave message about the consequences.
“Do not stick head out of moving train or you will be instantly decapitated.” (Which I’m sure we can all agree carries with it a very persuasive and graphic visual.)
In slightly more law-abiding countries, like England, the signs are far less aggressive. They sound like a polite request.
They’ll tell you, “Please do not x” or “Mind the gap.” It’s lovely, really.
Still others, rather than list culturally-specific warning signs for their many visitors, go instead with iconography. That’s what we found when we took the funicular up to Castillo de Montjuic in Barcelona. Everything that we weren’t allowed to do was clearly laid out, with a red slash through the middle.
And here are a few more things that were verboten:
No leaning on the doors (fair enough), no eating or drinking (I prefer to take this very literally, and like think that I could have eaten whatever I wanted, provided it didn’t exactly resemble the food in the image), and … wait a sec. What is going on in that last picture?
Apparently if you stick your hand in the closing doors, they will slam onto your wrist, and cause you to drop your briefcase. Naturally, this prompted several questions.
- Who takes a briefcase to tourist attractions?
- Why isn’t there a red line through it?
Some will argue that it’s merely a warning, and not a “forbidden” sign. But I think the real answer is obvious: they want us to accidentally drop our briefcases, so they can run off with them. I bet when no one is watching, they probably swing the little compartment like a pendulum, too. Those jerks.