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.

Spotted in Flemington, NJ.

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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.

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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.

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And here are a few more things that were verboten:

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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?

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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.

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Comments (16)

  1. 1
    Verena says:

    Oh yeah, we Europeans LOVE our signs

    I just found that one on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/groups/verbotenesoesterreich/pool/ – just dedicated to the signs which forbid you to do stuff in Austria ;)

    my very favorite to illustrate the passion with which we love signs is that one:
    http://www.flickr.com/groups/verbotenesoesterreich/pool/ :D

    oh and on a completely different note: your blog is SO educating – verboten is also used in English ? – i had no clue :) – you making I so much more smart :)

  2. 2
    Sheri says:

    did you notice that violators was misspelled in the “NJ” sign?

    • 2.1
      Everywhereist says:

      When I first saw it, I didn’t – I was so caught up with the idea that they’d fine you for profanity. When I looked at the photo again, though, I was delighted beyond all reason to see the misspelling.

  3. 3
    TheOtherLisa says:

    I think you’re wrong about that one sign. It’s not “no pendulums” it’s “no click clacks”. Since I have a reconstructed front tooth because of them, I have to wholeheartedly endorse this prohibition.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLHftISLNHE

  4. 4

    With your father living Munich you are probably well aware of the sign micro-management that goes on pretty much everywhere here. I am driving in Germany and absolutely bewildered by the number of signs distracting drivers. Not to mention, there are some 320+ signs for drivers…according to my fahrschule study guide.

    • 4.1
      Wurst says:

      But at least most of those signs in Germany are graphics. What I find fascinating in the US (particularly in NJ) is the shere number of text signs. Feels as authorities want to stimulate reading. “All turns from right lane”. “Delayed green”. “No turn on red”.

  5. 5
    Monica says:

    More brilliant European signs, love it. The worst part is that they’re actually needed. I saw a guy get trapped in the doors on the tube yesterday. He tried to dive through the doors, obviously thinking he was much thinner than he was, and held the train up for a full 5 minutes while he tried to wiggle free. Very funny but annoying when you’re late for work!

  6. 6
    Nik says:

    Have you seen the ones in Japan? They have lovely little pictures of rabbits and raccoons (with their baby racoons!) on the train demonstrating how you will get caught in the door if you try to get out while they’re closing. Too cute!

  7. 7
    Sharon Miro says:

    OK, they were right. You are funny.

  8. 8
    Mira says:

    British signs are soooo polite! In most bathrooms you’ll be faced with a “Now please wash your hands” sign once you exit the cubicle which always delights me and I wash my hands especially vigourously – I mean, I was asked so nicely!

  9. 9
    Angie says:

    I was much more confused by the picture you called ‘don’t lean on the doors’
    Looked more to me like ‘gentlement, please dont relieve yourselves inside the cable car’

    You need to make a trip to China, they try to make little rhymes out of things, except it’s in Chinese. Totally lost in translation when it’s in english

  10. 10
    Anna says:

    Well, if you come to Greece you will be asked not to throw toilet paper in … the toilet :D

    https://plus.google.com/photos/109708721386104547742/albums/5712289533049076465?authkey=CKCfn6fT1-zwgAE

  11. 11
    iceprinxess says:

    In Singapore, you have signs that tell you to “please flush after you use” and “not to make a mess”. There is even a toilet association (http://www.toilet.org.sg) lol

  12. 12
    Kitty says:

    In the US I was amazed at the amount of text signs in roads and in general. With the amount of immigrants who don’t speak English very well I wonder how come there aren’t more car accidents in a daily basis.
    ;)

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