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Hidden Messages On The Road

hidden-messagesWe drove up to North Wales for our Easter visit to Grandma this week and I found myself playing a new fun game of interpreting hidden messages in motorway signs.

It started on the M25 when we saw the strangest motorway sign we had ever seen. It said: ‘Pick up litter. Other people do.’ Cue fun and entertainment for the rest of the journey:

‘Break the speed limit. Other people do.’

‘Drive like an idiot. Other people do.’

‘Ignore motorway signs. Other people do.’

‘Mum, buy chocolate! Other people do.’

Honestly, this new car game kept us fully entertained all the way to North Wales. Six hours have never flown by so quickly. We have been entertained before by motorway signs; the Delays one, for example, has afforded us much pleasure in the past. For those who don’t know, Delays are a rather fine band from Southampton; we are big fans. The degree of our merriment has been incremental to the probability of the band’s appearance, from ‘Delays Possible’ to ‘Delays Probable’ right through to ‘Delays Ahead.’ We were probably the only carload in the slow-moving queues greeting these signs with whoops of joy. Those motorway sign-writers who know of the band avoid all confusion by wording it ‘Queues Ahead’ in which case we groan along with the rest of them.

Anyway, on the way home, having exhausted all possibilities with our new phrase, we became more reflective of the hidden messages behind motorway signs. We began to ask deeper questions of our public sign-writers and the hidden messages they send us.

‘Do motorway signs have a tone of voice?’ I wondered. Because if they do, this one was peevish and accusing. The hidden message seemed to be ‘For chrissake, everyone else is public-spirited, why can’t you be?’ I think public information should be presented matter-of-factly, with no hidden messages, and no assumptions behind it. ‘No Hard Shoulder For 270 Yards’ for example, or ‘Heathrow Airport (Terminals 2,3 and 4)’, those will do fine. Or ’30’, that’s clear, we all understand that. Public signs should treat everyone equally, and assume the intelligence of the reader.

I’m reminded of those ‘Thank You For Not Smoking’ signs that sprang up in all pubs when the smoking ban came in. When the public were assumed to be capable of understanding ‘No Trespassing’ or ‘No Parking’ and even children were considered capable of getting ‘No Ball Games,’ the assumption behind ‘Thank You For Not Smoking’ was obviously ‘You cretinous, selfish vermin who smoke are obviously incapable of willingly following rules like the rest of us, so we have to be really careful and tip-toe around you.’ If that sign had a tone of voice, it would be Insincere Patronising and if it had a facial expression it would be Gritted Teeth.

Back on the road, am I the only one who feels irritated by ‘Please Drive Carefully Through Our Village,’ or ‘Middle-Class Smugsville Thanks You For Driving With Care,’ as if we non-village dwellers are incapable of understanding and following the clear signs at the gates to their citadel reading: ’30.’ I imagine the hidden message behind such signs to be: ‘We have paid a lot of money to live in such a desirable place, and if you will insist on emerging from the surrounding bog-land and actually intruding on our space, please remember we all have front lawns we are proud of, (we don’t see them as dumping grounds for old settees and Tesco trolleys), so please don’t swerve onto them and cut them up, or otherwise make a nuisance of yourselves and draw our attention to your existence.’

Am I reading too much into this do you think?

Well, maybe, but as a parenting blog, I’m going to get back on-message here and say that if we don’t want our kids to get all irritated and resistant, we should state the rules like the matter-of-fact public information road signs, and not the confusing, patronising ones with hidden messages suggesting personal assumptions of idiocy.

And if you’re about to set off on a motorway Easter adventure, do have fun! Other people do.

4 Responses

  1. Merlinda Little (@pixiedusk)
    | Reply

    This is a nice post read as my son is so into Traffic Signs. I think that what made him love traffic signs is its directness. Like what you said no hidden messages. A good parenting method too as no one will mis interpret. #mbpw

    • Stephanie Davies-Arai
      | Reply

      Yes I think you’re right Merlinda, the directness of road signs is reassuring for children, we parents can learn a lot from them. I don’t think I quite realised that until seeing the one that felt manipulative, it really jumped out. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Clare Flourish
    | Reply

    Mmm. “Please do not behave like an idiot” signs irritate me too.

    Signs in Wales must be bilingual. The suffix -wch forms the imperative: Bag it and Bin it was translated “Bagiwch a Biniwch”.

    And- a face I recognise, on your facebook like thing!

    • Stephanie Davies-Arai
      | Reply

      I’m quite a fan of Welsh road signs actually, my favourites are all the ‘dim’ messages like ‘Dim Parcio,’ that has entered our family lexicon: ‘Dim talkio!’ gets the message across quickly. It somehow has more effect than the English!

      Whose face do you recognise???!

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