Signs are everywhere — because I suppose, they are necessary — mostly.
They tell us where we are, where to go, what to do and what not to do. They tell us how far it is to the next exit, where to park or not, and to watch for dangerous conditions. Signs explain which streets are dead-ends, whether we can take a left turn and where to go to the bathroom.
Signs also tell us a lot about local culture, and sometimes they are downright hilarious. Photographer, writer and world traveler Doug Lansky thinks so, too.
“I started collecting sign photos while I was doing a big round-the-world backpacking trip that started in 1992 and ended about two-and-a-half years later when I was hit by a car in Bangkok,” relayed Lansky via email.
Today, after many years on the road, he’s married, has three children and lives in Stockholm.
After that first long trip, “I was showing friends a stack of photos … I noticed that they quickly lost interest in the shots of me standing in front of various famous attractions, but really seemed to enjoy the five or six pictures of funny signs.”
In 1999, Lansky created a website (“clunky and expensive” back then) to which people could upload their photos of signs. “This got things rolling.”
Lonely Planet published his first book of sign pictures in 2005. This latest one, “Ultimate Signspotting; Absurd and Amusing Signs from Around the World,” is Lansky’s fifth.
“Over the last 20 years, I’ve gathered well over 50,000 sign photos from well traveled amateur and professional photographers,” Lansky wrote. “For each of (my books), I had to take several thousand submissions and pick out approximately 250 favorites.”
Best of show?
“If I have to choose, I’ll go with the ‘Bottomless Pit – 65 feet deep’ sign from Hawaii.”
Oddly enough, Lansky thinks that this country, the United Kingdom and Australia have the funniest signs.
“No one mucks up our language as well as we do,” he said. “China has contributed an impressive amount to the collection, but they did a big sign clean-up before hosting the Olympics (in 2008), so I’m not sure how many of those mangled-English signs are left.”
These days, Lansky’s travel is mostly done for speaking engagements and leisure trips with the family, but he’s still collecting photos of strange and humorous signs. Share yours at HYPERLINK “http://www.signspotting.com” www.signspotting.com. To order “Ultimate Signspotting” ($9.99), visit HYPERLINK “http://shop.lonelyplanet.com/world/ultimate-signspotting-1/” http://shop.lonelyplanet.com/world/ultimate-signspotting-1/.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.