Hit the Road

Book chronicles amusing signs from around the world

Roundabout and gracious way of saying “Stay off the grass” (we think).  Spotted in pre-Olympics Hangzhou, China. (Photo by E’Louise Ondash)Diarrhea in the pool – Um….can we depend on self-reporting? Seen hanging on the gate of a hotel pool in Central California. (Photo by E’Louise Ondash)Worldwide traveler and writer Doug Lansky has spent two decades collecting absurd signs – those he has seen as well as those spotted by other travelers. “Ultimate Signspotting,” published by Lonely Planet, is his fifth book on the subject.   Courtesy photoFirearms - Reverse psychology? Spotted in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Doug Lansky/Jay Aldrich)Bottomless Pit - OK, nearly bottomless. Seen in Maui, Hawaii. (Photo by Doug Lansky/Scott Mason)Promised land - All traffic will be temporarily rerouted through Mecca. Seen on the Olympic Peninsula, Wash. (Photo by Doug Lansky/Ted Johnson)

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/.

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