Last year I found a music video entitled “Prisencolinensinainciusol,” by an Italian named Adriano Celetano. A combination of rap and disco, it was his idea of what English sounds like to non-English speakers. Yes, the results are pure gibberish, and at first I didn’t think much of the video, until I found out it was made in 1972. If you’re too young to remember the 1970s, this was before the disco era, which peaked in 1975-79. It was also seven years before the first rap song, and a full decade before MTV appeared and made music videos a common part of our culture. Thus, in more ways than one, Mr. Celetano was ahead of his time.
All this is a lengthy introduction to the funny list I just saw, of English signs seen in countries where only tourists use English much. Thanks to the success of several English-speaking countries (mostly the UK and USA, but Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India qualify as well), the use of English as one of the five official languages of the United Nations, and its overwhelming presence on computers and the Internet, people everywhere want to learn a language that is so useful. Unfortunately, English is not a phonetic language, nor does it have a consistent set of rules for grammar (if it did, the plural for “house” would be “hice”), so foreigners often make mistakes that are hilarious to anyone who can read this. For example, you may have seen Engrish.com, the funny and politically incorrect website that collects examples of improper English on signs, t-shirts, etc., mostly from Japan. Japan provides plenty of examples because they have been good trading partners of the United States for most of the past 150 years, so they consider knowledge of English important, but do not meet many English speakers at home.
Anyway, here is the list. I remember the sign on the Bucharest elevator from a travel guide written in the early 1980s, and some of the other entries must be just as old (note the references to Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, countries which no longer exist), but if you have a sense of humor, they’ll give you a smile nonetheless.
Strange Butchery of English,
Signs Seen Around the World…
In a Tokyo hotel:
Is forbitten to steal hotel towels please. If you are not person to do such thing is please not to read notis.
In another Japanese hotel room:
Please to bathe inside the tub.
In a Bucharest hotel lobby:
The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.
In a Leipzig elevator:
Do not enter the lift backwards, and only when lit up.
In a Belgrade hotel elevator:
To move the cabin, push button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by national order.
In a Paris hotel elevator:
Please leave your values at the front desk.
In a hotel in Athens:
Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 A.M. daily.
In a Yugoslavian hotel:
The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid.
In a Japanese hotel:
You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.
In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery:
You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian and Soviet composers, artists, and writers are buried daily except Thursday.
In an Austrian hotel catering to skiers:
Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension.
On the menu of a Swiss restaurant:
Our wines leave nothing to hope for.
On the menu of a Polish hotel:
Salad a firm’s own make limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger; roasted duck let loose; beef rashers beaten up in the country people’s fashion.
In a Hong Kong supermarket:
For your convenience, we recommend courteous, efficient self-service.
Outside a Hong Kong tailor shop:
Ladies may have a fit upstairs.
In a Bangkok dry cleaner’s:
Drop your trousers here for best results.
Outside a Paris dress shop:
Dresses for street walking.
In a Rhodes tailor shop:
Order your summers suit. Because is a big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.
Similarly, from the Soviet Weekly:
There will be a Moscow Exhibition of Arts by 15,000 Soviet Republic painters and sculptors. These were executed over the past two years.
In an East African newspaper:
A new swimming pool is rapidly taking shape since the contractors have thrown in the bulk of their workers.
In a Vienna hotel:
In case of fire, do your utmost to alarm the hotel porter.
A sign posted in Germany’s Black Forest:
It is strictly forbidden on our black forest camping site that people of different sex, for instance, men and women, live together in one tent unless they are married with each other for that purpose.
In a Zurich hotel:
Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.
In an advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist:
Teeth extracted by latest Methodists.
A translated sentence from a Russian chess book:
A lot of water has been passed under the bridge since this variation has been played.
In a Rome laundry:
Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time.
In a Czechoslovakian tourist agency:
Take one of our horse-driven city tours we guarantee no miscarriages.
Advertisement for donkey rides in Thailand:
Would you like to ride on your own ass?
On the faucet in a Finnish washroom:
To stop the drip, turn cock to right.
In the window of a Swedish furrier:
Fur coats made for ladies from their own skin.
On the box of a clockwork toy made in Hong Kong:
Guaranteed to work throughout its useful life.
Detour sign in Kyushi, Japan:
Stop: Drive Sideways.
In a Swiss mountain inn:
Special today no ice cream.
In a Bangkok temple:
It is forbidden to enter a woman even a foreigner if dressed as a man.
In a Tokyo bar:
Special cocktails for ladies with nutes.
In a Copenhagen airline ticket office:
We take your bags and send them in all directions.
On the door of a Moscow hotel room:
If this is your first visit to the USSR, you are welcome to it.
In a Norwegian cocktail lounge:
Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.
At a Budapest zoo:
Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.
In the office of a Roman doctor:
Specialist in women and other diseases.
In an Acapulco hotel:
The manager has personally passed all the water served here.
In a Tokyo shop:
Our nylons cost more than common, but you’ll find they are best in the long run.
From a Japanese information booklet about using a hotel air conditioner:
Cooles and Heates: If you want just condition of warm in your room, please control yourself.
From the brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo:
When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.
Tokyo hotel’s rules and regulations:
Guests are requested not to smike or do other disgusting behaviours in bed.
Hotel Anders Rom, Rome:
All female guests are welcome. please bring own towels for morning show.
Hotel room notice, Chiang-Mai, Thailand:
Please do not bring solicitors into your room
Hotel brochure, Italy:
This hotel is renowned for its peace and solitude. in fact, crowds from all over the world flock here to enjoy its solitude.
Sign in Japanese public bath:
Foreign guests are requested not to pull cock in tub.
Two signs from a Majorcan shop entrance:
English well talking
Here speeching american
On the grounds of a private school:
No trespassing without permission.
In a City restaurant:
Open seven days a week, and weekends too.
In a cemetery:
Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.
Barber-shop notice, Bombay:
Hair-cutter and clean shaver. Gentlemen’s throats cut with very sharp razors with great care and skill. No irritating feeling afterwards.
Hotel notice, Bulgaria:
The inhabitants of the hotel are kindly asked to keep clean. They are expected also to use the various objects in the rooms only according to their predestination.
Hotel bedroom notice, Rome:
FIRE! It is what can doing we hope. No fear. Not ourselves. Say quickly to all people coming up down everywhere a prayer. Always is a clerk. He is assured of safety by expert men who are in the bar for telephone for the fighters of the fire come out.