Cracked

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Limited view,
giant ego
Selfies give fame,
to those who crave
Liars run wild,
addicts eat light
Stuck in a void,
hapless android
A fake life thrives
as living dies

 

 

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Inspiration: Poetic Asides, Wednesday Poetry Prompt #264

Photo: Say It With Silence

Words: c.b.w. 2014

The Language of Signs: Prague

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In the previous installment of The Language of Signs, we took an interesting trip through the streets of London. For English speakers it was a snap to read each sign and follow directions, but what happens when signs are in a language we don’t understand?

I found myself in the middle of a language barrier when I visited Prague in the Czech Republic. If it weren’t for the excellent guidebook¹ I had in my purse, I might still be wandering through a maze of medieval streets.

That being said, Prague takes special care in making sure the throngs of tourists who visit can find their way to various sites around town. This is particularly true in the Old Town District of Prague where poles with brown signs can be found on almost every corner. They are written in Czech, but there are images on each sign to ease the language barrier.

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Follow the sign to get to Charles Bridge, Kampa Island, or a tourist information office.
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

Like London (and most of Europe), street name signs are located on the sides of buildings. However, in Prague they are usually bright red. Aside from the street name, they also include the name of the Prague district where it is located. Additionally, there are often two additional tiles near doorways or windows that indicate the street number and city registration number (often associated with the address).

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Kozna Street, Located in Old Town, District 1
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

Traffic signs are also a bit challenging in that Eastern European traffic symbols and colors are a little different from the West. While some symbols are universal, others can be tricky!

One of the easier signs to understand is a typical warning sign for children as pedestrians in a roadway. A little higher on the same post is a very European sign indicating the location of a public Water Closet (WC) or toilet.  A little word of advice: public toilets are not free. Be sure to keep a few coins handy at all times just in case nature calls!

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Watch out for children!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

Another easy sign to translate is a Parking sign. I love how they always seem to be blue no matter where I go! In this instance, this section of the street is reserved those with a parking card. Further down the street, there’s a yellow diamond indicating a main road along with a blue right turn ahead sign.

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Parking is no easy feat in Prague!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

It’s tough to see but beneath the right turn sign, is another sign that warns of a pedestrian crossing. Here’s a better look:

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Crosswalk!
From Wikipedia Commons

There are a number of street signs hanging out on this corner! The red X on a blue background took me the longest to understand – it means no stopping. Above it, the blue arrow sign means one way. Up the street is another yellow diamond, along with a no right turn sign. Off the to right are signs indicating bus stops. On a side note, I wonder who left their hoodie hanging on the sidewalk barrier?

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Don’t even think about stopping!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

This street has a lot going on, too! The blue sign with a red line running through it means no parking, (or waiting).  Behind it is a sign listing Czech cities to which the road travels. Then, those yellow main road diamonds pop up again, along with signs indicating lane direction and changes. Towards the middle, there’s a blue circle with a diagonal arrow that means keep left.

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Yikes! So many signs!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

Last, but not least, the Czech people have a brilliant sense of humor. In an attempt to keep sidewalks and streets clean, signs are posted with a dog on a toilet to remind people to pick up any “presents” their dogs might leave while on a walk. Beneath the sign is usually a box filled with paper bags that have the same symbol. I didn’t get a shot of the sign, but I did snag one of the bags for a souvenir. I’ve said it before – the best souvenirs are free!

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Line 1: Not meant for storing food
Line 2: Dispose of waste into any trash. Not a hazardous waste.

Anyone up for a drive in Prague?

Happy Traveling!

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1. DK Eyewitness Travel: Prague – There’s nothing like colorful visuals to help you navigate through a foreign place. Aside from Rough Guide Maps, I never leave home without a DK travel guide.

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Just curious . . .

I don’t recall spotting any speed limit signs in Prague. Do they exist? If so, what is considered fast or slow?

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Previous New Familiars posts:

Grocery Shopping in London

Lunch In A Chinese Home

The Language of Signs: London

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c.b.w. 2013

The Language of Signs: London

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In my many years of travel, I’ve always made it a point to snap pictures of street signs or other signs that I find interesting or funny. It’s rather fascinating to observe how a culture communicates rules of the road or expected social behavior.  For example, in London, many of the signs are very polite.

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Near Southwark Cathedral on the South Embankment, London
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

At home I’m accustomed to the red Exit sign that shows me how to get out of any building. In the London Tube, however, there is what I consider a more gentle way of pointing out the exit.

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Follow the sign to leave the London Tube!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

At Tate Modern, this sign is posted on the elevator. I found it very thought provoking in that it asked people to be mindful instead of simply putting a wheelchair symbol and hoping for the best.

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If this sign doesn’t inspire you to make the extra effort to climb the stairs, I don’t know what will!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

However, the use of symbols is employed around heavy tourist areas to accommodate those who don’t speak English. Around Buckingham Palace I spotted these signs:

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What do they mean??
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Now, I’m not sure what these signs are indicating, but I have a couple of guesses. Traffic comes from all different directions on the roundabout in front of the palace (and they drive like idiots), so maybe it’s telling people to watch for traffic. Or, perhaps it’s a sign telling people there’s a tourist site (the eye points to the palace) and there is also a place to pick up a taxi. Either way, they are helpful!

Tourists also get reminders on how to cross the street safely. Foreigners are often thrown off by the reversal of traffic direction on the roads. Americans in particular are in the habit of looking for traffic on the right side of the road instead of left. To keep tourists from getting squashed, crosswalks in the central part of London are painted with a handy bit of advice!

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Look both ways! (In reverse)
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Crosswalks also receive a little extra attention in that they are marked with special road lines to warn drivers ahead of time to slow down. Hence, the infamous zig-zag pattern before the thick horizontal bands of most crosswalks.

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Watch out for pedestrians! Zig-zags in Muswell Hill
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

Traffic signs in London are very similar to those in the U.S. in that they convey the same concepts, but different words and shapes are used.

Yield = Give Way:

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Give Way in Notting Hill
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Speed limit signs are round with a red rim:

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Slow down in Muswell Hill!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

Bike lane signs are also round with a red rim:

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Ironically, this sign was by a pub. A way to curb drunk driving??
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

In Europe in general, the names of streets are placed on the sides of buildings or walls. Very rarely have I spotted a street name on a separate pole or traffic light. I prefer this system mainly because it’s easier to see the sign and there’s less likelihood of a car accident wiping out the sign. Tourists, however, have a hard time making the adjustment. Sometimes I chuckle when I see someone with a map looking everywhere but halfway up a building. In neighborhoods, street names are usually placed on brick walls that flank a residential entrance or a retaining wall.

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Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

On most of the main roads, street name signs also include the name of the London borough where the street is located as well as part of the zip code. For example, Drury Lane is in Camden and Portobello Road runs through Kensington and Chelsea.

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Do you know the muffin man? Camden, London
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

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Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Of all the interesting signs in London my absolute favorite is a small laminated sign zip-tied to the fence at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. For me it has always embodied the broader purpose of traveling and experiencing new places.

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Simple, yet powerful. Speaker’s Corner, London
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Keep an open mind, my friends!

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There are too many signs for just one post! Next week, we’ll head to Ireland and Prague, Czech Republic to check out their “sign” language.

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Just curious . . .

What are some interesting signs you’ve seen in your travels?

Londoners, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the zig-zag road lines slowly being phased out? I though I read that somewhere.

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Previous New Familiars posts:

Grocery Shopping in London

Lunch In A Chinese Home

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c.b.w. 2013

Lunch In A Chinese Home

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While in China I had the unique opportunity of experiencing several home visits with everyday Chinese people. On one such visit, I got the chance to go to an apartment in what is considered an upscale neighborhood of Changchun to have lunch with a Chinese family.  Even though I was in such a foreign place, I found unexpected familiarity and warmth, reminding me once again that we are more alike than different.

Upon arriving, I couldn’t get past the fact that the apartment building was bright pink. It looked like something right out of Miami Vice, but I decided it was better than the usual grayscale color schemes of communist architecture.

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A very pink apartment building in Changchun, China
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

No elevator meant climbing several flights of stairs in a series of concrete hallways. The drab and industrial surroundings made me wonder about the Chinese definition of “upscale.” However, when the hosts opened the door to their home, I saw a beautiful little apartment with wood floors, modern furniture and “stone” decorated walls. Before stepping through the door,  I was asked to remove my shoes and wear slippers. Apparently, the floors were new and the family didn’t want them scratched!

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A living room in a Chinese apartment.

After spending time in hutong homes and rural farmhouses, I now understood why this neighborhood was considered wealthy. This family had more money and domestic conveniences than many Chinese will ever see, including a big screen TV, a portable A/C unit, and a state of the art Western bathroom.  Most Chinese bathrooms consist of a hole in the floor that requires some skilled squatting, so this is a really a huge luxury. However, I was a little put off by the glass doors. The Chinese have a very different sense of privacy than the West in that there is little or no privacy!

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I’m a little jealous of this bathroom!

Despite many conveniences, the family had to hang their laundry out to dry on the patio. The concept of in-home washer and dryers is almost nonexistent for the everyday person in China. Hand-washing and line-drying is the most common way to clean clothes. In almost every window in every town, I saw clotheslines!

In comparison to the rest of the house, the kitchen was very simple. On one side there were small cabinets and counters, while the other side had a small dining table.  There were no full-size appliances. The stove was inset in the counter and consisted of two burners, while a small refrigerator and pantry were outside on an adjoining patio.

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Super small cabinets and counters didn’t hinder these master chefs!

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Getting ready for a buffet in the dining area of the kitchen.

Despite the small space, the entire family set about making the traditional and delicious meal of meat-filled dumplings.

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A few more stirs ought to do it!

Once the filling was cooked, the family taught me how to make the perfect Chinese dumpling. A spoonful of meat filling goes in the center of a thin dough circle. Then, the circle is folded in half and the ends are pinched together. It sounds easy, but it takes some practice! Too much filling can make the fold split and too few pinches can cause the whole thing to fall apart. After stuffing and pinching, the dumplings are steamed to cook the dough.

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Yes, they are as good as they look!

Dinner was served buffet style and the family insisted on incredibly full plates. It is considered rude not to sample everything on a host’s table, so I loaded up my plate and ate everything! Every bite was incredibly tasty.

As with many Chinese families, multiple generations live under one roof. In this instance, the grandparents on the mother’s side lived with the family. The Grandfather was a particularly colorful character who loved to talk to anyone who would listen. Even with a language barrier, he was a chatty one. Towards the end of the meal, he started a drinking game in the kitchen. He could down a beer faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. After chugging more than a few, he was the life of the party.

Even though I was wearing slippers instead of shoes and I was surrounded by a language I didn’t understand, I strangely felt right at home. Good food, good people, and a funny Grandpa can make the distance of an entire ocean disappear.

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Just curious . . .

Any ideas on why stuffed animals in plastic bags are on display in the living room?

I noticed the cabinets were different colors in both the bathroom and the kitchen. Is there a reason for this or does it simply not matter that they don’t match each other or the house decor?

Is lack of privacy the result of cultural evolution or is it related to high population density? Or both?

Got a question, observation, or reaction? Leave your thoughts in the comment section – Let’s get a great conversation going!

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Previous “New Familiars” posts:

Grocery Shopping in London

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c.b.w. 2013

Grocery Shopping In London

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Every evening at about six-thirty, I walked through the doors of  the local food store on Muswell Hill Broadway.  During my extended stay in London,  it was my evening ritual to pick up something for dinner and a snack for the next day. While I fell into the groove of a London grocery store rather quickly, the first few days were an interesting experience of learning the norms of a different culture.

Back home, grocery shopping is usually a once a week thing, but I realized very quickly that weekly shopping in London does not work.  First, like many Londoners, I relied on walking and public transportation to get around town, which makes carrying a week’s worth of groceries next to impossible. Second, the house where I was staying had a teeny tiny refrigerator that I had to share with another roommate and the homeowners. It was about the size of a mini bar, so I had no choice but to adopt the London lifestyle of daily market trips.

There were two grocery stores in the Muswell Hill area: Marks and Spencer’s and Sainsbury’s. I went with M&S mainly because it had a large array of fresh produce and a healthier variety of food products. And it was cleaner.

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My “local” grocery store on Muswell Hill Broadway
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

My budget constraints left me with about £10 a day for food, which  included my daily Cafe Mocha, (£2.90).  Breakfast and lunch were a snap –  a bagel smothered with Nutella in the morning and a fresh apple in the afternoon. Those two meals together cost me about £10 a week.

Dinner, however, was a bit trickier.  All I had to cook food was a microwave and a toaster, which was actually more restrictive than the budget! Thankfully, Marks and Spencer carries a wide array of frozen prepared meals that are reasonably priced and somewhat healthy (few preservatives or artificial ingredients). If I could get to the store before 6:00 p.m. I picked up a freshly made sandwich or salad. They were just as inexpensive as frozen dinners, but they were in short supply! Just ten minutes past six meant an empty shelf.

I think I tried just about every variety of the single-serve frozen dinner. The store brand chicken casserole, bangers and mash, and shepherd’s pie were my favorites, though I’d stay away from anything Italian (the noodles never cooked right). For £2.29 – £3.29, I got a pretty decent meal with enough left over to get a little dessert.

The candy rack is usually where I found that dessert. Candy bars are typically Cadbury or Mars, but in varieties that were totally foreign to me, (see The Junk Food Tourist for a complete rundown on my candy adventure).  Depending on the brand or size, they go for about 55p or £1.00.

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nom-nom-nom . . . The Double Decker is my favorite!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

Shopping in the store is about the same as it is in the U.S. It’s crowded, people don’t always move, and it has that urban food smell that dominates all grocery stores. However, things get interesting when it’s time to wait in line and pay. British people take waiting in line (or queuing up) pretty seriously. There is no whining, line cutting, or standing too close to one another, nor is there tolerance for obnoxious conversations on a mobile phone. If any of these unspoken rules are broken, the British are not shy about voicing their disdain.

What I found most fascinating was the courtesy of placing the conveyor belt divider for the person standing behind you. Whether I was carrying one item or five, the person in front of me never failed to  place the divider. It didn’t take me long to adopt the policy both in London and back home. A little kindness goes a long way.

The cashiers sit instead of stand as they scan purchases. They sit on ergonomic stools that actually looked really comfortable!  People either bagged their own groceries or the cashier took on bagging duties once money changed hands. Bags are not free, but rather optional and for a fee, (5p). It didn’t take long for me to wise up and bring my own bag in order to avoid being charged extra.

After a while, I got to know the cashiers and I no longer got lost trying to find the snack aisle. I knew the left door always got a little stuck when it slid open and there was always a huge puddle in front of the exit after it rained.  I’ll bet if I went back today I could still find the Nutella and the best frozen bangers and mash a girl could ever want. This little store, along with so many other things became part of what I call my “new familiars.”

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Just curious:

As this series progresses, I’ll being using this section to ask questions to clear up my own curiosities. However, please feel free to leave your own questions and comments below.

Are small refrigerators common in London homes?

What’s the story behind having to pay for a bag?

How would locals describe food prices – high or reasonable?

Londoners, what did I get wrong?

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c.b.w. 2013