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