A headline in today’s China Daily reads: “Unclear Signs in English to be History.” I feel like I’ve read this headline before. Many times. The gist is that in order to prepare for the Olympics, the city is going to wage a campaign against the creative translations in public signage that have delighted tourists and exchange students for decades.
What was striking about this particular article was its understatement. It explained that:
Toilet will replace W.C. (or water closet) and “Exit” signs will stop “Export”-ing people or showing them their “Way Out”.
These are just a few of the inappropriate and embarrassing signs in English that will be changed to make life more convenient for foreigners in Beijing, especially those expected for the 2008 Olympics Games.
I love that the only examples given are of already perfectly standard English, as though all that’s needed is a teency tweak or two and the city will be funny sign-free.
Fortunately, it’s not quite that simple.
Though I miss the sign that designated an ethnic minorities theme park near the Olympic stadium “Racist Park,” I’m cheered–and kept in line–by the plaque next to the fire extinguisher outside my front door reminding me that “Embezzlement is Strictly Prohibited.” I don’t slip on the floor of the bathroom at a neighborhood Sichuan restaurant because of notices warning me “Crumbly. Take care.” And though I can read the Chinese on a sign telling me my favorite trail to the Great Wall is closed, I’ve hiked it anyway, emboldened by the more ambiguous wording of the English injunction: