Look at the picture above. We have a street corner in suburban Evanston. There are three trees along one side of the road, some bushes, a bit of grass, a drinking fountain, two benches and a boulder with some kind of plaque affixed.

Would you say this amounted to a park?

Well, there is no need to ponder this any further, because if you look even more closely – no, let me help you, here is another image –

…there is a helpful sign on which you may make out the words ‘Harper Garden Park’. You are now in no doubt as to the status of this greenish corner.

Over-signage is an American affliction, it seems to me, and one that sits ill with the vague, muddy, well-I’m-not-sure shiftiness of the British worldview.

You can have signs that tell you what to do: for many months I found the ubiquitous ‘pay to park’ sign amusing for reasons that even I couldn’t entirely articulate. (Something to do with it looking like an advertisement of a thrilling opportunity for consumer spending.) Still, it brightened my day.

And some injunctions are quite a bit stranger (if sound):

But the ones I like best are the simply descriptive. The endless naming of every half acre of green space…

The inadvertent display of the national oil enthusiasm in the guise of a warning…

And the alarm caused by any deviation from the grid system.


(Thanks to my mother-in-law whose visit last year gave me the idea for this post.)


About scepticalexpat

British 30something wannabe academic, moving to Chicago for three years in August 2010.
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6 Responses to Signs

  1. laineylouuk says:

    Like you, I also find the sheer volume of signs frustrating and, sometimes, hilarious. On our house-hunting trip to NY I saw the best yet. I can’t remember the exact words but it was something like “stop here at stop sign” with an arrow pointing to the line next to the stop sign. Ridiculous!

  2. Michael Garcia says:

    Being and American living in Britain, I find the lack of street signs here frustrating. If I drove instead of waling everywhere, I don’t know how I would find anything.

  3. Michael, I agree that road signs directing you where to go can be sadly lacking in Britain.

  4. emmhub says:

    I have never given much thought to North American signage, but I have to say I was endlessly amused by British Signs. My favourites were always the ones related to “Plants”. “Caution: Slow Moving Plant” and “Heavy Plant Crossing” always had me looking around for lurking Triffids!!! And don’t get me started about the Humped Zebra Crossings…..

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