I’ve lived in the UK for long enough to no longer find most of the signs confusing or amusing. But of course, the one that’s always a bit hit with overseas visitors is the one that says Humps for 2 miles, or similar. Humps, over here, mean speed bumps. But this being Britain pretty much everything is fair game for a bit of nudge nudge wink wink humour.
And if you’re wanting to find an exit in the UK, you’ll of course need to look for the Way Out sign, which I always find cheerfully reassuring. Exit sounds a bit formal, but way out is normally what I’m muttering or shouting whilst flapping my hands after having encountered an unexpectedly large group of people trying to do something at the same time as I am (see: Westfield, Oxford Circus).
Things get a bit tricker when you take to the roads here. Back home, if I’d wanted to go from The Mom’s into Toronto, I’d just get on the highway with a vague idea of the direction of Toronto (east) and trust that I’d make it to my destination. I always did. East was the city, and west was home. Easy. Here, though, I noticed when I was living in Cornwall that we’d often come to roundabouts or junctions where the town we were looking for could be reached by going left or right. What the difference was, was never mentioned. Sometimes you’d get to a sign that would point in the direction you’d just come from, saying that back the way you came was where they were keeping the place you were trying to get to. It got to a point where I just stopped paying attention. Good job I don’t drive over here.
And good job I got used to the confusing – and at times terrifying – signs on the highway coming into my hometown. When I try and give people coming from Toronto by car directions, I’ll generally get to a point where I’d say: then you’ll see some kind of sign that looks like a roundabout death match. There will be squiggles and arrows and the whole sign looks like a cat threw up on it. Stay in the middle lane. Ignore all other signage.
Most people would think I’m mad but then most people haven’t seen that particular gem of a useless sign.
There’s also the confusion here with the metric system. The metric system is sort of in use here – except on the roads. Things are marked out in miles, which is confusing to me as I’ve only ever known the metric system. I’ve no idea how far a mile is. When people say, oh, it’s twenty miles down the road, I think to myself: that does not seem far, how much of a grain of salt do I need here? Because with the UK being smaller than my province, how far is far is a tricky question.
And there’s also the confusing street names. I’m not talking about how to correctly pronounce Leicester, I’m talking about naming things like this: Thurloe Square, Thurloe Road, Thurloe Gardens, Thurloe Park leading to Thurloe Street, and so on and so forth. These roads will all be within 100 metres of one another, encircling a tiny private garden. They are more frequent than I would deem necessary, especially in a place that gave birth to Skapespeare and Keats. Surely they could think of some more names.
But I think my favourite sign here has been not quite a sign, but rather more of a statement. Up in Glasgow there’s a statue in front of the main art gallery in the centre of town. Tradition has it that a parking cone be on the statue’s head. People freak out when the traffic cone – one of those bright orange things – isn’t there. It’s a tradition that for me sums up the UK quite well.