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What’s Your Sign?

October 28, 2010

As human beings, we depend a lot on signs and symbols to tell us what to do and where to go. A simple “Exit” sign or a sign directing you to the “Restrooms” seems pretty universal. Or so I thought. London being a land of fellow English speakers, it never even crossed my mind that their system of signage might be different from that of American culture. But from the moment we got off the plane and found a sign directing us to “Toilets,” I knew things would be just a little different.

I found these subtle differences fascinating, so I decided to do what I call a “signage study.” I observed where and when British signage seemed to differ from American signage and tried to figure out why such differences might exist or if it simply was what it was. Some things I found were actually more helpful or efficient in British signage, while others were never fully explained.

License Plates

Overly simple and boring if you ask me. I much prefer the colorful and ever-differing plates of the 50 states. However, I do see how having them on the front and back of the car makes sense.

Leaving the Building

This one threw me off a bit. The green or red glow of an “Exit” sign is engrained in my mind as a reference when I’m trying to get out of a place. However, such a sign does not exist in London. Instead, they use the term “Way Out.” Why? I have no idea.

What do you think when you see this one? Emergency Exit, perhaps? Me too. Wrong.They were mostly in buildings simply directing you to the exit. I think this little man seems to be in too much of a panic to simply be strolling out the front door.


Another thing engrained in my mind is driving on the right side of the road. So instinctively, I stay right when I walk (on the stairs, sidewalk, hallways, etc). None of us had ever thought about it, but after seeing these signs in the subway (I mean “Tube”), we thought, “Do the English automatically try to pass on the left?” Trust me, it can be quite a difficult habit to break when walking by someone.

I LOVE this. At every intersection, they write on the pavement which way to look for traffic. And there are some crazy roads and intersections so it gets a little confusing. But these few paint strokes were a Godsend. Thanks London!


This I can’t even begin to explain. How did someone get away with this??? These would be ripped down and put in every college dorm in America if they existed there.

Other differences of note. Finding streets names was difficult until I realized they were on the side of buildings, not on posts of their own. Getting around the Underground was a breeze. It’s near impossible to get lost down there because there is a sign every 3 meters telling you where to go. I didn’t see one stop sign. I still don’t know how that happened. Oh and if you need to cross the street with your horse, London’s got you covered.


Alright. Signing off. (I had to end it somehow, and that was just too punny to pass up).

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