Those International Symbols: Would We Survive Without Them?
by Greg Larson
International symbols have been in use for decades and are continually promoted by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. It is only fitting that I saw several interesting symbols while traveling in Switzerland.
During my travels to different countries, I’ve selected my favorite “top ten” international symbols to share with you. In a multi-cultural, multi-lingual world, these symbols are used to warn and protect the public as we travel and spend time at recreation activities. I’ll let you be the judge.
1. Welsh cliff tripper
Whoops! The message is obvious: Bad things can happen if you get too close to the edge of a cliff. The ground might give way. Someone (spouse, jealous lover, or emotionally unstable person) might push you over the edge. If you are careless and go into a free-fall, you’ll have time to think about it on the way down.
2. Running uscita man
Uscita is the Italian word for “exit.” Sounds like an Italian obscenity. That’s why the international symbol is a good communication tool. It shows you how to get out of the building quickly – through an opening or down the stair. Just don’t rush out a second floor window. Definitely be careful running on marble stairs in Italy. They can be slick, and hard to negotiate, especially if you have had too much wine to drink or wear high heels.
3. Woman walking with child
This pleasant depiction seems like a good symbol. Mothers wearing balloon skirts are recommended to hold their child’s hand. It’s good to spend quality time with the kids. If there is traffic nearby, the daughter will remain safely with mom, as long as she does not yank her hand away and run into the street.
4. Man wearing fedora while walking with girl
I’m getting mixed messages with this sign. Like the previous sign, it is good for fathers to hold their daughter’s hand while walking near traffic. But, this sign might be warning us that strangers or pedophiles wearing fedoras and suits have been known to abduct little girls in the area. Keep an eye out for suspicious characters, especially if they are wearing those hats you see in the old movies.
5. Slippery rocks
Switzerland spends a lot of money warning citizens and tourists that swollen mountain rivers are dangerous. Doing the Harlem Shake or Gangnam-style dancing on slippery granite rocks can be hazardous activity. In a country with few advertisement signs, Switzerland has strategically located these symbols on billboards throughout the countryside. Enjoy dancing in the outdoors, but play and spend time near the rivers at your own risk.
6. Diving into shallow water
Another symbol warns us to not dive into the river head-first. Those granite rocks that you see on the river banks are also underneath the water. Of course, if you dive and hit your head on the rocks, you might shout an expletive, but you would not be heard on the surface of the noisy river.
7. Rushing water or knife blades?
If you somehow find yourself in the river with your head above the surface, you could be whisked away by tons of water in the fast-moving current. This symbol could also be used where there are dangerous farm implements or industrial knife blades.
I had a “psycho” flashback when I first saw this symbol. I guess whirlpools can also have a hypnotic effect. I think a more effective campaign to warn the public about river dangers would be to create a claymation video and post it on YouTube. A “Mr. Bill-like” character would slip on the rocks, fall head-first into the river, then be swept away by the current and into a whirlpool. “Oh no.! Mr. Bill! Ohhh Nooo!” The video would go viral.
9. Needle and syringe
Have you found it difficult to dispose of your heroin needles? For those of you in the Switzerland Heroin Assistance Program, this symbol provides important information. These signs are strategically located in restrooms in public parks. Next to the symbol is a disposal hole, which allows drug users to safely rid themselves of the needles which are provided by the government at various clinics throughout the country. It is important to keep Switzerland tidy.
10. Marijuana with slash
There are several decal symbols mounted on the glass doors to a library in Kansas. It is important to know how to behave when visiting the public building. But the sign raises significant questions in my mind. Isn’t marijuana illegal in the entire state of Kansas? Is this sign telling us it is okay to use illegal drugs outside the building? Using this logic, shouldn’t there be a decal showing each activity not allowed in the library? I don’t think there would be enough space on all of the library windows. How would you create symbols, let’s say, for “no singing”, “noisy burping not allowed” or “no public sex”?
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The international symbols validate the age-old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” But they can create as many questions as they provide answers. When should the slash be used? Is the color red more important than blue, green or yellow? When should words in the local language be added?
Bottom line: Be careful out there. It is a dangerous world.