Heavy metal

When driving abroad, I enjoy the slightly chaotic road works management.  It always seems a little surprising and somewhat haphazard.  The signage itself is unfamiliar and is often sitting in wait round a blind bend.  The countdown markers (if present at all) are usually randomly spaced.  Then there is the cone size.  We seem to use two sizes here in the UK: medium and large.  Continental Europe delights in using small ones.

Most European signage conforms to the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals but road works in particular appear to offer that last opportunity for non-conformity.

So, what do non native speakers make of our signage?  I have asked some of my Indian and French friends.  While most have excellent English, it seems we’re being deliberately arcane writing things like ‘raised ironworks’, ‘heavy plant crossing’, ‘adverse camber’ and ‘blind summit’.  We don’t even offer pictures or symbols to accompany these messages.

I’m not suggesting we dumb down – I love the richness of our language.  Sometimes, though, it’s no wonder others haven’t got a clue what we mean.

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