Reading Signs Away from Home

My favorite, and least useful, sign

Whether you can read the language or not, signs in other countries are often incomprehensible.  Yesterday my job had me working on languages that do not use Latin characters – namely, I was looking at Cyrillic for quite some time.  If you’ve never seen Cyrillic, just imagine that someone took the regular alphabet, added some numbers, then put the whole mess in a blender and hit “crush”.

The sign above is my favorite foreign language sign I’ve ever encountered while traveling.  I’m sure it doesn’t really mean anything special, but the matter in which it was revealed really took this to the next level.  Someone (silly husband) had the bright idea to do a mega road-trip around the former Yugoslavia.  Around leg 6, which had us driving from Sarajevo to the coast of Montenegro (you’re going to need to reference this), our map became…less than useful.  It was useful in the sense that we had plotted out a road, but not useful in the sense that we had no idea if we were in fact on that road.  And it was dark.  And snowing.  And we were driving up a mountain.  So eventually we saw a snow-covered sign and got so very excited that 1) we were going to know where we were and 2) we actually had a snow scraper to remove the snow from the sign!  Dave started scraping off the sign – it was like the big reveal on one of those reality shows! – and low and behold the damn thing started with a triangle.  A TRIANGLE.  Do you have any idea how to pronounce a triangle?  Well, we didn’t.  Turns out that sign was probably in Serbian (српски is how you write “Serbian” in Serbian – see how similar the alphabets are??).  Travel fail.

Turns out we didn’t die there and in the future we’ll all be more prepared for a trip that takes us into any area that uses Cyrillic.  Its not completely impossible to just learn the Cyrillic alphabet for a trip, even if only to be able to translate signs to match the words to your map.

Ok, so the carrot is an "8" and the dot is a "0"

We’ve encountered other alphabets and managed to learn just enough to get by – you’d actually be surprised how quickly you can learn something like Arabic Numerals just based on a little knowledge and some context clues.  After all, there are only 10 digits, and by just knowing that numbers are read from left to right in Arabic, you can figure it out from signs that use both number systems.  The sign above here can act as a Rosetta Stone for you.  Even if you forget it all by the time you get back home, you’ll at least be confident that you’re not going to mix up the room number on your hotel room door.  This was a great help traveling around the Middle East (Dubai and Doha in particular).  Do you have any tricks for learning other alphabets or languages while traveling?

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