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7 December, 2004

Not broken, just different

This Is Broken [16/04/08:  Site dead, so link removed] inadvertently highlights a difference in acquired visual shorthand between N.America (and to an extent, the UK) and mainland Europe (well, at least France).

The example given is of a French street sign, incomprehensible to those in the USA and to me in the UK, but utterly obvious, "even to little children" in France.  The difference in perception is striking.

The reason, as Robby explains in the comments at 'This Is Broken', is that in the USA and UK, a line drawn across a symbol generally means 'no' or 'forbidden', whereas in France, the line is understood to mean 'end'. A sign displaying the word 'Paris' with a line through it would indicate one is leaving Paris.

A UK exception would be the 'national speed limit applies' sign, which could be interpreted as 'zone of previously specified speed restriction ends'. However, the sign itself, a black diagonal across a plain white circle, is non-intuitive anyway, so one would just have to know it, rather than be able to deduce it's meaning.

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