Foreign signs that mean something different if read as English
September 2, 2018 9:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking examples of signs in a foreign language that, if read as English, mean something completely different. An example: in the Netherlands, there are road signs that say "glad wildrooster," which to an English reader seems to mean you should be on the lookout for happy feral chickens on the roadway. In actual fact, the sign means "slippery cattleguard" in Dutch. Examples for languages other than English, or examples that aren't actually on signs, would also be interesting.
posted by borsboom to Society & Culture (51 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
In Ouagadougou (and probably all around francophone West Africa), there are stands that sell bread and kebabs. French word for bread is "pain," word for kebab is "brochette," which on the signs is often shortened.

In other words, you'll see lots of signs for "pain bro," which always tickled me.

Found a pic! (Though often the signs I'd see would say "Pain Bro" and literally nothing else at all.)
posted by solotoro at 9:41 AM on September 2, 2018 [18 favorites]


"slut" in danish means "the end", also "fart" means "speed", and "bro" means "bridge". there used to be a company called "DONG" Energy, which meant "Dansk Olie og Naturgas"
posted by alchemist at 10:05 AM on September 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


There's the town of Fucking, Austria. (Also, this doesn't fit your criteria, but I always have liked the street sign for Love Lane in Brooklyn Heights, which just says LOVE LA.)
posted by pinochiette at 10:09 AM on September 2, 2018


All around West Africa you can kind little shops and people on the street ready to make you your own personal stamp (used like a signature). The signs read “tampon.”
posted by raccoon409 at 10:45 AM on September 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


A very simple one which depending on my mood will register differently in my bilingual brain when walking down the street and seeing a sign for Pain (bread in French).
posted by mephisjo at 10:49 AM on September 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


In Czechia, the signs that alert you to a railroad crossing say 'POZOR VLAK'. 'Vlak' means train in Chzech. But in Dutch, 'vlak' means flat or even. And those railroad crossings are often quite bumpy, so that has often struck me as pretty funny.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:51 AM on September 2, 2018


"gift" is german for poison

"pan" is bread in lots of languages
posted by aniola at 10:52 AM on September 2, 2018


'Poepen' means 'to poop' in Dutch. It also means 'to fuck' in Flemish.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:55 AM on September 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


There’s a metro station in Brussels called “Kunst - Wet” which always makes me giggle. That’s on the Dutch signs, the French signs are completely different.

Also the big road signs in Germany saying “Ausfahrt” (I know it’s just Exit, but it’s still funny).
posted by w0mbat at 11:21 AM on September 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


As in Danish (as alchemist mentioned), "Fart" means "speed" in Swedish, so you get lots of kinda amusing signs, e.g.

1
2
3
4
posted by cincinnatus c at 11:49 AM on September 2, 2018 [33 favorites]


In Norway there is a town called Hell. The train station there has a sign saying "Hell Gods Expedition".
posted by madcaptenor at 11:58 AM on September 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


"freihalten" is a common sign in Germany meaning "don't park here", but when this American parsed it out separately, applying 20-year-old memory of one year of high-school German, I got "free stopping/parking".
posted by achrise at 12:06 PM on September 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


Bras (pronounced bra) in French means arm.
posted by Melismata at 12:15 PM on September 2, 2018


Advertisments for lightbulbs made by OSRAM have made Poles giggle for ages because the name means "I will shit on it" in Polish...
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:38 PM on September 2, 2018 [7 favorites]


Uwaga Pies in Polish means beware of the dog.
posted by Helga-woo at 12:48 PM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it's a Spanish brand, but I always get a disgusted chuckle here out of the brand of home appliances....SMEG.
There also used to be a kind of ceral bar called Corny.
And there's a kind of muffin or something from the Phillipines called Puto, which in spanish is sort of rude.
posted by conifer at 12:55 PM on September 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


Mexico is full of "ALTO" (=stop) signs at intersections.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 1:04 PM on September 2, 2018


Bras (pronounced bra) in French means arm.
posted by Melismata at 3:15 PM on September 2 [+] [!] by Melismata at 3:15 PM on September 2


So you just want foreign words that sound funny to Americans? How about the French "phoque", that fun-loving barking aquatic mammal.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:08 PM on September 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


"Corny" is indeed a brand of cereal bar available in Germany.
posted by amf at 1:13 PM on September 2, 2018


This is not a sign, but back in the 80s I was in the Soviet Union, and got a button that showed a broken nuclear missile with the word NO written across it. "No" in Russian is HET, which amused the hell out of me in an ironic way because I was a lesbian. I loved that button.
posted by Orlop at 1:14 PM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


This town, not far from this town.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:35 PM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Mexico's ubiquitous mass produced brand of bread has its logo all over the place: BIMBO
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:49 PM on September 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


I believe a term for this (or at least some of the examples described) is a "false friend."
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 2:06 PM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


So you just want foreign words that sound funny to Americans?
Since you asked: that's not really what I'm looking for. They should actually read as an English word, and a single word doesn't really count unless it's something you're actually going to see on a sign. "ALTO" in Mexico just barely qualifies (only one word and obviously means STOP given the shape of the sign, but still counts).
posted by borsboom at 2:14 PM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


In Argentina there's a brand of frozen hamburger patties called Barfy.
posted by dr. boludo at 2:15 PM on September 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


After you’ve enjoyed a Barfy hamburger, you can wash your dishes with Barf (“snow” in Iranian, I’m told) detergent...just a couple hemispheres away.
posted by armeowda at 2:54 PM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Turistfart was always my favourite of the fart signs in Denmark. Often written on the side of buses.

Pajero apparently means wanker in Spanish, here it is a car made by Mitsubishi, much to the amusement of Spanish friends.
posted by deadwax at 3:20 PM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


A couple of examples of actual signs with "Gift" on them, as mentioned by aniola: 1 2

Also one that works better in the opposite direction, but still the same idea. "The Poison House" - yeah, I'm going to go shopping there often!
posted by flug at 3:22 PM on September 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


When I lived in Denmark I used to see signs with "SLUT SALE!!" in shop windows a lot. ("Closing down sale".) Slut is, as mentioned above, closed and for sale they often used the English word for some reason.
posted by lollusc at 3:32 PM on September 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


Often in a harbour or a camping site in Denmark, you will see the sign: BAD TOILET. It means bath & toilet.
posted by mumimor at 3:46 PM on September 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


“Iceland” is written “Island" in Icelandic, so I found myself doing a lot of double-takes there.
posted by adamrice at 4:01 PM on September 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


Blind hills in Iceland are signed with "Blindhæð" which easily reads as "blind head" (which is pretty close to the meaning anyway).

One lane bridges are signed "Einbreið brú" which isn't terribly relevant, but sure is fun to is fun to butcher loudly in English!
posted by so fucking future at 4:42 PM on September 2, 2018


In Czechia, the signs that alert you to a railroad crossing say 'POZOR VLAK'.
Czech being a Slavic language, a Russian speaker is often tempted to look for cognates. In which case, the ubiquitous Czech signs reading 'pozor' (attention) can seem like they're rather aggressively shouting 'позор' (shame).
posted by kickingtheground at 5:19 PM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Warnings about the length of tunnels in Italy are posted on highway signs that all end with “a fine tunnel”. It means “at the end of the tunnel”, but I always found myself agreeing with the signs in English: “Why yes, this *is* a fine tunnel!”
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:42 PM on September 2, 2018 [12 favorites]


This may not quite count, but English spoken in India has some noticeable differences from English spoken in Canada. So here when restaurants have bars in them they are called "$place: Restaurant and Bar" in India they are called "$place: Restaurant Cum Bar."

ew.
posted by keeo at 5:52 PM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Packaging rather than signs, but in Indonesia I used to see at construction sites huge bags of cement prominently labeled SEMEN.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:45 PM on September 2, 2018


Another packaging one, but the Dutch for "free gift" is "gratis monster".
posted by Fuchsoid at 10:54 PM on September 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


There's a businessman in southern Brazil with the name of Niceto Fuck. People told me of him when I was down there in 1995. I swear I saw a sign of one of his businesses. He ran for mayor in 2016 and surely there must have been campaign signs. There was also the Fuck Fiat car dealership a few years ago. Maybe it was the same guy? I hear it's been renamed.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:58 PM on September 2, 2018


Another packaging one, but the Dutch for "free gift" is "gratis monster".

That's more like "free sample".
posted by atrazine at 2:57 AM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


"Allan" is "Exit" in Welsh, so there are many, many signs pointing out which direction Allan has gone, should you need to catch him.
posted by fatfrank at 3:46 AM on September 3, 2018 [7 favorites]


In Argentina there's a brand of frozen hamburger patties called Barfy.

And Peru has a brand of tinned tuna called Fanny.

One that tickles me is that in Argentina you'll often see small kioskos advertising a single product using Hay (there is), so you see Hay Gaseosas or Hay Empanadas. I'm living in rural England there's a couple of farms locally that have signs announcing Hay Straw.
posted by jontyjago at 6:26 AM on September 3, 2018


I’ve always been amused by Turkish stop signs, which look just like any old red stop sign but say ‘DUR’ instead.
posted by caitcadieux at 7:35 AM on September 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


In Brazil, I’ve seen signs advertising refrigerated bags of Bat Gut, which took me a minute to realized was short for Batido de Yogurte (drinkable yogurt).
posted by umbú at 8:37 AM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Surprised we got this far without things getting Silly (Wikipedia).
posted by hangashore at 1:33 PM on September 3, 2018


I don't speak French, but I do believe that "tu bandes" means "you have a hard-on" and on a street I regularly drive up, there are signs for a "Bandes" construction company... French speakers, please affirm or deny.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 1:35 PM on September 3, 2018


This is the silliest thing ever and I can believe I'm saying it out loud, but I've always secretly giggled at the spanish word piscina (swimming pool). It's a piscina because you piss... in... it.

Going from English to Spanish, the toothpaste brand Colgate translates roughly to "hang yourself". It's still a popular brand here, though.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 2:48 PM on September 3, 2018


When I lived in Denmark I used to see signs with "SLUT SALE!!" in shop windows a lot. ("Closing down sale".) Slut is, as mentioned above, closed and for sale they often used the English word for some reason.

Even better... here in Denmark "Final sale" = "Slut spurt".

Parking signs that indicate you can park for two hours = "2 timer".
posted by profreader at 4:45 PM on September 3, 2018


There's a brand of ice cream in Germany called Bumbum. It's pink inside.

Edit: this is not a sign per say.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 7:55 AM on September 4, 2018


A dangerous one: in French "inflammable" means flammable (and ininflammable (fr) means inflammable (en) )
posted by domi_p at 7:07 AM on September 5, 2018


Inflammable means flammable in English too. People just use it incorrectly. Like nonplussed.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:01 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


BAD TOILET.

A friend from the US wondered briefly about the BADMODE lettering on a display window with swimsuit-clad mannequins in it.
posted by Stoneshop at 4:03 PM on September 7, 2018


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