The wind was blowing unbelievably fierce as I strolled the streets of Sausalito. I struggled with remaining upright and ended up chasing my coffee cup down the street. I had momentarily placed it on the ground. Impressed by the wind’s gusto, I found myself thinking of Chicago, the Windy City.
My thoughts were interrupted by a glimpse. A glimpse that poked at my subconscious since my conscious was preoccupied thinking about the wind and Chicago and hunting down coffee cups. “Psst,” my subconscious whispered. “Look again, Amy. The sign isn’t in English.” I did a double take at the street sign.
It was in French. Quoi? What is a French sign doing here? Camera in hand as I played the tourist in Sausalito, I had to take a photo of the sign. Several feet away was another sign. In German. I was tickled. I looked around. Back behind me there was a similar sign. In Italian. And then one in English.
The signs all said the same thing in these various languages.
WALK BIKES ON SIDEWALK
BITTE DAS FAHRRAD AUF DEM GEHSTEIG SCHIEBEN
S’IL VOUS PLAIT POUSSER VOTRE VELO SUR LE TROTTOIR
SI PREGA DI SPINGERE LA VOSTRA BICICLETTA SUL MARCIAPIEDE
How odd. Yes, there are lots of tourists in Sausalito. But…there are lots of Chinese tourists everywhere. Is there a sign in Chinese? I looked around. Nope. Just in these three European languages. Plus English. The implication I take from all of this: the only tourists that bike in Sausalito are German-, French-, and Italian-speaking. I’m skeptical. I’m also skeptical that any European speakers of these languages would see these signs.
But in fact, immediately afterwards, I saw one woman walking her bike on the sidewalk. I was impressed. The signs worked! (Then after that, I saw a guy blithely riding his bike down this same sidewalk. So much for the signs having the desired effect.)
Perhaps the signs were installed years ago. Back when the only tourists biking in Sausalito were from European countries that spoke German, French, or Italian. Or perhaps the assumption was that English, German, French, and Italian pretty much covered all speakers in the world. Everyone knows English, right? (But then why have German, French, Italian signs?) Perhaps given that this is the “Chinese century”, Sausalito should modernize their signs…and one of these days I might see a new sign in Sausalito for those Chinese bicyclists—in Chinese. 好棒啊！