10 March 2014

Warning signs, signalization and fines

Today I'll venture a bit more into the field of cultural observation. I hope you don't mind.

There's a lot of things you shouldn't do on
this beach. But maybe having fun is still permitted?
Coming from Indonesia, I realized immediately after landing in Christchurch that I'm back in Europe. Or almost. New Zealand and Australia have been colonized and settled by Europeans and mostly by the British. No wonder, things down under often have a distinct British touch.  Fish'n'Chips, burgers and pies are ubiquitous, as are delicious treats like ginger nuts, lemon curd and brownies. Sports with obscure rules like rugby and cricket are national passions. The beer choice is more ample than in other countries (especially IPAs seem to be very popular), still, a majority of people lack a sophisticated drinking culture. No, Jägerbombs are not acceptable drinks, at no stage of life whatsoever.

While some imperial influences are obvious (e.g. the ones
Helpful signs in a park
mentioned above), others are more subtle to spot. It took me a while to realize, but the British culture seems to be obsessed with signalization, especially warning signs. Wherever and whenever there is something you shouldn't do, there will be at least a big warning sign, often several of them, nicely grouped together. They take any opportunity to warn you about something: slippery when wet, unstable cliff edges, tides, waves and currents, all kinds of more or less dangerous animals. They also tell you - usually with big and colorful signs - what you're not supposed to do. Drink alcohol in this area/neighborhood, don't smoke pretty much everywhere, no busking, no parking, use this only in that way and so on and so forth. To my eye, sometimes sights and natural wonders are difficult to appreciate with so many signs in front of them. But better safe than sorry, right?

You might think now that with so many signs, nothing should happen and no one would bypass any rules, as there is constantly a sign in sight, reminding you of what you should do. But far from that. That's why next to almost every warning sign, there is a sign indicating the fine you're risking if you're not showing the desired behavior. Often, the amount a circumvention would cost is indicated: "Fine 100$". Sometimes, only a maximum fine is written down, probably an attempt to impress with the high number: "Maximum fine 600$" or "fine does not exceed 600$". The ultimate attempt to scare you off your mischievous business: "Fine may exceed 1200$".
Luckily you can still see the lake.

One of the warning signs at the cliff
I guess we all think it's nice to be reminded sometimes about things you shouldn't do and warned about the consequences of your actions. But there's a liberal part in me that thinks the amount of warning signs is exaggerated and the amount of potential offences is disproportionate to the goal: public order. And some signs and fines are simply too much. Here an example: on a popular hiking track in the Blue Mountains (close to Sydney), there was a small way that branched off the main track on top of a pretty unstable cliff. The whole path and cliff were fenced off, so that no one goes there. First, the cliff locked obviously unstable and not safe. Second, the path on top of the cliff didn't lead anywhere. Third, there was a fence with barbed wire on top. Got the message? Obviously not everyone in Australia. On the fence and next to it were several signs, warning you of the unstable edge. On top of that there was a sign saying: "Warning, rangers patrol the area. Fine 300$". I just try to imagine if someone actually went across the fence and fell off the cliff. The rescue service would of course rescue him, that's their job. But I'm sure they would fine him 300$ on the spot for not respecting the warning signs.

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