Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reading Signs #1: Courtesy or Incompetent Lady Drivers?

Signs tell a lot of things about the society in which they are found. This one I photographed at the parking lot entrance of Bandung Electronic Center (BEC) on Purnawarman street, for example, may look simple and innocent. But if we read it carefully, it actually may not be as simple and innocent as it looks.

On the surface, the message of this sign looks like a courteous and privileged treatment for lady drivers. Underneath this surface, however, this sign also implies that lady drivers are being considered not as competent as their man counterparts. It is therefore both a statement of courteousity and inequality between men and women.

SIGNS 1

The fact that this sign is written in English may escape the scrutiny of native English speakers who live in a country where English is its first or second language. When read against the fact that English is neither the first language nor second language in Indonesia (read: Bandung, where this sign is located), a different set of conclusions may be drawn. First, we may conclude that there may not be a sufficient equivalence for the term in the Indonesian language (the conclusion of which, of course, is not true as the Indonesian does have a perfect match translation for it). Second, English is considered as a more prestigious language by the owner/management of this mall/business premises in particular, and the society in general. To the dismay of may patriotic and nationalistic Indonesians, this conclusion may be true. English has become a more and more prominent language in our daily life to the detriment of our own national language, Bahasa Indonesia.

As simple as they may look on the surface, signs do tell a lot about the condition of a society. Therefore, beginning today, I'm going to take you on a tour of sign reading in the city where I live: Bandung. This series of posts on sign reading, hopefully, will make us more aware of the complex nature of signs and represent the current state of a society, despite their simple and innocent look.

Text and picture by Eki Qushay Akhwan, all rights reserved.

14 comments:

Hyde DP said...

nothing is ever as simple as it looks.

nobu said...

It is a good idea.
It is interesting to see signs in forieng country.

Layrayski said...

Great commentary and photo, eki. It does say a lot-- the simple signs.

melanie said...

Très intéressant en effet ! Le parking "dames" a-t-il un aménagement particulier ? Des fleurs ? un miroir ? des toilettes propres ?

Mais on se demande bien pourquoi faire une telle ségrégation !

Mo said...

This is going to be an interesting tour. I look forward to seeing the signs and the stories of their hidden meanings.

Laurie said...

Ah yes... that thin line between chivalry and sexism. Great post today, Eki. It makes me sad, but it's an astute comment on things.

jaka said...

Pak Ecky, I dont think English is detrimental to our Bhs. Indonesia. In fact, Srivijaya and Majapahit both used Sanskrit and put it in higher place than their native languages (i.e. Old Malay and Old Javanese, respectively, although Majapahit was somewhat not so eager in using Sanskrit for administrative things).

We, Indonesian, just repeat what our ancestors did! No need to worry.

Kelly said...

An interesting project you are about to embark on! I can't wait to see what else you find!

Virginia said...

If the Ladies Only parking lot is closer to the shops etc. I am all for it. Just don't go talking about putting lipstick on a pig Eki! Email me if you need an explanation of that remark. Some women in our country want to play with the big boys and be "special" at the same time.

Rambling Woods said...

That is really interesting Eki..

gadhogadho said...

I couldn't agree more with you. There's more inclination to use English on signages nowadays. Just go to any newer malls.

I believe the national language should be given priority.

USelaine said...

Yes, Virginia's thought occurred to me too - maybe the "Ladies" parking is closer, more convenient, or even safer than another lot. But we don't know how all the parking is configured. When I was a girl, there were very commonly jokes about "women drivers" being incompetent. But auto insurance companies paid attention to the actual patterns in car accidents. They have determined that women are better drivers, who take fewer risks, and are more cooperative on the road (as a generalization, of course). So, when I read your sign, I didn't think about it being because people thought they were "problem" drivers. I've forgotten that not every country has insurance actuaries!

Tash said...

fascinating! a whole cultural/gender expose in just a SIGN; excellent post.

Coca Cutie said...

This is a very original sign!
Awesome post!