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Weird Roadsigns Around the World Attract the Tourists

WOMBATS, ┼, AND RAGGED ASS ROAD

Souvenir hunters and camera-toting tourists visiting Australia are intrigued by illustrated signs warning motorists to avoid hitting kangaroos, koalas, hairy-nosed wombats, bandicoots, camels, emus, echidnas, lyrebirds, cattle, horses and sheep.

Souvenir shops sell thousands of replicas of these genuine signs, which are also displayed on placemats, stickers and refrigerator magnets. Many of these are gleefully bought by roadsign collectors, whose hobby may well be the 21st century's version of stamp-collecting.

"Remember all those horrible Sunday afternoons. Just preparing to pamper your stamps, and there is your wife asking to visit Aunt Willy," asks the world's most dedicated roadsign collector, Bartolomeo Mecßnico, of Belgium. "Nowadays, she appreciates your renewed love for Willy and the ever different scenic drive to her home."

Over the last seven years, Mecßnico has collected thousands of roadsigns, sent to him by fans ariund the globe, which he has indexed, annotated, and posted on his ever-growing website. If you visit it, be sure to inspect the Children in Austria page.

Two strange roadsigns are to be found in remote areas not far from the North Pole. The first, in Norway, shows one of the world's shortest place names,  ┼, and the other, in Canada's far north, delights in the name Ragged Ass Road (more about that later).

┼ (population 150) is a tiny fishing hamlet in the Lofoten Islands, a snow-capped granite chain off north-west Norway, above the Arctic circle.

How did ┼ (pronounced Aw) acquire its brief name?  Elin Graner, who conducts visitors through the Lofoten T°rrfiskmuseum, told us "┼ is an old word for a little river. There is a little river coming from the mountains and it ends in the sea here, so that`s the reason for the name.

"┼ is the last letter in our alphabet, and the very end of the Lofoten road. Thesign on the road is stolen by tourists every year, so it was decided to write ┼ i Lofoten instead, to avoid this (it would be too big to steal).

"But then the population in ┼ said 'NO, the name of our place is, not ┼ i Lofoten,' so now there is a small sign with only one letter again."

Elin said that although ┼ no longer has a landing station for fish,  fisherman families still live  there. "Lofoten has been, and still is dependant on stockfish [dried cod] production. It was the first commodity that the Vikings exchanged for goods in other countries. ┼ used to be much larger than it is to-day. Because it is difficult to get a job, young people move to other places."

Another place with a single-letter name is the French village of Y (pronounced E), near Amiens, in Picardy. It has only 29 inhabitants.  Its brief name, which dates back to 1241, is displayed on a sturdy signpost. Few tourists visit or have even heard of the village, so the sign seems safe.

Across the Atlantic, in Canada, the Northwest Territory's capital city, Yellowknife (population 17,600) is proud of its notorious Ragged Ass Road.  The City Council and Chamber Of Commerce both offer replicas of the roadsign to tourists for $29.95.  With frontier-town bluntness, a private website says the name of the road "should make you raggedy-ass travellers feel welcome."

The Northern Frontier Visitors Association says "Ragged Ass used to be the name of a small gold mine. Some local citizens joked one night and thought that the street should be named after Ragged Ass. The sign was made and placed on a street in a part of Yellowknife's Old Town, which in the 1930s and 40s was the only part of Yellowknife. Soon after the posting of the sign, it was adopted as an official street name.

"The signs are now sold as a tourist item due in part to the fact that they kept disappearing off the signpost marking the street.  Even though the sign is welded to the post, it still manages to walk away."

Click On These Roadsigns

A huge selection of odd roadsigns is displayed on the Internet. Among the best are:

 

Copyright ę 2002
Eric Shackle
Story first posted July 2002

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