Wrong or willfully violated mall parking signs in English

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Sometime last April, right after I parked my car facing the wall in the basement of the then still unfinished extension of a shopping mall in Mandaluyong City, a guard tapped my side window and asked me to park the other way around. I remonstrated against that demand because the signage on the wall couldn’t have been clearer—“PLEASE PARK FACING THE WALL”—but the guard politely insisted.

He explained in Tagalog that he was just enforcing management’s order, pointing to the rows of cars that were all parked facing away from the wall. The contradiction grated on my nerves but my wife Eleanor, who was seated beside me, told me not to argue. I then restarted the car, backed out and turned it around, then parked it with the rear facing the wall.

On our way out of that parking area, I asked another motorist—an Asian foreign national—if he didn’t find it unusual to be directed to park his car contrary to the signage instruction. He said it likewise didn’t make sense to him but decided it wasn’t worth arguing about.

Four days ago, I drove to that same basement parking area. The mall extension had formally opened several weeks before, and the finishing touches to the parking area were now in place—the directional signages, the assignment markings for parking slots, and the green-and-red pilot lights for slot availability. Mounted on the walls of several parking sections were big signage plates with this instruction: “PLEASE PARK FACING THE WALL.” In parking slots away from the walls, however, no signages were provided for how vehicles should be parked.


Everything was neatly in place in that basement parking area—except that almost all of the vehicles parked along the walls were parked facing away from the wall, and that in slots away from the walls, easily three-fourths of the vehicles were parked with the front end facing out. It was clear that (a) in the parking slots along the walls, practically every motorist had willfully ignored the instruction to park facing the wall, and that (b) in the absence of a specific instruction for vehicles occupying the slots away from the walls, the great majority of motorists had decided to park with the front of their vehicles facing out.

Witnessing this blatant disregard for the parking signages gave me the unsettling feeling of having entered an orderly yet upside-down universe. It also made me wonder what could have brought about this puzzling inverse compliance with a clear-cut rule.

After some research and lots of thought, I came up with these three possible reasons:

First, most Filipino motorists or hired drivers must be so mischievously disobedient—“mga pasaway” in street lingo—that they would rather flaunt rules if they can get away with it.

Second, that the mall management might have come up with parking rules that aren’t firmly anchored on the realities on the ground—rules that are probably inconsistent with the thinking and experience of Filipino motorists or hired drivers on what position is safe or unsafe when parking in enclosed spaces.

And third, which is really a long shot but even more elemental, what we have here may just be an unfortunate case of miscommunication in English. To convey both its intended and expected sense, the parking signage for slots along walls might be better worded as “PLEASE PARK YOUR VEHICLE FACING OUT,” and for slots away from the walls, perhaps the same signage should also be provided to ensure uniform compliance.

I really think the signages in the basement parking area of that mall extension need to be thoroughly reviewed with the above considerations in mind and, whatever rules may finally be adopted, they must be firmly enforced for the safety and peace of mind of all concerned.

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at http://josecarilloforum.com. Visit me on Facebook. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo.

j8carillo@yahoo.com

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16 Comments

  1. Eddie de Leon on

    But, Prof. Jose Carillo, why do you use the word “signage” instead of “sign”?
    The American Heritage Dictionary defines “signage” as 1. “Signs considered as a group. 2. The design or use of signs and symbols.” I suspect you have agreed to follow the anti-plain and simple affectation of ignorant people who have finished college courses in design, or even architecture, where pretentious professors use jargon like “signage” improperly. You should write a column against this and include “signage” for “sign” in the discussion.

    • In the communication industry where I worked for over 45 years, a clear distinction is made between “signs” and “signages.” A sign is generally any natural or informal indication that can be perceived by the senses or the reason, like dark clouds before rain or the remarkably sudden receding of the shoreline before a tsunami; on the other hand, signage is a formal system of identification, warning, or direction, like the usual parking billboards that I talked about and the more complex corporate identity systems developed by modern-day companies. I therefore beg to disagree with you that the usage of the word “signage” instead of “sign” is jargon, or “the anti-plain and simple affectation of ignorant people who have finished college courses in design.” On the contrary, it is the use of more precise, discerning language to denote a particular, much more specific use of symbolism to communicate things and ideas. I do think that for clarity’s sake, there’s a need for this more exacting language rather than the one you have in mind for plain, simple talk.

      Just one more thing, Eddie: just call me Joe. I am not “a faculty member of the highest academic rank at an institution of higher education” (that’s the dictionary definition) to merit the appellation of “professor.” I’m just an English-usage columnist sharing what little he has learned about the language over the years and how to communicate more effectively with it.

  2. I wish that there is a law mandating all who teaches grades three and above to be well versed in english grammar and usage, preferably with Oxford accent using American idioms.

    Kidding aside, I hope you could form a group to come up with a comprehensive set of user friendly DVD lectures to teach the teachers to speak, use and teach correct English.
    It should be distributed nationally by depED and used as a criteria for promotions of teachers.

  3. Similar case with SM Masinag. They have a 1.5 x 2 foot sign there which says “Keep pedestrian lane open at all times”, yet the guards there keep waving impatiently at me every time I don’t want to put my car in the middle of the pedestrian crossing, even going as far as saying “Ayos lang yun sir, kita naman kayo ng mga tao”.

  4. daniel marahomsar on

    mabuti na nga po yan..some 45 years ago may sign sa tabi nang isang highway na nakalagay “there is where you taxes are being spent” ang irony lang po ay nakapaskel sa harap nang dalawang disco houses..

  5. Just like traffic lights, the signs are there just for show.

    It’s the gangster mentality of Pilipinos. They like to be ready for a quick getaway. You’ll notice that in diagonal parking, people like to enter from the wrong way so that hey can back into the parking slot. Of course they have to exit against the arrows painted on the road. Those arrow signs are also just for show.

  6. Drivers in California take a written test and actual driving test. DMV Manual is a law for drivers in California and one of the provision says: Lawfully parking the vehicles must face the wall, if one does not follow he could get a ticket. I’ll talk straight CIA park their cars facing the walls.

  7. jose hernani m. parco on

    oh well, what can i tell you! take for example the sign “NO PARKING”! just two words, which one of these that they cannot understand? or are we just plain hard headed or we treat signage as just a wall decoration?
    anyway, “PLEASE PARK FACING THE WALL.” could also be correct(?) perhaps what the sign means the other wall?!

    • Precisely, tocayo! The management of that mall must (a) clearly resolve the ambivalence of the English and the true intent of those parking signs, and when this is done, (b) ensure firm compliance with whatever parking orientation it wants to be followed. Not doing these two very basic measures is, I think, what’s abetting the confusion and willful violation of those parking signages.

  8. There are so many stupid things in the philippines so its difficult to know where to start. BUt in driving in this country you will always have problems because you dont have proper driving lessons & so most dont learn to drive properly. Now when parking against a wall or if you are on a road & parking in front of a shop you should always reverse into the parking space. I will tell you it is easier & 100 times safer to reverse in & drive out. A lot of people dont reverse in because they cant reverse properly. It takes practice, thats what driving lessons with a proper instructor will help teach you.

  9. Jose A. Oliveros on

    This column reminds me of signs I always see such as: NO PARKING ON BOTH SIDES. How can that be when one can only park on one side. I am not an English guru but I think the sign should read NO PARKING ON EITHER SIDE.

    Another is: GO SLOW MEN AT WORK. Ever wonder why road constructions take eternity to finish. Well, the construction workers are only following the sign. It should be GO SLOWLY or DRIVE SLOWLY, MEN AT WORK.

    Still another is: WATCH OUT FOR FALLING DEBRIS. Why should I watch out for falling debris, e kung mabagsakan pa ako. The intent of the message could have been properly conveyed by DANGER, FALLING DEBRIS.

  10. Mang Jose, simple lang iyan una sa lahat magastos ang suggestion nyo dahil there’s more letters or (6) more sa sign. Pangalawa, dahil sa dami ng motorist na hindi marunong mag-drive with all those tinted/darkened windows eh hindi makita when they’re backing out. So, maraming hit and run incident which ang mga parking attendant gets blamed. It’s cheaper to paint the wall or power wash it due to all the fumes that stains it than face all the complaints with possible financial consequences. Pasensiya na lang po kayo they all want to keep their job and focus your logic on some other important and meaningful matter. Salamat po :)