The Universal Language of “Huh?”

It’s late at night.  You’re in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. You’re returning to your hotel when this backlit message looms out of the darkness, stopping you in your tracks…

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

This is the power of clear and graphic illustration.  It’s also the challenge of international translation.  Why is that man tinkling?  Why is he doing it with such casual, hands-on-hips insouciance?  And just what position does the “Ajuntament de Barcelona” take on such flagrant urination?  All that is less immediately obvious to the illiterate like myself.

So I checked free online language translation services.  Yahoo’s Babelfish didn’t help much: “In Barcelona, everything fits but not all bond.”  Okay…but what does this have to do with adhesives?

A website promoted as “THE BEST FREE TRANSLATOR” returned a Yoda-like fragment: “Barcelona all worth it but not all.”  Not all what? provided perhaps the best inkling with “In Barcelona, everything fits but not quite it (he,she) costs (suits).”

I’m still not one hundred percent sure what they were saying exactly, but I’m pretty sure, by resisting any temptation to relieve myself there on the public thoroughfare, my behavior fit.  And suit.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Apparently, the headline is extremely local, reflecting the Catalán influence.  Probably the easiest way to explain the headline is “In Barcelona, everyone is welcome but not everything is okay.”  Which explains their intent pretty clearly–over confident males with a deficient sense of decorum must watch their behavior.  Interestingly, Superfad FX specialist Miles Kinghorn provided the photo below (which has been cropped and blown up for clarity).  Apparently, some of those overconfident men speak English.  In fact, I might even know a few myself…

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

2 thoughts on “The Universal Language of “Huh?”

  1. Suzanne Kapusta says:

    I think the translation and second picture make it clear: the Spanish understand subtlety, or perhaps a greater respect for authority (remember it’s not okay to do this); whereas the English speaking (Brits & U.S.) need it clearly spelled out – if you do it, this is what it’ll cost ya.

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