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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Semiotics of Stickers: Steer Clear of Kettles

Besides the fluffy dice, Christian icons and pin-up pictures that adorn the interiors of many cars in Russia, their outer bodies are also fair game for signs and stickers.

You may have already seen several of them while out driving and wondered what they mean. The most popular sign has the Russian letter for "sh," which stands for ship, or spike, referring to the metal spikes on snow tires. Russian traffic rules and regulations require drivers with snow tires on their cars to adorn their cars with this information. The traffic manual doesn't explain why the sign is necessary, but I assume it is because cars with snow tires brake quickly and effectively on snow and ice, and it is helpful to know when you have a car with snow tires in front of you.

The second official sign you may see has the Cyrillic version of "r" in a white triangle framed in red. It means that this car belongs to an invalid and is equipped with a special "manual" accelerator, clutch and brakes. The "r" stands for ruchnoe, or manual.

A third sign looks like a white circle with a red frame and has the number "60" inside. It means that the driver received his or her license less than a year ago and is forbidden from driving more than 60 kilometers an hour. Another sign, which I can't say I've ever seen, has a big yellow circle with three small black circles on it. It means the driver has some serious hearing defects.

Besides these official signs, decorative stickers are also very popular, especially ones that look rather official. One of the most widely used has an exclamation mark in a white triangle. It is a miniature version of the traffic signs used on poor-quality roads to warn drivers to be careful.

I've tried asking drivers who affix this sign to their car why they have done so, but I haven't received a straight-forward reply. Maybe they are really sending me a message, so I make sure to keep a fair distance from these "dangerous" drivers.

Another sign you may see frequently is a triangle with a baby in it. This one is self-explanatory: It usually has wording that is the Russian equivalent of "baby on board." If it looks like a Western-style sign to you, you're correct. It is distributed by the makers of Panadol, a type of children's aspirin, and every time you buy Panadol in Russia you receive one of these stickers.

You may also see a black tea kettle sign on certain cars. This is usually affixed in jest, since in driving slang chainik, or tea kettle, means novice driver. In most cases, you don't need to worry too much when you see this sign. As often as not, people use it as a creative device to cover up scratches on their car.

Still, it never hurts to be careful when you see one, just to be on the safe side.