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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Trafficking in Puzzlement and Wonder

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???????? ?????: road signs

Three cheers for nonverbal communication! ??????????? ???? (nonverbal language) helps you figure out what's going on when you are still struggling to understand ????????? ???? (verbal language). It's particularly useful on Russian roadways. Even if you can't always understand what the Russian traffic cop is shouting at you, his facial expression, whistles, waves of the baton and hand gestures give you a good sense of what you should -- or should not -- do.

And how about communication between drivers? Amazing how just one hand gesture can contain such emotional and intellectual richness.

???????? ????? (road signs) are another good example of nonverbal communication. As someone who spends a lot of time sitting in traffic jams, I've had plenty of time to contemplate them and try to divine their meaning. The problem, it turns out, is that my skills at interpreting nonverbal messages appear to have grown a bit rusty.

For example, I thought this sign would be posted near gated communities on Rublyovo-Uspenskoye Shosse to mean: "Drivers! Don your dark glasses lest you be blinded by the gold and riches glittering behind these tall walls." It actually means "C????? ????????" (blind pedestrian crossing).

Okay, this one's easy: The diagonal red (take my word for it) line means "not allowed," so this sign must mean that driving a car with excessive emissions is forbidden. But it turns out it is put next to a parking sign to indicate "??????????? ??????? ???????????? ??????? ?????? ? ???????????? ??????????" (idling the engine in the parking lot is prohibited).

Nice bridge? Good place to stop and take a picture of the river? Wrong again. This shows the way to "????? ??? ??????? ???????????" (an auto service stop) with a platform you can work under.

When I zipped by this sign quickly, I thought it was part of a scull and crossbones indicating: "Danger! Proceed at own risk! Death trap ahead!" Wrong yet again. It is placed on regulatory signs and means the restriction is in force "? ??????? ???" (on work days).

This cheerful little sunburst of a flower (also red) can be found on regulatory signs and means the regulations are in force on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. It's apparently the universal sign for "Yippee! It's Sunday! I can park my car here!"

But this sunburst sign does not indicate a good stretch of road for a sunny weekend or holiday drive. It means "???????? ???????????? ??????? ? ??????????? ? ?????????????????????? ??????? ?????????" (vehicles with explosive or flammable loads prohibited." Which begs the question: on which roads is it OK to haul explosive or flammable loads?

And this does not, of course, indicate a good place to drive your car into the river when that nice little tax dodge you've been running has finally come to the attention of the authorities. It is a warning that you are about to drive onto an embankment (????? ?? ??????????) and a suggestion that you stop fiddling with the radio and pay attention to the road.

This is my all-time favorite sign. It is put up after every other specific danger sign has been plastered all along the highway and means "?????? ?????????" (miscellaneous other dangers). That is, "We think we've warned you about everything, but there may still be other dangers to life and limb lurking on this highway."

Shouldn't that one be mandatory on all Russian roads?

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based interpreter and translator.