Weird English Shop Signs Part 18, Special Guest City: Rome

The Good, the Bad and the Incomprehensible

January 11, 2017By David JaggardC'est Ironique!

Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-Street Food Montage
When in Rome, do as the French do. In other words, try (and fail) to do as the Anglophones do.

I hate to say it, but if Paris and Rome were pitted against each other in an all-out, go-for-the-jugular cultural history smackdown, Rome would win. It’s true that Paris has the Louvre,  the Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame, 1.5 godzillion other architectural and artistic treasures and, within its transport network if not its borders, the Palace of Versailles.

But Rome has the monumental ruins of its former empire, the Villas Borghese and Medici, more ornate fountains than you can shake a selfie stick at, and, within its borders if not its jurisdiction, all the treasures of the Vatican, including the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s Pietà.

So far a pretty close contest. But here’s what tips the scales: Rome is where I spotted my very first inadvertently funny English shop sign. This is why it’s called “The Eternal City.”

On a visit in the 1980s, I noticed a clothing store on Via del Corso that had a men’s side and a women’s side, identified by large signs proclaiming “Uomo” and “Sexy Woman.”

According to a respected multilingual signage specialist and close affiliate of C’est Ironique, this was Europe’s first instance of the ill-advised use of English for commercial purposes, setting the precedent for what would eventually become a recurring feature in this space.

(This is Part 18, and each installment contains a link to the previous one. Like this.)

(Oops — I mean like this.)

So, naturally, when I went to Rome three weeks ago, I was eager to see if the city had made any progress in the misuse of my native tongue. And, I’m very happy to report, it has.

In fairness, I should mention that much, even most, of the English signage in Rome is of good quality. For example:

Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-Good English
Not an entirely idiomatic translation, but no risible misspellings or double entendres. Dammit.

But fortunately, especially now that I’ve started this article, there are exceptions. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a missing letter:

Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-Coffe and Drink
Next door to this café is a restaurant called Sneez and Eat.

Or an extra letter (or two):

Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-Leathers Shops
Well, it’s true that they have more than one kind of leather. And I guess they might have more than one shop…

And sometimes there’s a whole word out of place:

Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-Pizza Wine and Birre
“Birre” is Italian for “beers.” The signmaker probably got tired of looking up words in the dictionary.

But quite often, there are no real mistakes at all. The English is correct but slightly weird:

Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-Care of You
The manager talking to a stranger: “How do you do?” “What do you do?” “I take care of Care Of You.” “No you no you don’t.”
Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-King of the Flow
This is the slogan of a Toyota ad campaign in Italy. So they think that Italians will understand this even though Anglophones don’t.

Or, better, correct but very weird:

Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-Beer Falls
Does this mean that the birra flows like a waterfall in this place?
Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-Drink Art Gallery
Hmm. Must be downstairs from Beer Falls.

Or, best of all, incorrect and very weird:

Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-Beef in to Panino
Panino means “sandwich,” although knowing that doesn’t help much.

Sometimes the English phrases are neither incorrect nor weird, but simply not quite right for the context:

Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-Old Bridge2
An ice cream store named after, but nowhere near, an “Old Bridge.” Not that a new bridge would be any more logical.
Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-The Butcher
It’s a shoe and leather goods store. So it’s like calling a tattoo parlor “The Surgeon.” (Think about it.)

Or not at all right for any context:

I don’t know what this place does, but I don’t think I want to meet the owner.
Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-Shabby Style
A fancy decoration shop — or is it? It’s not easy to see, but notice the slogan at the top.

And of course, there’s always the occasional pun:

Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-Ice Crome
An ice cream parlor in Rome. Get it? Get it? The same company runs a strip club farther south called “Pink Naples.”

And lastly, there’s always the occasional impenetrable mystery. Like the slogan of this pasta place:

Paris-Update-Cest-Ironique-You Choose We Shake
You shake what? A leg? Il tuo booty? And how is that going to improve the linguine?

In closing, I’d like to express my thanks to the owner of that restaurant, and the owners of all the poorly named or sloganed businesses in Italy, France and around the world.

As we always say here at C’est Ironique:

You choose (the English), we shake (with laughter).


An album of David Jaggard’s comic compositions is now available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music, for purchase (whole or track by track) on iTunes and Amazon, and on every other music downloading service in the known universe, under the title “Totally Unrelated.”

Note to readers: David Jaggard’s e-book Quorum of One: Satire 1998-2011 is available from Amazon as well as iTunes, iBookstore, Nook, Reader Store, Kobo, Copia and many other distributors.

Follow C’est Ironique on Facebook and Twitter.

What do you think? Send a comment:

Your comment is subject to editing. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe for free!

The Paris Update newsletter will arrive in your inbox every Wednesday, full of the latest Paris news, reviews and insider tips.