Wednesday, May 8, 2013

First Impressions: A Warning in San Jose

Imagine you've been living in China for years and often wonder whether its air, food, water, or other potential sources of dangerous chemicals are having a significant negative impact on your health. But today is different because you've just arrived at the international airport in San Jose, California. It feels safer here.

Perhaps you're overjoyed to see the clear blue sky. Maybe you're eager to buy some fruits & vegetables from an organic market. Possibly you're thinking about a trip to the mountains where you'll enjoy some fresh air.

So after going through immigration and customs, you're excited to begin your time in San Jose. As you're considering what to do first, you enter an elevator in the airport. After the door closes, you notice this sign:

sign with message "NOTICE. WARNING: This area contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, or birth defects or other reproductive harm. California Cod of Regulations Title 22, Section 1260."

Some of these thoughts may now run through your mind:
  • Is my health at risk?
  • Why would they put up this sign instead of fixing the problem?
  • If there isn't any problem, why put up this sign?
  • Why wasn't this message provided before I entered the elevator?
  • How quickly can I get out of here?
There are other possibilities, many of which could be more colorful. Whatever the case, your trip to San Jose has begun with a rather unexpected experience and set of emotions.

Californians might shrug off this sign. Having additional context can matter. But what would you think if this was one of the first signs you saw when visiting an unfamiliar country? What might it say about the country? What might it not say? How might it influence your perceptions of the country? How might it influence your perceptions of your own country?

More later. I'll continue this theme in the next post with another example of a sign I saw in the US.


  1. Ah, the Proposition 65 warning. As a Californian, I see those signs everywhere. I even see the sign in the lobby of the apartment complex I live in. I can definitely understand how off-putting it is for a foreigner to see the sign, and I myself have never understood it either. Do you ever see any similar signs anywhere else?

    1. Yes, I noticed that the sign could be found in a variety of locations. Off the top of my head, I don't recall anything quite like it elsewhere. But it's certainly not the only "interesting" sign I've seen.