Saturday, August 30, 2014

A case of mass noncompliance or miscommunication in English

Here’s a simple, no-brainer compliance test that I think should apply universally to all motorists: “How do you park when the mall parking signage says ‘PLEASE PARK FACING THE WALL’?”

You park with the front end of your vehicle facing the wall, right?

Strangely, though, an overwhelming majority of Filipino motorists—I’d say almost 95 per cent—fail this test when they park their vehicles in the basement parking area of a spanking new, seven-level extension of a huge shopping mall in Mandaluyong City in the Philippines. With just a sprinkling of compliant mavericks, practically all of the motorists deliberately or inadvertently park with the front end of their vehicles facing out—meaning away from the wall.

I must admit that I found this lack of civility unsettling, so after several weeks of hesitation, I finally decided to put my thoughts about it in writing. Hoping to bring the matter to wider public notice and to a proper resolution, I came up with an essay about it for my English-usage column in the August 23, 2014 issue of The Manila Times.

I am now posting that essay below to share with my misgivings about this situation. (August 31, 2014)

Wrong or willfully violated mall parking signs in English

Sometime last April, right after I parked my car facing the wall in the basement of the then still unfinished extension of a shopping mall in Mandaluyong City, a guard tapped my side window and asked me to park the other way around. I remonstrated against that demand because the signage on the wall couldn’t have been clearer—“PLEASE PARK FACING THE WALL”—but the guard politely insisted.

He explained in Tagalog that he was just enforcing management’s order, pointing to the rows of cars that were all parked facing away from the wall. The contradiction grated on my nerves but my wife Eleanor, who was seated beside me, told me not to argue. I then restarted the car, backed out and turned it around, then parked it with the rear facing the wall.

On our way out of that parking area, I asked another motorist—an Asian foreign national—if he didn’t find it unusual to be directed to park his car contrary to the signage instruction. He said it likewise didn’t make sense to him but decided it wasn’t worth arguing about.

Four days ago, I drove to that same basement parking area. The mall extension had formally opened several weeks before, and the finishing touches to the parking area were now in place—the directional signages, the assignment markings for parking slots, and the green-and-red pilot lights for slot availability. Mounted on the walls of several parking sections were big signage plates with this instruction: “PLEASE PARK FACING THE WALL.” In parking slots away from the walls, however, no signages were provided for how vehicles should be parked.

Everything was neatly in place in that basement parking area—except that almost all of the vehicles parked along the walls were parked facing away from the wall, and that in slots away from the walls, easily three-fourths of the vehicles were parked with the front end facing out. It was clear that (a) in the parking slots along the walls, practically every motorist had willfully ignored the instruction to park facing the wall, and that (b) in the absence of a specific instruction for vehicles occupying the slots away from the walls, the great majority of motorists had decided to park with the front of their vehicles facing out.

Witnessing this blatant disregard for the parking signages gave me the unsettling feeling of having entered an orderly yet upside-down universe. It also made me wonder what could have brought about this puzzling inverse compliance with a clear-cut rule.

After some research and lots of thought, I came up with these three possible reasons:
First, most Filipino motorists or hired drivers must be so mischievously disobedient—“mga pasaway” in street lingo—that they would rather flaunt rules if they can get away with it.

Second, that the mall management might have come up with parking rules that aren’t firmly anchored on the realities on the ground—rules that are probably inconsistent with the thinking and experience of Filipino motorists or hired drivers on what position is safe or unsafe when parking in enclosed spaces.

And third, which is really a long shot but even more elemental, what we have here may just be an unfortunate case of miscommunication in English. To convey both its intended and expected sense, the parking signage for slots along walls might be better worded as “PLEASE PARK YOUR VEHICLE FACING OUT,” and for slots away from the walls, perhaps the same signage should also be provided to ensure uniform compliance.

I really think the signages in the basement parking area of that mall extension need to be thoroughly reviewed with the above considerations in mind and, whatever rules may finally be adopted, they must be firmly enforced for the safety and peace of mind of all concerned.
This essay originally appeared in Jose A. Carillo’s weekly column “English Plain and Simple” in The Manila Times, August 23, 2014 issue, © 2014 by Manila Times Publishing.