If the sign provokes in me genuine pleasure, it is in part because it offers the first conclusive evidence of my having arrived elsewhere. It is a symbol of being abroad. Although it may not seem distinctive to the casual eye, such a sign would never exist in precisely this form in my own country There it would be less yellow, the typeface would be softer and more nostalgic, there would—out of greater indifference to the confusion of foreigners—be no subtitles, and the language would contain no double as, a repetition in which I sense, confusedly, the presence of another history and mind-set.
A plug socket, a bathroom tap, a jam jar or an airport sign may tell us more than its designer intended; it may speak of the nation that made it. And the nation that made the sign at
That a sign could evolve so differently in two places is evidence of a simple but pleasing idea: countries are diverse, and practices variable across borders. Yet difference alone would not be enough to elicit pleasure, or not for long. The difference has to seem like an improvement on what my own country is capable of. If I call the Schipol sign exotic, it is because it succeeds in suggesting, vaguely but intensely, that the country that made it and that lies beyond the uitgang may in critical ways prove more congenial than my own to my temperament and concerns. The sign is a promise of happiness.