Saturday, May 19, 2007

E Pericoloso Sporgersi

E Pericoloso Sporgersi is actually the first Italian phrase I ever learned, when I was eight years old. My parents, brothers and I spent a few months near Geneva, Switzerland, where my father was working, but we often traveled by train to see other parts of the country and visit nearby parts of France. E Pericoloso Sporgersi was affixed under every window on practically every train.

It is dangerous to lean out.

The sign was in other languages, too (French: Ne Pas Se Pencher Au Dehors; German: Nicht Hinauslehnen), and English. But decades later, I still only remembered the Italian, perhaps because as a young child I thought E Pericoloso Sporgersi sounded quite silly (try saying it fast a few times), not to mention that the French is a bit of a tongue twister and the German has the harsh sounding nicht. Or maybe I remembered it because the Italian was the first line of the warning sign, followed by the other translations (English was last). Was this because it was thought that Italians would be more likely than French or Germans to lean out the window, therefore it had to be most visible? Or maybe the signs were produced in Italy, so Italian came first out of national pride.

Regardless, on my first train ride in Italy, from Venice to Bologna, I looked for the sign and was dismayed not to find it. Ditto on the train from Bologna to Ravenna. Had everyone learned in the intervening 30+ years to not lean out of train windows? But from Ravenna to Florence, where I changed trains to continue to Rome, the little sign was displayed under the window of my local train, just as I remembered. I photographed it. There was still no Spanish translation on the sign - I will leave you to develop a theory as to why.

The local train slowly wound its way through hilly countryside covered with farms and vineyards and sprinkled with villas and castles. I was tempted to stand up and lean out the window to take some photographs, but I did not.


p2lf said...

I remember countless (bored) hours in French trains in the late 80s, memorizing those lines.

Signs were in four same languages then and had me wonder why just four, and who decided the four? Who sits on such a committee?

Anyway, thirty years later I only remember the Italian version.

I have always been curious to know if others would have noticed the sign enough to memorize it. Nice to see there is someone else out there like me.

dominique gregoire said...

Thank you for the memory, I too remebered the italian phrase probably because it had a poetic ring to it, like a haiku of some sort. The reason there was no Spanish is that the trains from the rest of Europe could get in Spain because the width of the tracks was different and you had to move to another train when you entered Spain. Dominique.

Bertha Beanboat said...

Oh, this is one of my absolutely favorite signs of all times and signs (that have ever existed). I even have a blog post about it before it occurred to me to google it for popularity purposes.

Actually, the language order depended on the country you were in - on trains in Germany, for example, the German version would be first, followed by the English underneath, with the French version to the right and last but not least the famous Italian phrase right below the French.

"E pericoloso sporgersi" rules - forget bungee jumping!

I. said...

I'm delighted to know I'm part of a small club of people who memorize train signs! Thanks, Dominique, for explaining that the Spanish tracks are different. I have a new blog up at if you care to visit.

Yacine Khelladi said...

yes... "E Pericoloso Sporgersi" is my automatic reply when anything italian comes up !!! :-) happy to find a fan club for this

Yacine Khelladi said...

yes, "E pericoloso sporgersi"
this comes up in my mind when anything italian shoes up :-)
happy to find a brotherhood of "E pericoloso sporgersi" mind programmed people :-)))

DrDx said...

Thanks for a very evocative post. E pericoloso sporgersi takes me back to a wonderful school trip to northern Italy in 1961. (And now, in a fab. novel coming to an electronic bookstore near you some time soonish, Dottore Sporgersi turns out to be a well-known archaeologist...)

John Vale said...

Just had to google the phrase - whuch i had misremembered slightly! Ive never been to Italy let alone on one of their trains, but my old mate Wily from University obviously had and delighted in intoning it with maximum mock Italian accent - rolling every syllable in his mouth like the finest Chianti. A legendary and very beautiful warning

Ilona said...

Thanks again to all who have commented! I just revisited these three lovely words here:

Yacine Khelladi said...

yes, e Pericoloso Sporgersi over this blog :-)

Robin Stieber said...

I always sing it to the first line of Mattinata. Try it and you'll never get it out of your head.