Signs of the times

Prairie Wool

Helen Row Toews

Signs are everywhere. Quietly they hang around, advising the public of information it may or may not be interested in. Not long ago however, I saw two great ones that gave me a chuckle.

The first was while visiting Germany last summer where I repeatedly noticed large placards on every street and motorway, boldly proclaiming the word Ausfahrt; meaning exit. What a great word! Immediately I hastened to use it myself; seeing the multitude of applications for it in our own language (changing the meaning of course). Consider substituting it in for other, infinitely more common and ignoble words people use every day. You’ll understand what I mean in a moment.

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Upon observing a pack of unruly children pillaging your raspberry bushes you could easily lean out the back door and yell, “Hey! You little ausfahrtsget outta my garden.”

Doesn’t that seem kinder somehow? And no less effective.

Or how about a wife slowly turning before her husband with a soft pleading in her eyes to ask, “Honey, do these jeans make my ausfahrtlook big?” Sounds a little more refined, don’t you think? Less crass.

Let’s take a final example. When the government pushes through legislation you don’t agree with, perhaps – oh I don’t know – let’s say the legalization of an illicit drug – you can gather together with like-minded neighbours over coffee and say with concern, “Those ausfahrtsin parliament have no bloody idea…”

See how well it works?

The next sign was taped to the wall at eye level as I took my seat at the dentists.

Please refrain from cell phone use during dental procedures.

I lifted questioning eyebrows to the dentist as he advanced upon me with a gleaming syringe. Shrugging expressively, he explained, “People take selfies.”

This raises several disturbing questions, not to mention images. Let’s try to picture how it might play out. A young woman slides into the dentist’s chair with trepidation, firmly clutching her best friend – the phone. She is instructed to lie back and open wide as the gowned and masked figures of the dentist and an assistant bend over her head, adjusting a 10,000 watt spotlight on her gaping mouth.

The dentist raises his tiny, yet powerful drill and lowers it into the rotting cavity with the sound of a thousand droning bees, as the assistant busily sucks flying chunks of decayed matter and saliva from around the woman’s tongue and cheeks.

At that precise moment, the patient wedges her arm up between the two professionals to a point above her face, and shoots a rapid succession of photos. Later, these pictures are viewed with enjoyment (?) by family and friends on Facebook, beneath the caption, “Only two cavities.”

First of all, who the heck cares? Secondly, who in their right mind wants to memorialize this event? Why in the name of all that is holy, would you take a picture of yourself, flat on your back with your mouth stretched to full, unpleasant capacity, while a power drill grinds into your blackened, decomposing teeth and your bubbling spittle is vacuumed down a plastic tube?

It’s beyond me, but I guess if this situation refers to you, you may well think I’m a complete ausfahrtfor making fun of it. Sorry, I call ‘em how I see ‘em.

Helen has lived on the family farm near Marshall much of her life. She works as a writer, EA and bus driver for her local school. This, along with her love of the Canadian prairies, travel and all things humorous, is what she draws from to write these tales. To find more of Helen’s stories or to order Prairie Wool books please go to or 



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