The Elevator Light That’s a Total Gas

International travel can be perilous, especially when you don’t speak the language native to your host country. Words that look or sound like those in your own language may appear, but they’re almost certain to mean something different. For example, if you’re about to get into an old Danish elevator, you may see something like the below.

Yes, that says “i fart.”

No, the elevator hasn’t become self-aware and no, it isn’t passing gas. It’s just moving right along. A quick hop to Google Translate explains:

So if the “i fart” light is on, it just means that the elevator you’re waiting for is in motion. (And “hertil” means “here” — it indicates that it’s arrived on your floor.) There’s no reason to cover your nose.

Today, these signs are rare. (But not entirely unheard of — Google Images has a lot of examples.) The purpose of the “i fart” light (and it’s pronounced “ee-faht,” by the way) was to alleviate any anxiety that the metal box you’re waiting for is actually moving and will get you to your destination, and perhaps to tell you when to open the door so you can enter. As elevators aren’t so unfamiliar today, and the doors open automatically, these “in motion” indicators are antiquated. But sixty years ago, they were pretty common.

That said, even back then, this cross-language oddity would have been nothing more than a passing curiosity — there are certainly other similar examples in other languages as well. But May 22, 1957 brought something to Denmark which put everyone on high alert. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom was coming for a state visit and decorum demanded a great amount of deference and respect. Everything had to be perfect.

And an elevator ride with a lit-up sign saying ‘i fart”? That’s not something you’d want to explain to Her Royal Highness. Renovating the elevators weren’t an option, and it’s certainly not acceptable to tell the Queen to take the stairs. So Danish elevator operators on her route did the next best thing. They covered the signs over, temporarily — and successfully hid their farts from their regal visitor.

Bonus fact: In 1986, a group of prospective jurors had a problem — they got stuck in the elevator of the Florida courthouse to which they were assigned, and were stranded between floors for about 20 minutes. Normally this wouldn’t matter, but when they finally arrived in the courtroom, the judge decided to quiz each of them about the experience. Why? Because the case they were expected to rule on involved an escalator accident — and the company that was being sued was Otis Elevator, the same one which operated their faulty elevator. Amazingly, the judge decided not to disqualify any of the stranded passengers/jurors, concluding instead that they were able to put aside their recent experience with the defendant and rule fairly.

From the Archives: Atlanta’s Fight to Separate Elevators and Restrooms: These elevators could use an actual “i fart” indicator (well, close enough). So, Atlanta installed a set.