If you need to escape from a building abroad, don’t bother looking for a glowing, bright red “Exit” sign. Much like the debate over the metric system and the concern over which side of the road is “correct,” Americans and the rest of the world don’t see eye to eye about their exit signs either.

As Slate Magazine explains in their latest installment of a series about international signs, the American sign has two strikes against it: 1. It’s composed only of words, and 2. It’s red.

Since it’s adoption by the International Organization for Standardization in 1985, most other countries have used a version of Japanese designer Yukio Ota’s green “running man” exit sign, as seen above. The Slate article explains that a recent directive from the European Council, for example, requires that a running man appear on a green background. Advocates say that the green color of the sign implies safety, and that the pictogram can be understood by anyone.

Despite the green running man’s popularity abroad, the National Fire Protection Association (which regulates safety signs in the U.S) says it has no plans to replace the red marker in the near future. NFPA administrator Robert Solomon explains that, “when the NFPA investigates fires, it never encounters circumstances ‘where someone says I didn’t know where the exit was because I didn’t know…what the exit sign was. When they don’t know where the exit is, it’s because there was no signage there whatsoever.’”

While some buildings or institutions in the U.S. are gradually beginning to use green exit signs, Americans shouldn’t expect their familiar red markers to disappear overnight. But student travelers should be ready to remember that, in a foreign country, green means both “go” and “exit.”

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