The New York Times Explores the Challenging World of Tattoo Etiquette


In this contemporary day and age, and also, summer, now that people are wearing less clothes, and tattoos are practically, like, shirts or at least jaunty vests in some parts of town, the question of how to behave in the presence of a tattoo has apparently become top of mind in other parts of town. This, as the New York Times puts it, “raises all sorts of etiquette questions,” at least enough to fill Neil Genzlinger’s City Critic column today. It is a doozy of social and cultural proprieties!

Things wondered by Genzlinger:

If some conspicuously tattooed stranger plants himself across the aisle from you on the subway, are you supposed to look at him/it/them? If you have a tattoo of, say, a naked woman on your biceps, are you required to cover it up if someone under 17 without accompanying parent or adult guardian passes by? And what about the tattoo artist? If a customer comes in asking for a tattoo of some pithy phrase that includes a dangling modifier, is the tattooer obliged to correct the grammar?

Feeling inadequate to answer these questions, and not even having a tattoo, Genzlinger goes to the expert, hanging out with Ami James of Miami Ink, also of NY Ink, which focuses on the adventures of his Wooster Street tattoo parlor. Genzlinger also brought along some tattooed colleagues to help “hammer out a Code of Ethics for an Increasingly Tattooed World.” What did he find? [We ad lib as needed.]

  • Tattoos are not for everybody. Just like some people ride motorcycles, and some people wear Tevas with socks, there are different strokes for different folks.
  • Tattoo artists have a code of ethics! Some even refuse to do tattoos that might hinder the future of the tattooed, like, you know, a forehead swastika, or an ice cream cone on a cheek. Also, they won’t tattoo kids.
  • Tattoo artists don’t want to choose your tattoo for you, because who knows if you’re really the right type for a Yosemite Sam peeing on Calvin and Hobbes? Only you can know you.
  • Housewives are maybe the most tattoo-getting people of late, which may be an indicator that the rest of us should stop.

In terms of how to react with regard to another person’s tattoo, the answers were pretty standard for how to behave in general with regard to another human being you don’t really know. For instance, you can look at and ask about a person’s tattoos, but don’t be creepy about it. Don’t actually touch a stranger’s tattoo, just like you shouldn’t touch a stranger. As for the tattoo owner, you should “display the entire thing” and have a good story, real or fictionalized, to go with it.

The most disturbing thing about this piece, though, aside from the apparent need for a Tattoo Code of Ethics, is the last paragraph, which states that a tattoo artist should not correct the grammar of a tattoo recipient’s ink. New York Times, you’re just fucking with us, right? That shit is permanent! Is nothing sacred?

Please Don’t Swat the Bug Tattoo [NYT]