Sunday, November 09, 2008

A problem of perception

My mother-in-law is German. She also eats at restaurants sometimes. I know that's something of a non-sequitur, but bear with me.

So, I've noticed in the past few years that she's never been mad keen on my having tattoos visible at restaurants we go to when in Italy. More specifically, on me wearing a vest-type top at a restaurant. But I sometimes have, cos it's been summer and warm and, well, I like to keep things a bit rock 'n' roll.

The funny thing is, often in these same restaurants, of whatever standard, the waiters and waitresses also have tattoos and sometimes engage me in conversation about them. I may occasionally catch her looking disgusted or, sadly, uttering schifo ("disgusting") under her breath, utterly bemused at why anyone would find tattoos appealing, interesting, or attractive even.

So it was that, on a not-particularly warm evening while in Italy last week, the family and a couple of family friends headed out to a nearby pizzeria. While eating, it warmed up a bit and I rolled up the sleeves of my sensible pullover.

Soon after, one of our number, a young woman who I'd not met properly before, asked me about the visible tattoos. She seemed interested, probably never knowing anyone with much tattooage, and so I indulged her and answered as best I could. She asked how many more I had, and among others I mentioned that my entire back was tattooed. She asked what it was.

Given that my Italian is about okay but not great for in-depth explanation of a tattoo, I turned to Red and asked, "Do you think it's okay to show my backpiece?" I should add that I don't usually strip on demand, and I would not normally do so in a public place, but we made up about half of the pizzeria's entire client base at that point in the evening, and nobody beyond our table would be seeing much in the way of skin.

Red approved, so I turned around in my seat and lifted my top (trying to keep my belly as out of view of other punters as possible!). Much gaspage ensued, since it was the first time my back had been seen by five people at the table, but Red's mum was not happy. This didn't surprise me, because apart from her not liking tattoos, she probably thought it was rude to flash. Which is kind of fair enough.

Then the conversation took a most unexpected turn, much of which I could either not hear or not follow. But it seems that she was concerned. She, as a German, seemed to think that most people believe those with tattoos are Neo-Nazis. This was an interesting twist! It had never occurred to me -- and nor, frankly, should it have, since it's really quite an absurd notion.

Other people interjected that there was a clear difference between fascist tattoos and (for want of a better term) art tattoos or enthusiast tattoos -- i.e., the sort of bright, colourful, well-executed, luxury-item tattoos that cost a lot of money.

Of course, even in Germany, which does have its share of Neo-Nazi problems, there are some of the world's best tattooists these days. They are certainly not filling their days making swastikas on people's skin.

I know it's just an age thing on the mother-in-law's part, but I was kind of shocked. And while I assume she doesn't actually believe I'm an undercover skinhead, it's a bit sad that she worries others might think so.

So, I'm interested: Do you know anyone, in this day and age, who might jump to the same conclusion if they saw a fairly heavily tattooed man in their vicinity? Would you? And/or would that opinion change according to the length of their hair?

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Blogger Shep said...

I had a similar weird reaction thing when I had a mohican waaaaay back in 1992. My parents were beside themselves, people crossed the street away from me, I had all sorts of people judge me differently, despite being a quiet, peaceful, thoughtful kindof chap.

Then I changed it and got a skinhead...

09 November, 2008 15:13  
Blogger Avid Andy said...

so you AREN'T a Neo-Nazis!?!?!?

09 November, 2008 15:55  
Blogger Wandering Coyote said...

When my dad saw my first tattoo, he told me bluntly that women should not have tattoos and that tats were what men in the navy have all up their arms. Seriously.

09 November, 2008 17:49  
Blogger tweetey30 said...

Nope. A neighbor of ours before he got evicted from his apt had tats all over his arms and chest and back. Not as well done as your back piece but done.. More snakes and such than artfully done like your back.. I see it as art and its cool to see. Some people are just that way and I hope she over comes what she is feeling about those tats Asterisk..

My cousin has five tats and she got them while serving in the Air Force in the States.. I believe men should be able to have long hair if they want and look punk if they want. But again we are much in age difference here either more than likely...

But I have talked to my mom and she thinks they are neat to look at. Its like that one post I did with nail polish. I know a few men that do there hands and my mom thinks its cool to see. I think it brings out a feminism in them that is good though..

Well hope all is well and talk to you later.

10 November, 2008 08:40  
Blogger punxxi said...

interesting that she would even think of neo-nazis, maybe she thinks it is a reflection on her?

10 November, 2008 15:55  
Blogger furiousBall said...

really. wow. no, I'd honestly not jump to that conclusion unless the tattoos spelled a different story.

10 November, 2008 16:35  
Blogger Cynnie said...

Ahh, I come from the land of illusions and facades..

its a class thing I'm thinking ..
back in the day only trashy people had tats ..
rough sailor types and common people..
My family would have issues with you
1.wearing a tank top ( vest )
2. wearing a tank top and being heavily tattoo'd ..
3. showing off skin in a public place..

She probably is worried about how others will judge you..
and equally as amazed that most people think its pretty cool :)

10 November, 2008 17:24  
Blogger Martha Elaine Belden said...

wow. i would never have thought. i've only ever been suspicous or frightened of a tattooed man (bald or otherwise) if he had something evil-looking or swastika-like tatooed visibly and an angry disposition. you have none of the above... so i can't imagine coming to that conclusion.

wow. i just can't imagine.

10 November, 2008 17:48  
Blogger Sheamus the... said...

well here i am sitting next to my heavily tattooed Macedonian and writing from out of my want to be heavily tattooed mentality.

i feel there is no other way to say this but in Macedonian...

veke puknav

...thats all i have to say about that.

PS. Show you my knew tat soon :)

11 November, 2008 04:22  
Blogger mister anchovy said...

Here, I don't think people would connect lots of tattoos to fascists...possibly bikers, but not fascists.

11 November, 2008 12:27  
Blogger Biddie said...

Well, I would think that if you had angry, dull or badly done tatts that you might be mistaken for....well, I don't know. If you also had a shaved head and wore Docs, then maybe....
My Hubby, oldest daugher and I were mistaken for skin heads once at the movies on New Years eve.
Hubby shaves his head (he is going bald, anyway), we all like to dress in black,and I had a lil faux hawk that particular night...
It was both sad and a bit funny.
Most people around here would think biker before Nazi.

11 November, 2008 22:06  
Blogger Biddie said...

Oh, and I do have one tat, very hidden. Nobody sees it unless I show them :)

11 November, 2008 22:07  
Anonymous Franki said...

in taiwan, the only gals that have tats are the mafia whores. my parents have no idea how tattooed i am.

11 November, 2008 23:57  
Blogger The Fraze said...

Taiwanese mafia whores? COUNT ME IN!

12 November, 2008 05:44  
Blogger Tanya said...

Interesting one. Would depend on the tattoo. If it was a swastika or blatantly neo-nazi symbol, I would conclude that abovementioned tattooed person would be affiliated with those concepts.

Mostly I want to see what other people have on their skin. Must confess that I do tend to judge these prissy girls who have a minute little butterfly tattooed on their ankle or shoulder, though.

01 December, 2008 08:03  
Blogger Tanya said...

Interesting one. Would depend on the tattoo. If it was a swastika or blatantly neo-nazi symbol, I would conclude that abovementioned tattooed person would be affiliated with those concepts.

Mostly I want to see what other people have on their skin. Must confess that I do tend to judge these prissy girls who have a minute little butterfly tattooed on their ankle or shoulder, though.

01 December, 2008 08:03  
Blogger Sewmouse said...

If I saw a heavily-tattooed guy with just a vest on top and trousers on, especially jeans, I'd probably make an assumption on his being a biker.

Certainly not a nazi or neo-nazi - unless they were multiple swastikas and other nasty things.

Girls with a tattoo in the small of their back here are said to have a "Tramp Stamp". As good a reason as any for me to stay ink-free myself and just admire from a distance.

04 December, 2008 17:18  

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