Tattoos We Get, and Don't
Coming into contact with languages we don't speak means making mistakes, say local body artists and their patrons.
People want to say something but they don't want everyone to be able to read it.
After the needle touches your skin, there's really no going back. Still, the number of people who get tattoos without proper preparation is surprising. The West L.A. yellow pages devotes almost half the space to tattoo removal that it gives to tattooing, and estimates of the number of people who get tattoos nationally range into the tens of millions.
"I had a friend who thought she was getting 'eternal love' written on her in Chinese, but it turned out to say something like 'best friends forever,'" says Regan Forester of Los Angeles. "Not exactly what she was going for."
Anecdotal evidence suggests the misuse of language in tattoo art is much more frequent than people might suspect. A BBC report tells of a British girl who chose to get her boyfriend's name written on her stomach, and opted for Chinese characters. After the couple broke up, she discovered that her midriff was proclaiming love not for her ex-boyfriend, but for "supermarket."
Erika Stanley of Art and Soul Tattoo in Los Angeles tells another story: "One girl came in and she had a Kanji [Chinese character used in Japanese writing] on her ankle that I didn't recognize…so I took a picture of it and sent it to a friend in Japan. It turned out to be the Kanji symbol for 'English.' She had asked for 'Tranquility.'"
According to Jobey at Art and Soul Tattoo, "Lots of the tattoos that have mistakes in language are unfixable, especially if they are not done in Latin lettering." Both Jobey and Ms. Stanley tell clients to research their foreign language tattoos and to consult native speakers. "I always advise people not to use symbols that they have printed off of the Internet. I tell them to ask someone who speaks the language fluently, like someone who works in a Japanese restaurant, for a correct translation," says Stanley.
Jobey says that some people come in to ask him what their tattoos mean. "If I knew a bunch of other languages," he laughs, "I probably wouldn't be working in a tattoo parlor."
Errors in script tattoos don't occur only in foreign languages. According to Jobey, a man who came in wanting a tattoo of his own last name ended up spelling it wrong. Another patron wanted a tattoo of his last name, "Demarco," but didn't have enough money for the whole thing and settled on omitting letters at either end of the word, leaving him with a giant "EMAR" across his back.
So how easy is it to get an incorrect or unwanted tattoo removed? Not so simple. Prices for tattoo removal at Epione plastic surgeons of Beverly Hills range from $500 to $3,000 on average. "After the removal process," says multiple tattoo owner Ambia L., "you end up looking like a burn victim" because the laser removal process damages the skin temporarily.
With all the errors made in script tattoos, some might wonder why anyone would want one. But tattoos in foreign languages can be appealing. "People want to say something but they don't want everyone to be able to read it," says Stanley. Danny B. from Body Electric Tattoo of Los Angeles has another take: "Kanjis look cool," he states emphatically.
Whatever the reason is for wanting a tattoo, a little bit of research is an easy way to avoid ending up with a permanent error etched onto your body.
Published: Friday, February 06, 2009