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I am a localization manager/translator and intercultural consultant living in Berlin (Germany), passionate about languages, cultures, diversity management, body art, dancing, self-empowerment, coaching, effective communication and, last but not least, vegan gluten-free food and good movies.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

​Three annoying things people do while dealing with tattooed people and what this has to do with you

"This one is just so beautiful and colorful. It is different from everything I saw so far..."
And here we are again...

What would you expect from someone you just met during a workshop one hour ago and exchanged only a couple of sentences with, and out of politeness only?
That he would insistently caress your whole arm from shoulder to the wrist while slowly lingering and touching your naked skin again and again, right?

I hope for you that this is not the case and that sounds more like science fiction to you. And yet, this is, unfortunately, something that happens to me almost on a daily basis. With men. And with women.
Age, gender, and nationality don't really play a role here. They just do it and go with the flow, while finding me and my tattoos just as fascinating as they would do with an exotic animal at the zoo.

[Yes, they are my arms. And yes, they are real.
And no, you can't touch them.
Pic: Me, August 2016 © Radoslaw Kosiada]

This is a perfect example of three annoying things people do while dealing with tattooed people.
Apparently, without realizing how immensely intrusive and disrespectful it can be: 
- Touching you in places people usually don't touch perfect strangers, even if they just met you, without asking and without hesitation whatsoever; 
- Telling you in detail why they don't have any tattoos and why they consider tattoos weird, even if nobody asked (and cares to know);
- Asking you if you are tattooed everywhere and often implying that, while talking to you, they are just imagining how you look like when you are naked (or being blatantly open about this). 

Independently from the cultural differences in proxemics, personal space circles (categorized as intimate zone, personal/friend zone, social zone and public/audience zone) and small-talk etiquette, there are boundaries related to the interaction with strangers in social settings commonly accepted and preserved in all Western societies.
Places you don't go. Things you don't do. Sentences you don't say. Because otherwise your behavior would be considered offensive, rude and threatening. And, depending on the circumstances, you could be accused of sexual harassment.

[Rainbow graphic representation of
many different personal space circles.
Perfect for children, apparently very useful for adults as well...]

And yet, more often than not I have the impression that this doesn't apply to basic casual human interactions with tattooed individuals, where absolutely nice people that for sure are not up to doing wrong and being insensitive on purpose, actually treat me differently and show me that they do that because I look different, like looking different would mean per se being different.

They invade my personal space, they ask very private questions, and while doing small-talk and thinking that they are creating a connection with me, they are instead focusing on the differences between me and them, even if I didn't ask and to be honest, I don't care at all.

In all three examples, they are not only displaying lack of emotional intelligence, social skills, and empathy but also making the whole interaction about them even if they say that they are curious about me.

Their desire of touching my skin is about them.
Their willingness to explain why their choices are different from mine is about them.
Their curiosity about my body is about them.

Without noticing it, they behave like they were allowed to interact with me in a way they would not consider appropriate for others (or for me to apply to them) and they do things without asking if it's OK.  
They don't ask if it is OK for me to be touched, if I am interested at all in talking about the same subject again and again or if I feel like revealing intimate details. Like if it would be otherwise accepted for me to ask someone I just met if they shave their pubic hair or to caress their neck because it is so beautiful and maybe I have a fetish for that.

[Greg Germann as Richard Fish,
the successful lawyer with a fetish for mature women's neck

Funny enough, while speaking out and telling them that I don't want to be touched, that I didn't ask why they never got a tattoo or that I don't want to know if they are having sexual fantasies about me, I am the one that would be considered rude and insensitive.
The one that is overreacting. The one that is creating a huge case out of a very innocent statement.

Why this is so important?
Because it is not about me. I am strong and assertive enough for speaking up for myself and for defending myself if needed.
But this is not the case for everybody that, while being "different" from you in some capacity, gets labeled somehow and gets a different treatment because of this.

"Innocent" questions and statements that can be considered innocent by you, because you are not involved or affected on a personal level, could be very offensive and intimate for people around you with a different background or they could remind them again and again that, no matter what, they will be treated differently.

What would you think of the same behavior being applied to a black person or a woman or someone else part of a religious or cultural minority? 
How would you react if people would do those things to you, based on some traits you have?

These questions can help you gain more awareness and a new perspective about your social interactions with people that, while being different from you, deserve to be treated with the same level of respect you would like to get from them.

Tags: Tattoos, Tattooed people, Alternative ways of life, Prejudices, Clichés about tattoos, Questions about tattoos, Being a minority, Developing cultural sensitivity, Personal space

What to read next:
Maybe you share 50% of your DNA with a banana, or maybe not. In any case, you should probably reconsider your assumptions about percentage, tattoos and "innocent" questions

You could also enjoy:
One of the most important steps to take for learning what diversity and cultural sensitivity are all about, Feat. unicorn-like-patterns and tattooed legs
The kind of compliments one should better not pay while practicing intercultural communication, or the one about toothpaste, beauty and purple steampunk elegance