Tattoo Etiquette: How To Not Be An Asshole

This blog post was published in 2015 – but the rules still apply.

A couple of weeks ago I was doing my usual shopping at our local grocery store with my 4-year old little girl, we got to the till and started unpacking our goods when the cashier lady suddenly pipes up “I don’t know why people still get tattooed when they know God does not want them to, don’t you know you are going to burn in hell?”

I looked at my daughter, who was staring at me with bewildered eyes and about to burst into tears… There was so much I wanted to say. So much. Instead, I paid for my groceries, hissed some choice words in the cashiers ear and stormed out the door – furious.

I know that was not my finest moment, but oh well. I should have left my groceries and walked out, but my Butter Chicken Soup was in there… you don’t just leave that behind!

Let me start of by explaining where I stand regarding religion. I am not a Satanist, I do not believe in Satan. I do not believe in heaven, nor do I believe in hell. I do not believe in religion. I do believe in a higher power – be it Mother Nature, The Force or Jason Mamoa’s face. Who knows… I believe in being a good person, and part of that is to tolerate everyone’s different beliefs and religions to the best of my ability.

Unfortunately, dealing with stupidity and ignorance is something I tend to struggle with.  

For some weird reason, this was not the first time that a cashier has made an inappropriate remark about my tattoos – and seeing as it is impossible to get a proper, descent response from the store in question – or even just a real apology – I thought I would compile a little list of common Etiquette Rules Towards Tattooed People. I don’t know what the hell they put in the job descriptions when looking for some of these people, but I suggest they include this in their training manual – you know, seeing as there are so many of us tattooed hooligan thugs running loose these days.

Tattoo Etiquette: How To Not Be An Asshole

If you do not know what etiquette means – the dictionary defines etiquette as,” the forms or codes to be observed in social or official life; conventional decorum; the code of polite society.” Strip away all the fancy words and you’re left with ‘common decency’ and basic manners.

I know right… I can read… amazing. They taught me that in jail (and yes, I am joking).  

If you have any large, visible tattoos, you have no doubt experienced the stares, comments, and physical accostings from strangers trying to get a better look at them. It comes with the territory, people are interested and find it odd or exciting.

Sometimes, however, people really can cross the line – as per exhibit A above. I suppose it’s ironic that heavily tattooed people are viewed as crude and uncivilized, but to me it seems to be the other way around sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong.. this is not to rant about people that might just simply be curious, but more or less to establish some guidelines and remind everybody that we’re still a civilized culture and we all deserve respect and boundaries.  

♥ 1.Never… EVER.. grab someone or touch them to “see” their tattoos.

Unless they give you permission. It is called harassment and it might get you pepper sprayed. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been poked, prodded, grabbed, fondled and all around manhandled by complete and total strangers. I have literally had someone pull my top down my shoulder so that they could see the tattoo on my upper arm. It’s CRAZY.  

♥ 2. Appreciate the art, but leave the meaning alone.

I have some tattoos that I got just simply because I wanted to and then there are others that signify a life-changing moment or a philosophy that I believe in. I honestly don’t want to stand in the middle of the street, pouring out the intimate details of a back story to why I got a tattoo, to a complete stranger.

It’s like me asking about a scar on your body or having you tell me about the darkest time in your life. It’s uncomfortable. Stop watching tattoo shows where every client has some traumatic story behind the tattoo they’re getting. Sometimes you just love art and want to showcase it on your skin!  

♥ 3. There is a time and place for everything.

If you see that someone is mid-conversation, mid-meal, in the bathroom, at a funeral, or in any other place and setting that’s inappropriate to strike up a random tattoo conversation, do not interrupt them.

If you want to compliment their artwork or ask who the artist is, wait for a good moment, apologize for your interruption, and say what you need to say. If people are polite I usually engage them further and let them ask or say more, but when people run up and blurt out, “Gevaaaaalike tjappie!” or “Kief Ink bru!! I want to get some sick tribal sleeves done! Where do you go? How much did it cost?” That’s when I’m offended and silently willing you to disappear…into the depths of the ocean.  

♥ 4. Live and let live…

If you do not like tattoos, that is fine. Don’t tell someone “you are going to regret your tattoos on day” – let me put this into perspective, how would you feel if I walked up to you in the park, looked at your kid and said “you are going to regret having kids one day”…. You would probably punch me in the face. Both are pretty permanent.

Tattoo Etiquette: How To Not Be An Asshole
Tattoo Etiquette: How To Not Be An Asshole Found on

♥ 4. It is never okay to ask someone what the paid for their tattoos…

It’s really not. Unless that someone is a close friend or family member, or someone you know feels comfortable divulging that information to you. It is irrelevant to you how much I paid for it, and if you are asking because you are thinking of getting one yourself… phone the tattoo parlour.

I just find it to be such a personal and rude question. You certainly wouldn’t ask a stranger how much their house or car cost, would you?  

  ♥ 5. Don’t assume that someone does not have a career just because they have tattoos…

I’ve received so many rude comments about my tattoos when it comes to my ability to get a job. Not from an employer themselves, but from complete strangers and passersby. If I cannot be myself in the office, chances are that I wouldn’t want to work there to start off with.

Sure, in today’s economy beggars cannot be choosers. But I made the decision to work in a creative field where I was free to be me a long time ago. I knew what I was getting myself into.  

♥ 7. The church won’t burst into flames if a tattood person sets foot in it.

While I choose to not be religious myself, that doesn’t mean that other people are any less capable of accepting Christ into their lives because they’re tattooed. It doesn’t devalue my charitable efforts, donations, volunteer work, or anything for that matter. 

 ♥ 8. Please don’t show me yours.

I just don’t care.

Tattoo Etiquette: How To Not Be An Asshole

Let me know what you think in the comment section below, or add some of your own etiquette rules!

39 thoughts on “Tattoo Etiquette: How To Not Be An Asshole

  1. Michelle says:

    I’m horrified by that, it’s not on to express an opinion like that especially if it’s a customer and that in front of a minor. It may not be that person’s cup of tea but it isn’t necessary to attempt to shame another person for their choices.

    I put that down to poor breeding and no class. Horrendous customer service experience.

  2. Meg says:

    Gosh hon, sorry you had to go through that, and your poor little poppet too. I’ve seen similar things happen to wWayne a ton of times too – which century are we living in again!?

  3. Wenchy says:

    Being slightly inked… 26 tattoos down… I’ve had some stares. Purple hair helps.

    Responses are mostly positive but you do get that odd idiotic person who will say something really stupid and make you wish you were as violent as they perceive you to be…being inked and all. 🙂

    • Maz says:

      I don’t know what it os Wenchy… I seem to have an Idiot magnet built into my skull or something. Living in the most white picket fenced stereotyped suburb in Cape Town with my tatted skater hubby probably does not help ?

  4. StaceyMay says:

    I am a degreed Zoologist working for a well known animal park…and even though the Lemurs, Meerkats and Parrots don’t discriminate against me for my ink, my superiors went as far as to have specially made long sleeved uniform shirts made for me to cover my tattoos even though the rest of the staff have short sleeves. Sigh…the closed mindedness of society lives on. I am not looking forward to summer when I will have to suffer and sweat out in the sun as I work while everyone else enjoys their freedom!

  5. Christelle says:

    Haha! I can totally relate. My 3 most memorable harrassments included 1. A mother and daughter who, whilst visibly enthralled with my sleeve, completely and utterly disregarded my space and privacy by literally undressing me in Tygervalley trying to see where I have more tattoos. Just because you’re giving me compliments does not make all the fondling okay, Tannie. 2. Way back when I only had one visible tattoo a tannie walked into the shop I was working in, started shouting ‘Wyk SATAN!’ and praying loudly. She had to be removed by force by a poor security guard who was just as freaked out as I was. 3. A shop assistant in China Town once started telling me how I’m going to hell unless I remove my tattoos and repent.

    What is the subject of most of my tattoos that kinda gets these crazies going? My little pony, care bears, cupcakes, wonderland and the more. So incredibly offensive, and so incredibly satanic. I get that responses (good and bad) comes with the territory. But acting completely batshit crazy in public because someone has a tattoo is unacceptable. No matter how offensive you might find those tattoos.

    • Maz says:

      haha! I had one of those crazy experiences too. I grew up in a small town called Upington, and one year – after returning from our trip to there – we made a stop in Calvinia. The kids were hungry so we stopped at the supermarket to get some food. Some dude dropped all his shopping, started following me, praying at me – it was the weirdest experience. I think he was attempting an exorcism. It was hilarious.

  6. Elmarie says:

    Respect ! Unfortunately we live in a very sick world that won’t leave the past to the past or respect others!

  7. Beatrice says:

    Í personally do not like tattoos on me. But my dad has one, my boyfriend has a lot and will still get more, many people from my church have tattoos – especially the most fervently, deeply in love with God. I love so many points you’ve mentioned here, like no. 1, 2, 4 and 7. Maybe next time send the cashiers to my church so they can see what the definition of grace truly is – a God that loves unconditionally, regardless of whether you have a tattoo, don’t have one or will have one. Sorry that your daughter had to witness such harsh comment from a stranger :(. Keep blogging and raising thought-provoking topics that make people judge less and love more.

    • Maz says:

      Now see, that is how I understood God to be – all loving and all forgiving. I have been told that I am wrong and what do I know, but whatever. Yes, I am not a Christian – but my parents and sisters are, and the God we learned about growing up probably won’t send you to hell for a tattoo or two. Anyway, my point is – I know amazing people who have tattoos – Christians, Atheists, Doctors, Scientists, Hippies, Animal Rights Activists… you name it. People should just live and let live, focus on fixing the things that really are bad – like the rape, murder and genocide going on in the world?

  8. Dominique says:

    I really enjoyed your article and feel for you. I cannot understand when it became acceptable to make personal comments to complete strangers and to do that in front of your daughter is horrible. Hopefully you’ll be able to explain to her soon that there are ignorant, arrogant people out there who believe there belief systems allow them to sit in judgement of anybody outside of their comfort zones…it does amaze me how often it is the God bothers out there who feel obliged to impose their opinions on the rest of us.

    • Maz says:

      I had a long talk with my daughter, but it was uncomfortable and one that I wanted to have when she was much older. Religion is always touchy. I want her to learn about all the different religions and soak it all in – that way she can make her own, educated choice later on in life. She is too little to understand all of that now, and the Bible bashers are not exactly making a great case for themselves in her innocent eyes.

  9. Amber says:

    I have a few tattoos and one large one on my back but because of my career choice I’ve had to get them all in places that are easily covered. I see nothing wrong with them but society is still in the dark ages when it comes to being inked. I hate having to hide my art can’t wait for the day when it doesn’t matter anymore. If it will ever not matter.
    I suggest you make a big stink about woolworths on all social media platforms that way they have to do something.

    • Maz says:

      I agree! I hardly ever hide my tattoos – I don’t have to. I do however have some days that I just cannot deal with the questions and stares, then I try cover up as much as I can. Like I said, it comes with the territory, but people just need to learn tact and manners!

  10. Celeste Booysen says:

    Loved your piece. Hate that the general population feels it’s ok to speak crap over peoples lives and just walk away. I feel for you having to discuss it with your Daughter when you were not ready. I have no Tattoo’s yet but am planning some so this is interesting reading. Oh an I go through Calvinia and Upington twice a year to see family, I will remember to cover up my art incase of am impending exorcism attempt 😉

  11. Maz says:

    After 3 weeks – I finally got a response from the store manager:
    Hi Ms Halliday
    Good morning I hope that you are well. I have notice that you have logged and complaint against one of our staff members that has made a very unpleasant remark towards you. Yes you are 100% right when you said that those are not remarks that is expected from a WOOLWORTHS staff member. You have not indicated if you have seen the person name so that I can deal with the person. This is really not what we as a brand are representing.
    I would like to apologize that we only came back now to you. But I will make is my business to make our staff a where of this disrespectful behaviour. If you shop again in our store please ask for me because I would like to apologize personally to you.

    My sincere apologies.


    Deon Fester


    Hello Deon,

    Thank you very much for finally getting back to me. I find it rather unpleasant that it took an article on my personal website to get Woolworths’s proper attention – If I did not have a blog with a loyal following – would you have responded at all?

    I shop at Woolworths Meadowridge branch every week as I live right around the corner, and as per my article – this was not the first inappropriate comment a staff member of yours has made towards me. I did not give a name, because I was a little preoccupied with my distraught 4-year old child that just heard that her mother was going to burn in hell. She now refuses to set foot in your store. I appreciate that you want me to come to your store and find you so that you can personally apologize to me, but I do not really see what good that would do. You need to give your staff members a lesson in humanity and tolerance – you need to live up to the image that Woolworths as a brand is so desperately trying to portray – but desperately failing at. And you guys seriously need to work on your customer service.

    Kind Regards
    MRS. Halliday.

    WHAT DO YOU THINK? what would you have said?

    • Christelle says:

      Honestly, I would’ve named the person. If you can’t remember the name, I would’ve gone to the shop and identified said person. You don’t need to take your child there for that, if she doesn’t want to go, but it is essential that you follow through with the message you try to convey. You have done a great job at making this public, at exposing this horrible behaviour. So don’t back out now. Go there and let them apologise in person. We as consumers so often do this, where we complain about some inappropriate thing that happened and when we have a chance to have the behaviour corrected, we back away. That cashier will never stop unless you get in her face, expose her and let her apologise. You don’t have to be rude, you don’t have to be ashamed and you don’t have to back off because it seems like the proper thing to do. Because it isn’t.

  12. Bianca says:

    I too have had the similar comments at Woolworths. Asking “what the hell is wrong with me” and the poking of my tattoos. Super inappropriate and inconsiderate. Thanks for the great article ❤️

  13. Aidin says:

    Dood, this is truely a well written piece of literature. I’m a tattoo artist and a father to two little girls and we are church goers. This happens far to often. And I completely agree with everything u have said homie. I wouldn’t expect a proper reply from woolworths as I have had the same thing happen two me more than once, and no reply from them. Sad how pathetic client services are in this country. All the best homie. Don’t let these ignorant haters get u down. You know the kind of man you want to be, be it!

  14. Grethe R says:

    I have a similar battle with people sometimes, not because I have tattoos but because I choose to have pink hair. People have asked me the most RIDICULOUS questions and have actually pulled my hair without any warning and most DEFINITELY without asking.

    “Yes, it’s real.”
    “Yes, it’s my actual hair/No, it’s not a wig.”
    “No, it wasn’t a dare.”
    “Yes, I like it.”
    “No, I’m NOT doing it for attention or because I want people to look at me. I do it because I like it.”
    “No, it doesn’t feel any different because it’s pink. It feels like hair.”
    “My hair is actually a lot less damaged than you think because I look after it properly, but thank you for your concern.”

    Seriously, the moment you partake in ANY form of body modification it’s like you become public property and like your personal space immediately disappears… :/

  15. Attie says:

    I would have responded “Your problem is you seem to have forgotten that the church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints and regarding your attitude towards others, it is obvious you need all the help you can get!”

  16. Taryn says:

    Also, don’t judge people on their ability to do their own jobs because they’re tattooed. I was once sent home from an office job, because on a hot day, mid-February, I forgot my cardigan at home and my tattoos were exposed. Firstly, no indication of tattoos in the dress code, and it was hot as hell, I didn’t see clients and it’s not like I was topless, or wearing a pair of Daisy Duke shorts.
    I’ve never had a client say anything bad to me though, mostly they relay their own stories, and of course, because I want their money, I indulge them, and trade stories. I’ve actually seen people around me get more upset because a colleague couldn’t speak Afrikaans to them than what people get about my tattoos.
    It’s sad that people are such assholes and I’m sorry that your little one had to be present to witness it.

  17. Tarz says:

    Hi Maz,

    What a shit thing to happen! I am so sorry and thanks for the list of tattoo etiquette…I think this info needs to be shared. Thanks for making such a graceful and powerful stand…

    I say next time, slap the bitch!

    But maybe not if your baby girl is with you… 😉

  18. Colleen says:

    Ooops! i sometimes engage with strangers about their tattoos in the belief that because I’m admiring them its ok. Now I’ll be more sensitive to the possibility that this may not be welcome. So thanks for the article. I’m really sorry to read about your experience with the cashier. That is so totally unacceptable as is the absence of response/apology from Woolworths.

  19. Jessie says:

    I am not good with people. I fine them to be completely judgmental, usually downright selfish and mean, and on occasion so stuck in their self righteousness it is like a bounder around their neck.

    My animals don’t care what I look like or how many tattoos I have of them. They care about how I treat them. We should aspire to be more like them.

  20. MeeA says:

    I think you should definitely go back to the store, meet the manager and identify the staff member/s in question. Those people’s behaviour cannot be addressed and corrected if no-one knows who they are.

  21. Taylia Abrahams says:

    I think you acted very appropriately seeing that your daughtert was with you. Me on the other hand would have made a scene there and thenshame your poor daught, sending her hugs xxx

  22. Shannon Flewellen says:

    Great article. What a bloody nerve! I wonder where in the world she got the idea that it is ok to pass any sort of judgement on other people, let alone a customer. I would have seriously blown my stack, so we’ll done on keeping your cool. I do like your passing comment though….I think woolworths needs to give its’ staff a little lesson on customer service.

  23. Hanneke says:

    Although I have not YET got any tattoos. I despise Bible bashers. We were all created equally in God’s image and His teaching is of love, patience, empathy etc. Regardless if you are a Christian or whatever religion or no religion. Respect is a virtue….of which most seem to have none. I apologise in advance. I will be the one staring. And telling you I love it…..simply because I think it is stunningly beautiful and am to cr@p scared to do it myself. I am so terribly sorry your baby girl had to go through this trauma.

  24. Siobhan Hughes says:

    Good for you. They should at the very least be employing people who have some tact. Sure, everyone has their own beliefs, but don’t shove them down anyone’s throat, especially if said person is a customer!!!!

  25. Mathew says:

    The best/ or worst thing i have ever been asked about my tattoo’s is if i was in prison and my reply is always the same “Yea of course i was, where else could you get a full Disney themed sleeve!”,

  26. thea lennox says:

    What a TRAUMA for your poor daughter. Who are we to judge. i am a christian but i have lots and lots of sins. whether you are a christian, a muslim we all believe in a higher power no matter if we call him god or BUDDHA. i have a tattoo on my back and shoulder which no one could see but it has a meaning for me. so to hell with anyone judging you. and someone that judge so Hoarse is the reason why christians are so criticized. i think you handled this awesome as you thought about your child and that is a sign of a great mom and a great person.

  27. Elizabeth says:

    I totally loved this piece right here. I have also experienced nasty and outright uncalled for remarks about my tats, but I’m very outspoken, most recently at work, a department visitor started to read my tat and ended by saying “I am She” ( this is the wording of my tat in the shape of an infinity sign) FOREVER and I responded by saying and your point? I mean do these people think we need their approval or that we don’t understand that a tat is “forever” Seker maar die lewe ne!!!!!

  28. Nicole Jansen van Vuuren says:

    Oh I’ve been told that before aswell, also by a cashier!!!! As infuriating as it was I just laughed it off because these people who are preaching to us about sin and burning in the firy pits of hell conveniently forget that passing judgement is ALSO a sin ? LOL! The world would be a better place without people intervering really!

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