Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Mind your language!

A tattooist's lot is not a happy one, at least when it comes to dissatisfied clients:
"The price was £90 [...] But he only wanted to pay £70. He became very aggressive then got three friends who were waiting in a car outside to come in.
He was threatening to kill us. We called the police and he was arrested."
It appears that this difference of opinion originated in a problem of communication between the tattooist and his Iranian customer, whose English was apparently not up the the subtleties of caveat emptor (though, given the length of the tattooing process, the waiting heavies outside suggest a degree of premeditation).

Once the police had removed the offensive quartet, the tattooist, clearly shaken by his ordeal, decided to print a sign and place it in the shop window:
 "If you can't speak English don't even bother coming in."
After a few hours, and presumably having calmed down somewhat, it dawned on him that the sign might be 'misconstrued' so he removed it.

And that would have been the end of the matter, were it not for a passing lecturer in English and Media Studies who took a picture of the sign and tweeted it with the words:
Discriminatory, racist… but also really dumb when you think about it.
To be fair, his main point (albeit expressed in depressingly Americanised terms, given his occupation) appears to be the inherent contradiction of writing the sign in English - rather like buying a bowl inscribed 'DOG' when no-one else is likely to eat from it and the dog can't read - but it was the 'racist' angle which immediately seized the public's attention.

Either the local paper has been doing its best to stir up a hornets' nest or the result has been an undignified scramble to board the outrage bus (perhaps not entirely unconnected with the forthcoming local elections); step forward the Council Leader...
 "I'm glad the sign was taken down. It's a throwback to the 1960s."
...the local MP...
 "The sign was a backwards step but at least it's down now."
...and the Council’s head of regulatory services:
“While we are pleased that the sign has been voluntarily removed, our officers have visited the business concerned and stressed that this sort of behaviour is totally unacceptable."
I must admit to a certain amount of confusion here; are they objecting to the wording of the sign (which was, perhaps, unfortunate as well as illogical) or to the implication that those who do not speak English should not enter the shop?

If the latter, it is certainly discrimination of a sort, but how should this be reconciled with the fact that, as the tattooist says,
"The reason for the sign is tattoos are permanent and we cannot take the risk of making a mistake because we cannot communicate with a customer"?
While the sign could, perhaps, have expressed it in less forthright terms, it is surely quite rational for a tattooist to refuse clients unable to make their requirements clear or give informed consent, and therefore for the studio to warn them that such rejection is likely if they enter the premises.

The sign is gone, but, thanks to the wonders of twitter, not forgotten. As we have seen before, this supposedly ephemeral form actually succeeds in preserving momentary follies and indiscretions beyond all previous limitations.


  1. All within th beat of the West Midlands Police, too. I am amazed he wasn't arrested!

  2. "After a few hours, and presumably having calmed down somewhat"

    Speaks volumes about the spiteful silliness he knew he'd face, even though he'd just received a death threat.

  3. Julia, I suspect the fact that the only evidence for the existence of the sign was a photo on twitter may have saved him.

    AKH, it's funny how, when you want something from them, Councils function on a timescale that could best be described as geological, while, between the tweet at 10.10am on Wednesday and the news article at midday on Friday they had already managed to send the boys round:
    "our officers have visited the business concerned and stressed that this sort of behaviour is totally unacceptable"

    You can almost sense the regret that they couldn't cart him off for re-education somewhere.