When a Tattoo Doesn't Quite Mean What You Thought

Posted on: 16 June 2019

There are a few things that most people do when on an overseas holiday—things intended to immortalise the holiday in your memory. You might well do them yourself, whether it's taking countless photos to bombard your friends with on social media, or perhaps buying a number of souvenirs of your trip (and it's probably both of these things). But have you ever considered getting a tattoo while on holiday? It's certainly going to be a permanent reminder of your time spent in an exotic place, but it might not necessarily be the reminder you want.

Aesthetic Value Without Meaning

The internet is awash with photos of tattoo fails, and a number of these were perhaps obtained while on holiday in a foreign land—and in a foreign language. Such tattoos could almost be considered to be a form of cultural appropriation, choosing words and characters in the local dialect for their aesthetic value, without necessarily thinking about what the words mean. Though the symbol in question might be visually appealing, you probably wouldn't want a Chinese symbol which translates as: "Bad looking; shame; ugly; unclean" on your body.

And then there's a true horror story which perhaps sums up this whole phenomenon—when a tourist unknowingly (and rather cruelly) received a tattoo which simply meant, "idiot foreigner." OK, so perhaps you went ahead and got a tattoo to commemorate an overseas holiday. Perhaps you later found out that the meaning of the words wasn't something you wanted permanently etched on your body. So, now what?


Laser tattoo removal is an option, although it can be uncomfortable and require several treatments. This does leave you with a blank canvas though, and you could certainly get a new tattoo in the same spot at a later stage.

Basic Cover Up and Alteration

A fairly crude coverup courtesy of another tattoo will work, but it's not subtle. Johnny Depp had a tattoo of the word "Slim" on the knuckles of his right hand, which was his nickname for his wife Amber Heard. Depp and Heard subsequently divorced, and so Depp had the tattoo changed so that it now (harshly) says "Scum." This is somewhat similar to when Depp broke up with Winona Ryder, and then changed a tattoo which read, "Winona Forever" into one which read, "Wino Forever."

Artistic Cover Up and Alteration

A more artistic solution is possible. Consult a custom tattoo artist to discuss your options. Custom designed tattoos can artfully obscure the original tattoo into a new design so that the end result hides the meaning of the initial design and leaves you with something you're going to be pleased with.

You should think twice before getting a tattoo in a foreign land, and in a foreign language. But if the results are not what you were intending, you at least have options.