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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Diary of a Copywriter: Small Barnyard Animal

Diary of a Copywriter: Small Barnyard Animal

Posted on November 14, 2011 and read 3,363 times

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lindsay Diary of a Copywriter: Small Barnyard AnimalLindsay Smith

When you work in advertising, it’s pretty cool to have a tattoo. Full sleeves are the norm, but a random graphic design on your inner arm is also acceptable. Like, a line. Or a square. Shit like that. Designers like that stuff.

We writer-y types, however, we like to break out of the mold. We choose foreign language tattoos. And then regret them many years later.

At an agency party once, a partner told me he really liked where I had chosen to get a tattoo. He said nothing about the actual tattoo. I don’t blame him. It was kind of that “you have a nice face for radio” compliment.

When I was 17, I came up with the brilliant idea to get a tattoo on my back. After all, my prom dress had an open back, and what goes better with a halter-style dress than a tattoo?

Nothing. Obviously.

I found a photo of Julia Roberts in a fashion magazine, and she had a Chinese symbol tattoo on her shoulder. It was 1996 and the whole Chinese tattoo phase struck me as, well, not a phase at all. You don’t really know a whole lot when you’re 17.

I dragged my best dude friend to a grubby tattoo place in Montreal. I marched in and glanced across the wall of skulls, naked women winking at me and dolphins in various jumping poses. I chose something that was supposed to mean strength in Chinese.

I waited my turn on sticky vinyl chairs until a girl with fuchsia hair and a spike through her lip came out to get me. She didn’t speak English, so I explained what I wanted in broken French. We were already off to a great start, language wise. Then I lifted the back of my shirt, pulled my bra strap over and after she glued the purple stencil to my back, the buzzing needle started carving into my flesh.

Roughly five years later, I spent a semester abroad in Havana, Cuba as part of my university degree in International Development Studies and Rum Drinking.

One particularly sweaty night, I was hanging out with another Canadian student in her hotel, which was really some lady’s giant house with many bedrooms, as many “hotels” in Havana are.

Lanie and I were sitting around drinking watery Cuban beers with an Italian dude on vacation. I didn’t understand a word he said, but he had just made us lasagna and tiramisu in the communal kitchen, a welcome distraction from my daily meal of rice and beans, so I smiled and complimented him on his pointy shoes.

We were a few beers in when a group of tourists from China returned from the day’s excursion. They passed through the communal kitchen on the way to their bedrooms and smiled at us and nodded, then smiled some more and nodded some more. Before they made it safely to their beds, Lanie waved the dude with the glasses over.

“Heeeeeey! Can you come ere and tell us wha mafriends tattoo means?” she slurred as she smushed her finger into my back. “Ssss Chinese.”

I protested. But she pursued.

The dude with the glasses shuffled over to his two buddies and the three of them huddled in the corner of the room and spoke very quickly in a very foreign language. They looked over at me every few seconds, then went back to the huddle. It was a bit of a high school moment.

What? People didn’t talk about you like that in high school?


Finally, the dude with the glasses shuffled back over to the table. I was nervous. Lanie, on the other hand, thought this was the best game she ever invented.

“Sooooooo? Wuzzit mean?” she spat, eyes wide.

He replied, in a heavy accent, “it’s a very bad word. Very bad.” I felt my face heat up.

One of the other fellows spoke up behind him, looking very pleased to be helping out. “It’s like an animal you find in a barn. A small one. A goat. A pig. A sheep? Baaaaaaaaah!”

The animal sounds did nothing to calm my nerves. The beer kinda did. My legs felt weak. I looked to Lanie for support. But her mouth was open so wide from laughing so hard, I was sure she going to puncture an eye muscle.

You’d think that maybe this was some kind of freak translation. But since that fateful evening almost 12 years ago, I’ve managed to come across about 4 people who speak Chinese. Each have confirmed that I do, in fact, have small barnyard animal tattooed on my back.

A few weeks ago, I finally saw someone about getting it covered up. It makes a great story, sure. But I don’t want to be the Anglo equivalent of the non-English speakers who go around wearing t-shirts that say Please to lick my face tomorrow? Or something of that unfortunate nature. I’m supposed to be somewhat of a language expert, after all. Shhhh. Don’t tell.

  • Pam Dillon

    Hey. I’m from the barnyard animal reputation protection committee. Thanks for the long-term endorsement. 




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