So today, we had one of those ‘updates after the holidays’ office meetings for the people just getting back (lucky bastards, how did they get so much more time off than me?), as well as to welcome some new people into our cosy little work family. Now, I should mention, that for some unknown reason, the conference room (where all office meetings are held) is the only room in the entire building that not only has adequate heating, but is also like walking into the Amazon rainforest during a massive heat wave. Therefore, it only makes sense that myself and all my savvy colleagues pretty much immediately strip down to the bare minimum of what passes for ‘appropriate office attire’ (and we maintain a fairly casual workplace) upon entering said room. For me, this meant I took off the 10+ layers of long-sleeved amazingness that I was wearing to stave off cold, to discover that I was, in fact, wearing a t-shirt underneath it all.
This is a recap of a conversation with a colleague visiting from one of our offices in Francophone Africa, directly following my workplace strip down.
Her: (After a shocked shriek) What’s that on your arm?!?!
Me: (Looking at my arms and immediately assuming the worst, but trying to play it cool, you know, like I do) AGGHHH! What?!?
Her: (Open mouthed silence) …
Me: (Starting to panic in earnest now. It’s totally going to be a giant cockroach. Or like a mutated sewer rat. OR a miniature, but just as deadly, tyrannosaurus rex bent upon devouring my face! I start to shake my arms, jelly-fish style, to get whatever it is off, and ‘attempt’ to hide my growing desire to start screaming like a little girl) Oh my gawd!! What is it?! WHERE is it?!?! WHAT. IS. IT!?!? (Yeah, yeah, massive fail on the non-panicking bit, don’t judge. You’d do it too if a miniature t. rex about to eat your face was sitting on your shoulder.)
Her: (She finally senses that fear is consuming me, and before I lose every last shred of dignity, she puts me out of my misery and points-) Those things. On your arms.
Me: (My shoulders slump. My heart rate resumes something resembling a normal rate. I emit a long sigh. It’s going to be one of ‘those’ conversations isn’t it? I deadpan it.) Oh… You mean my tattoos?
Her: (She gasps. Shock and horror is blatantly apparent in both her face and her accusation.) YOU have tattoos?!?!
Me: (I look from my arms to her face slightly confused. My left arm clearly contains a full sleeve, and the right is easily classified as ‘moderately covered.’) Ummm….. Yes? (Translation: Is this some kind of trick question?)
Her: (She takes a long beat. Clearly, she needs a moment to comprehend such eloquent monosyllabic utterances.) But you don’t look like a… um…a… uh (she starts to stammer before trailing off into silence)…
Me: (I look at her and feel I have no choice but to muster up my best Oscar-worthy performance of ‘innocent, round, saucer eyes.’ It IS totally going to be one of ‘those’ conversations. I smile. With teeth.) I don’t look like a what? (She is still silent, so I start filling in the blanks in my head with amusement. I don’t look like a murderer? A prison inmate? Circus folk? Ooh! Ooh! A SAILOR?!… Mmmmmm, sailors…) (I realise that I’m grinning and staring at her, and she is shifting uncomfortably and stammering nonsensically. Shame. That probably wasn’t very nice of me. I reluctantly drop my gaze.)
Her: (Clearly trying a different tactic) (She leans towards me conspiratorially) But don’t you get, you know, dirty?
Me: (At first, this question only raises confusion in me, but fearing I’ve misunderstood what she was trying to say, I raise up my right arm, and pretend to scratch my head, while really taking a surreptitious whiff. I did shower this morning, didn’t I? …Yep, must have, no smelly smells detected here!…. Then I get it. Oh. Sigh... I pretend not to understand, and look at her questioningly, answering a trifle too loudly and with mock indignation) What?! Why would I get dirty? I totally shower!
Her: (Slightly embarrassed) I mean, if you can never wash your arms… With soap…
(At this point, the rest of the table is listening and giggling into their sleeves. I feel slightly bad again.)
Me: (Really? Aww… Bless. I try to answer as matter of fact, and nonchalantly as possible.) Em, so tattoos don’t actually come off with soap and water. They’re, uh, sort of permanent really…
Her: Oh. (Long silence.) You mean you’ll have all of that forever?
Me: (Full of fake, sing-songy cheer now. I am starting to feel as though this is quickly devolving into something ridiculous and slightly out of control.) Yep! Tha-at’s the idea! (Insert cheesy grin here.)
(Then, the secretary, a sweet older woman chimes in.)
Secretary: (To Her) It’s amazing isn’t it? (To Me) It’s almost like real art has been put on your arm. I mean, it’s really impressive!
Me: …. (Silence. I don’t know how to respond to this. Am I supposed to be flattered? Offended? Is there a third option?)
Luckily, while I’m still contemplating my response, and while my officemates are tittering amongst themselves, my boss enters the room, the meeting starts, and the conversation is dropped.