professional tattooing tips for the first-time customer

You wake up one morning and find yourself wanting a tattoo. Maybe you think a Celtic armband will revive your sex life and improve your football throw. Or maybe all your friends have butterflies inked on their ankles, and the shame of a naked ankle is slowly corroding your self-esteem. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: you need a tattoo.

But how often have you gone for a tattoo, only to be laughed at by the tattoo artist and the assistant needler? Or worse, end up leaving with an iron-on transfer on your skin instead of a genuine tattoo? These are the risks you run if you're perceived as a newbie, or as some say, 'tattoobie'.

In order to avoid these and other degrading fates at the tattoo parlour, be sure to remember these tips:

Get the words right. It's not pronounced tah-too. It's 'tah-toe'. The needles used by the tattoist are called 'jammer-jammers'. And the woman who sits in the back room smoking cigarettes and scratching absently at her arm is called Lucy.

Be forceful. Instead of flipping through books of tattoo art or attempting to describe what you want, walk in and demand to see 'your finest tah-toe'. Insist on the good ink. Sometimes it helps to be vaguely racist.

Avoid cliches. There's no quicker way to out yourself as a total novice than to ask for shopworn college-student favourites like the 'full-body narwhal' or 'tiger buttock'. Go for innovative designs like the 'Rothko tongue' or the extremely complicated procedure that will produce the illusion of Willie Nelson's braids descending from your head to the tops of your shoulders - even while showering.

Insurance. Even if you use each one of my tips, you may still end up with a tattoo that does not satisfy your lifestyle needs. It's often a good idea to wear someone else's skin to your appointment. If that proves a bit too complicated, send in someone else to get the tattoo, then remove their freshly inked skin.