Builder’s bum

Article published on Sept. 24, 2012
Article published on Sept. 24, 2012
The Germans have been delighting at the ‘builder’s cleavage’ of such poster boys as Prince Harry photographed naked in Las Vegas or topless prime minister Vladimir Putin hunting a tiger in Russia’s wild. How does the exposed expression translate across Europe?

Let it roll off your tongue: Bau-arbeiter-dekolleté (also Maurerdekolleté). The German term for the very prosaic sounding builder’s bum in English is actually a construction of German and French words: bauarbeiter means worker, while décolleté means cleavage. 

What the term itself refers to is slightly less enthralling. Like the Dutch word bouwvakkersdecolleté, it leads us into a world of construction, the broken backbone of the EU’s economic crisis, where men in tight t-shirts smell lingeringly of alcohol and sweat. Tilers, plumbers, heating contracters, electricians and street construction workers are known for flashing a bit of their behinds as they strive and toil. In France, a builder’s bum is called a plumber’s smile (sourire du plombier), a more charming expression than its American cousin, plumber’s crack.

Young hip hop music lovers in the US gave buttock cleavage a chaste new identity in the nineties with the phenomenon of sagging (das Sagging in German), where trousers or pants are worn so low that they reveal your underpants. This deliberate aesthetic effect created by male low riders harks back to those American male inmates who were not allowed to wear belts in prisons. 

Back on the continent, the elegant Italians have a harder time recognising the cheeky phenomenon. In the city of Treviso, residents have been known to smirk the plumber’s here (è arrivato l’idraulico) as their paths cross with a half-moon on a construction site; in the Italian province of Cuneo, the saying we can see your pencil holder pot (ti si vede il portapenne) has been used. The pen holder pot becomes a piggy bank in the Spanish imagination: se te ve la hucha (your piggy bank is showing) is a continuation of the Mediterranean realm of possibilities at what can actually be placed inside a builder’s ‘crack’.

Images: main (cc) Eighteenth century Danish painter Christopher Eckerson's 'Woman Standing in Front of a Mirror'/ Wikimedia); in the 2011 campaign for 'Das Neue Handwerk' for, photographer Marcus Müller makes a builder's bum a woman's cleavage in basements, car garages and kitchens around Berlin © and illustrator Henning Studte Image: ©Henning Studte/