Oye, rubia: Catcalling in Madrid
Hubba hubba – Expatica blogger Kristen Bernardi talks about men on the prowl in Madrid: is it a compliment or controversy?
Are your feet tired? Because you’ve been running through my mind all day.
Did it hurt?
When you fell from heaven?
I lost my phone number. Can I have yours?
There are loads of cheesy pick-up lines out there. Most of them don’t work.
When I first arrived in Spain, I remember being a bit shocked the first time I heard a man utter guapa
under his breath as I passed by. In the staunchly politically correct United States, catcalls in the street went out in the ‘60s, other than the occasional construction worker with a wandering eye.
But here in Madrid, it’s not just obreros
and viejos verdes
. I’ve heard a whispered guapa or preciosa from old and young, Spanish and South American, men in suits and teenagers in track suits.
[And I’m no supermodel! I maintain that being naturally blonde in Madrid is an anomaly akin to Haley’s Comet
or a competent cashier at Día. Blonde women: if you’ve got a face like the back end of a bus, but fair hair – get thee to Spain, stat! You will get attention like never before.]
Anyway, these piropos
are commonplace for any young, sweet thang walking down Gran Vía.
An impossibly leggy friend of mine who resembles American model Christy Turlington was once told: “Tienes las piernas como jamones cinco jotas
”. The guy meant it as the ultimate compliment, but we both agreed that in the States, comparing any part of a woman to any part of a pig would probably not be a good idea.
One day I wondered aloud to a Spanish friend: “What would happen if girls actually stopped in the street to chat with these guys?
If we said: ‘Oh, you think I’m pretty? Let’s go have a coffee and see where it leads.’”
My friend just shook his head. “That’s not the really the goal,” he said. “When you get a piropo, someone is simply appreciating you – complimenting something nice. It’s not dirty or perverse, they just want to tell you that you’re nice to look at.”
A popular feminist argument would be that piropos are degrading or lecherous.
But I have to say, in some cases, I agree with my Spanish friend. They almost always seem to be intended as a simple compliment, and in this case, intention is everything.
One of my coworkers who just got back from a trip to Buenos Aires, said the catcalls there were definitely of the x-rated variety. She felt like men everywhere were undressing her with their eyes, while licking their lips and spouting out things that would make a porn star blush. By comparison, the occasional ‘rubia’ seems downright tame.
So what do you do when you’re on the receiving end of a piropo? Do you smile? Do you nod in acknowledgement? Do you ignore it and just keep on walking?
And here’s the clincher, ladies: If one day you leave the house looking what you think is your best, and you stroll past a group of red-blooded men without hearing any ‘guapa!’… are you just a little disappointed?
Not in Spain... but just for laughs.
17 April 2009
Kristen Bernardi / Expatica
Kristen Bernardi is an American journalist living in Madrid. She has contributed to various travel publications including Fodor's, TimeOut, The Insider's Guide, Spain Magazine and InMadrid. Kristen writes a blog, Oye, rubia, on a wide range of topics for Expatica on fortnightly Fridays